‘Bite Size’ Histories of Lanzarote
‘Dirty Doings,’ or ‘An everyday tale of history folk.’
Juan de Béthancourt landed in Lanzarote in 1402. He came ashore between Papagayo and Playa Blanca, part of what is now Yaiza Municipality (Yaiza being the name of a pre-Hispanic Princess) and was greeted, by King Guadarfia wearing a goatskin cloak and a crown decorated with shells. Guadarfía offered him friendship and asked him for protection from the pirates who used to raid the island and capture the natives, selling them into slavery. Peaceful conquest seemed to be the order of the day, and Juan set off back to Spain to report in, and swear allegiance to Henry III, leaving his deputy, Gadifer de la Salle in charge.
I don’t know what the rates of pay were for ‘other ranks’ in those days, but some of them seemed to feel they had been short-changed in the pillaging and looting departments.
Gadifer must have been having a day off, or he was doing a recce of Fuerteventura, under the guise of a spot of seal hunting, over on Lobos. A disgruntled bunch, led by Bertin de Berneval, pinched his boat and marooned him there without water.
Obviously figuring he was well out of the way the rebel Europeans set about capturing the locals, intending to trade them as slaves!
Guadarfía and the Majos took exception to this, as you would, and fought back, killing several Europeans and taking to the hills.
Returning to find the ‘peaceful conquest’ in ruins, Gadifer was not best pleased by the turn of events, (and probably not looking forward to explaining it to the boss on his return!) He was approached by an ambitious Majo, Afche (or Achen) who offered to help him to track down Guadarfia and his followers, in return for being elevated to Guadarfía’s throne, and they made a pact.
Guadarfía was captured and imprisoned but Afche then attacked the Europeans. I guess they either reneged on their promise to make him king or he wasn’t into power sharing.
Guadarfia escaped in the ensuing chaos and his first priority was to find the traitor Afche, and take issue with his treason and attempted regicide! He was burned alive for his treachery.
When Juan de Béthancourt returned, after a two-year absence, he found that he had to begin to subdue the islanders, who had initially been friendly to him!
There was fierce fighting, but at the end of the day, the Spanish soldiers did have the superior weapons, and that sort of things does make a difference. Gadifer proposed putting all the native men to death and was only dissuaded by the priests, who thought this was a bit extreme. They decided on a rapid, mass conversion to Christianity, to save the lives of the local populace. Guadarfía surrendered, after putting up a damned good show, on 27th February 1404, and was baptised ‘Luis.’
Juan de Béthancourt set about the conquest of the rest of his ‘kingdom.’ (He was awarded the title King of the Canary Islands by Pope Innocent VII as you may recall from Chapter One.)
Fuerteventura was conquered, after fierce resistance in 1405.
El Hierro, was ruled by King Armiche who was assured by Béthancourt, on his arrival on the island, that he came in peace. But Armiche was tricked and as soon as he approached the visitors he was nabbed! Once the king had been taken prisoner the land and slaves were divided between 120 colonists.
We are told that we should judge history by the moral standards of the day and not our own, but I can’t help feeling that this was a very sneaky way to go about things!
After the partial conquest of La Gomera, Juan de Béthancourt eventually retired to France, leaving his nephew Maciot de Béthancourt in full control.
La Gomera was a very different kettle of fish to El Hierro. The land was divided into four kingdoms and only two submitted to Béthancourt. The other two resisted him, and later Maciot, and it was eighty years after the first colonists arrived before they submitted peacefully. In other words La Gomera was never wholly ‘conquered.’
I have a theory that this was partly due to silbo.
What’s silbo? It is an amazing whistling language, which goes back to ancient times, with which the islanders communicate over vast distances. La Gomera is full of barrancos, or ravines, and they are a pain in the butt if you forget to tell your mate something important, like ‘Bring home a couple of goats for the weekend, we’re having company.’
The rest of us would have no option but to gird our loins and trek off up and down the barrancos till we found him. But, to the silbo speaker, or whistler, a knuckle in the mouth is all it takes to send a message, over four kilometres. We are not talking a few signals here. We are ‘talking’ a complete language, with all the flexibility of speech to an experienced silbo user.
Imagine the advantage to the locals when Béthancourt and his lads were chasing them all over the island: all the benefits of a mobile phone, with no worries about the poor signal areas, or the batteries running out!
Incidentally silbo was recently in danger of being lost, for ever, but a few years ago it was made compulsory in schools and the children are now entering silbo competitions and proudly aiming to become champion silbadores.
I digress! Back to Lanzarote:
Maciot was, initially, a benevolent ruler and was accepted by the people. Things improved to the extent that the Majos and their Spanish conquerors co-existed and inter-acted much as equals. Inter-marriage was accepted at the highest level. In fact, Maciot de Béthancourt married the daughter of Guadarfia, Princess Teguise. (When he moved his capital inland, he named the town, previously called Acatifé, after her and Teguise remained the capital of the island until 1847.)
But, you know what they say – ‘Power corrupts,’ and it appears that Maciot got above himself, becoming increasingly tyrannical until he was denounced to the Crown of Castile, by the Bishop of Rubicón, and ‘deposed.’ (‘Denuncias’ have obviously been a feature of the island’s system from early times!)
But that’s another story
FIND PART ONE here
FIND PART THREE here
Written by Sue Almond
Photographs by Sue Almond
Category: Lanzarote, Journalism. Tags: Articles, Story telling, Lanzarote