Does tourism help to keep traditions alive? It certainly seems that way, or it might just be my perception. For sure, years ago, when I first lived in the Canary Islands, there wasn’t as much information about festivals, foods, historical events or traditional culture as there is now. It seems these days that every Canarian has a traditional costume in their wardrobe to bring out for romerias and fiestas – in many places you see as many bystanders in ethnic dress as in modern garb.
In the tourist hubs of Playa de las Americas and Los Cristianos there are weekly displays of folk music and dancing, something which never used to happen, so intent were they at one time on creating the perfect, plastic and cement, “global” holiday experience. Tourists gawk and think they’ve seen something of the “real” Tenerife – and they have, but only a tiny part – but if this funds and inspires an interest in things historical and traditional then all well and good. It’s a trend I’ve noticed in other parts of the world too, not only here. Visiting my former neck of the woods in England, I’ve noticed places we once took for granted being promoted as “tourist attractions.”
Places seem to be keen to show off their uniqueness, which is wonderful. It makes it easier for us when we travel, but we do need to look beyond the stuff laid on especially for tourists, that’s for sure. At Tenerife’s romerias and fiestas locals still outnumber tourists by a long chalk, and the further away you get from the main resorts the truer that is, and, yes, at risk of sounding corny, the more genuine it is…..because you can be sure that it’s all laid on for the local population and no nods in the direction of pleasing the sunburned hoards below. Even so, traditions like the mini pilgrimage from Adeje to its coast to mark the festival of San Sebastian have been revived fairly recently.
Tomorrow is the day the islands celebrate the unique aspects of their culture – as opposed to that of mainland Spain – and all week activities have been going on to mark the day. Here, in my “home” town of El Médano, Sunday was dubbed “El Día de las Tradiciones,” and I was happily surprised by the variety of the stuff organized, and the professional way it was produced and presented.
It all happened right across the road from me in Plaza Roja, so I only had to charge my camera battery and step out of the door. I found a small bank of stalls selling artisan fare, bread, honey and cheeses, and local wines. I indulged – of course!
For a couple of hours afterwards, whilst kiteboarders and windsurfers spun past in the background, representing modern island sports, we watched displays of Lucha Canaria – the Canaries’ version of wrestling, which I wrote about here; stick fighting – the star of which demo was an amazing guy of 90 years old; a different kind of stick fighting with the stout walking sticks goatherds used to use to navigate the hilly landscape, called garrotes (both of which I will write about in the future); and various young bucks demonstrating feats of strength by lifting and balancing rocks, old ploughs and yokes used to harness oxen, all accompanied by enthusiastic explanations of the history of the implements and a demonstration of how agricultural terraces were watered in the days before more sophisticated irrigation was installed.
No junket of this kind would be complete without a folk group. There isn’t always dance, but this time there was, a lovely group which goes by the name of Los Alisios, and I’ve never seen a group which enjoyed performing so much. Often music seems to be taken very seriously here, fair enough. I don’t know if it was the informality of the setting, perhaps the stiff breeze which was blowing up or that perhaps this group is simply made this way, whilst others are not, but it was a joy to watch. Confession: my soul is much more in tune with the tribal rhythms of Africa than most of the folk music descended from Europe, but this group filled me with the same kind of joy which African music does.
The male musicians were resplendent in the elaborate sashes and intricately embroidered waistcoats we normally think of as “typically Canarian,” but the dancers were dressed in garb more appropriate to the peasant population from which the dances sprang, and from which the dances take their name – Baile de Magos (Dance of the Peasants)…..and before anyone jumps in here to tell me that mago isn’t the generally used word in Spanish for peasant – it’s used this way, to my knowledge only in the Canaries. Usually mago means magician in Spanish. I’m always knocked out to note how many young folk are members of these groups, seems like this tradition is in safe hands for future generations. Also well worthy of a mention is the grace and agility of the older members of the group…..dance to keep fit and young!
They saved the best for last on Sunday, though. Since I saw my first ox at a romeria years ago, I have been utterly in love with these wonderful creatures. I don’t know why we’re attracted to some animals more than others, but my heart also beats a tad faster when I see elephants or gorillas, so I guess I’m a sucker for big animals. I can only conclude that it’s that incongruous combination of strength and gentleness which stirs my soul (Isn’t that what makes some men so attractive, girls?!).
A few years back now I went to El Día de la Trilla in El Tanque, which featured drag racing – that is a pair of yoked oxen dragging a sled of sacks representing whatever it was they dragged of old, (corn? potatoes?) around a dusty track, winner being the one who drags the heaviest weight. I think that was when I knew this love of mine was the real thing. On Sunday we had as much of a demonstration as conditions would allow on the street almost outside my window. Of course tarmac and a limited turning circle aren’t ideal conditions, but, hey, I actually got to pet one, and they were every, single bit as awesome as expected.
After being on our feet in the sun and breeze for a couple of hours, my friends and I elected to lunch in Veinte 04, as I say, ad nauseam on FaceBook, my new favorite eating place. In fact both the place and the meal I had deserve their own posts, so I’ll leave you in suspense – though if you follow me on FaceBook you may have a clue! We returned to Plaza Roja afterwards for the best gelato in Tenerife in Gelateria Demaestre (my opinion :)), but the event was packing up.
There will be more to follow during this week of insular pride. The Sunday audience was composed more of “outsiders” than locals I think. No-one other than participants in traditional dress, a fair sprinkling of other languages heard, plus accents from the mainland and South America. El Médano is very much a mix of traditional and modern, and its population quite cosmopolitan when you scratch the surface. When we wandered off to lunch, it was clear that not everyone was interested in tradition, the tide was high and the beach was overflowing, but whether events are staged for locals or for tourists, it’s good to see re-enactments of history and the stoking of the fires of tradition.