day two of five in our Free Fiesta On Lanzarote: FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES
by Norman Warwick
Today´s will be a story of self-sufficiency, mis-appropriation, hard labour, rebellion and cruel execution but let us first welcome you properly to the island. Even before your visit it is worth looking away from your travel holiday brochures and checking print-media such as Gazette Life Lanzarote, a glossy monthly, which offers a fascinating overview of life-styles here on the island or perhaps Lancelot, a seasonal colour magazine, which offers an insight into the arts and culture and history of Lanzarote or maybe look on line at Lanzarote Information where you will find practical advice for those who intend to re-locate here, and also information for tourists as well.
Also, on line, you will find a site called From Lanzarote With Love, assembled by M. Hamit Ular, that opens its seven pages entitled Lichens On A Volcanic Island, with the following paragraph.
´This is a story of a small island, Lanzarote, in the Atlantic ocean. It s siz id only about 50 km by 20 km and it is one of the eight Canary Islands of Spain. At first glance, everything is black, and if not black is called playa Blanca, which means whie beach. A slight breeze will welcome you; sunshine may sometoimes be hindered by swiftly passing white clouds. (The climate) is always mild, with an average daily temperature of between 20 and 25 degrees Centigrade. In a year , about 20 millimetres of rain would be too much for us here ! It is extremely dry here. The airport is in Arrecife, the island capital, where more than half the permanent population of Lanzarote lives. With less than 150,000 inhabitants but with four times more tourists at any given, time (until the covid interruption), it is surely a fascinating island.
Even the flora and fauna has a story to tell. From the genus Rosella, I am reliably informed, the orchella is a lichen which, when boiled, emits a reddish dye much in demand, I am told by those even older than me, in ´the ancient world´. It is recorded that Phoenicians and Romans came to the island to seek it out. Understandably the aboriginals of here quickly began to collect it themselves before trading it to these visitors.
Jean de Bethencourt, a French voyager of the times, realised he could perhaps corner the market, to employ a phrase probably not then coined, by conquering the Canary Islands, which he did, with support from Spain in 1412. He already owned a number of dye-production factories in France and one of his first actions after seizing the islands was to prohibit trade of orchilla without his consent.
More than sixty years later orchilla gatherers rebelled against the Lords of the islands, weary of the brutal labour, poor conditions and low wages they received in exchange for the high taxes they were charged.
´They take our orchilla, which we have always relied on to maintain and provide for ourselves, our wives and our children. And now the so called Lords take it for themselves´.
That there was probably significant truth in those discovered notes was perhaps best evidenced by the fact that the ring-leaders were executed and their bodies were then thrown into a ravine near Teguise that to this day bears the name Barranca de la Horca, a neatly descriptive title meaning ´Valley Of The Gallows´.
That the rebellion was viewed very seriously and severely dealt with is evidenced in The History Magazine Of The Canary Islands published in 1942, which tells us.
´It was in 1475 that the lord of the island, Diego Garcia de Herrera sentenced to death six neighbours on the island. The history book says that ´when the inhabitants of Lanzarote intended to shake the yoke of their Lords and proclaimed the catholic Monarchs, six of the ringleaders were taken to the Chimeda mountain, where they were clubbed to death and their bodies thrown into the deep ravine that is now called The Barranco de la Horca´.
These days organised hikes are led across the Barranco de la Horca. During a three and a half hours of hiking you will walk through the surroundings of Teguise, passing through the old lime kilns (left) and the coves, until you cross the Barranco de La Horca.
check out https://youtu.be/WunHa3fWrU0
Collecting the lichen is a difficult and dangerous job. These particular lichen take decades to grow to full size and collectors were forced to search for them on steep cliff faces and other dangerous locations.
Geologist Hernandéz Pacheco describes the orchilla gatherers as ´like spiders hanging from a thread´ descendíng on ropes the El Risko cliffs at Famara to reach lichen that, itself, wasd clinging to inhospitable areas.
Pacheco entered the Instituto Cardenal Cisneros, where he obtained a bachelor’s degree. He studied natural sciences at the faculty of sciences of the Central University of Madrid, from which he graduated in 1920 with the highest qualification. In 1921 he published his first article, and in 1929 he obtained the title of doctor. In 1933 he was elected as the chair of physical geography of the faculty of science.
During the Spanish Civil War he fled Madrid under the Popular Front to take refuge in the family home of Alcuéscar, in Extremadura, where his father was from. During this period he wrote The Middle Segment of the Central Mountains of Extremadura, which was published in 1939 and all his original works are held today in the reference section today at the central library in Madrid.
About ten years ago I flew over that clip top edge at El Risko (as shown on our cover and here left) on Lanzarote in a helicopter, have looked down at the sea from the Las Nieves church at the top and have looked up from the beach at the foot of cliffs to a skyline so vertically high that you have to crick your neck backwards to see it. It is a place best left to the lichen, that is for certain, and even if the lichen were leaking pure gold, I would never be a brave enough man to climb that mountain.
Perhaps that might explain why records show that many gatherers were women. One village alone records that more than thirty women between the ages of seven (!) and sixty six (!) died in falls from the cliff during the nineteenth century.
Orchilla has, however, been worthless for more than a hundred years past now, because of the invention of chemically produced dye.
Today, the lichen grows un-gathered in clumpy lumps that, my wife says , ´seem, from a distance. like acne on the cliff!´
We hope you are enjoying Sidetracks & Detours ´virtually´ Free Fiesta On Lanzarote. Your second day of almost being here on the island is nearly over, so for your evening meal tonight we recommend the Lani´s snack bar at The Marina Rubicon in Playa Blanca. Enjoy the Nachos and a cold beer maybe, or the Wok chicken and a chilled white wine and, of course, don´t forget the ice-cream dessert.
Tomorrow morning, bright and earlier even than today, we will take a wander around the area of La Santa, a quiet fishing village much loved by athletes for its state of the art Olympic training and fitness centre.