The date of the discovery of the Islands cannot be pinpointed. Yet in ancient cultures we do have references that show that the islands were known, though they didn’t seem to attract much attention. La Gomera was known as Tolomeo.
THE ISLAND IN MYTHOLOGY
Plato, in his dialogues "Timaeus and Critias" spoke of an old continent, Atlantis, sunk deep in the ocean by a cataclysm. Only it’s highest peaks remained visible above water, which would be the Canary Islands, the Azores, Cape Verde and Madeira. In Hercules legends, one of his labours was the finding of the golden apples guarded by the Hesperides (daughters of the evening). Hercules had to sail through the Atlas pillars (Gibraltar) to reach that paradisiacal place whose description can’t be any other than the Canary Islands. Classical writer Homer names them as Elysium, the paradise for the righteous.
Despite all these references, there are no evidences of landings from the Phoenicians or Greeks. It is possible, though, that they peered some of the island from the african coast. Some specialists afirm state there was a fenician expedition in the 12th century BC, and that the Carthaginian Hanno visited the area in 470 BC.
The expanding Roman empire defeated Carthage in 146 BC, but the didn’t seem very keen on visiting the islands, named Insulae Fortunatae for the wildlife was (and remains) harmless. Later on, an expedition of king Juba II was penned by Pliny The Elder. In 150 BC., Ptolemy estimated the location of the islands and used the estimated location of El Hierro for what would be the end of the known world.
The Spanish conqueror’s chronicles describe the aborigines as tall, strong-built, warrior-like race, even some being with fair eyes or hair. These references inspired many convoluted theories related to the origin of the Guanches.
Recently, historians have concluded that the aborigines might come from Lybian-Bereber tribes from the Maghrib. The first human settlement is dated around 200 BC. Apart from similarities in burial practices, dwellings and rock carvings, the local language is similar to Berber languages, and it is usual as well to have fair hair or eyes among those tribes. This origin also explains the lack of interest they had for seafaring, as they were inland peoples.
Among aborigins in La Gomera there were many heroes acknoledged for their strenght and courage, and who were worshiped: Iglan, Aguahanahizan, Agualercher, Hauche, Amuhaici and Aguacoromos. In the 14th century, the island was divided among four allied kingdoms: Ipalán, Mulagua, Orone and Agana.
There is hardly any records of landings in the islands until the 14th century. The most important of those timid contacts was an italian expedition in 1341, that finally got the islands drewn on the map.
It started between 1404 and 1405 by Jean de Bethencourt, lord of Granville in Normandy (France). The declared aim of the party was to convert the heathen islanders. His true goal was to explore the african shore and find the El Dorado or Río del Oro. After an easy victory in Fuerteventura, where he settled a fort, he requested the aid of the Castilian crown for the conquer of the remaining islands.
The alledged property of the islands was disputed until the Treatry of Alcaçovas, where Portugal recognised the Spanish rights over the Canary Islands, while Portugal could have the Azores, Cape Verde and Madeira.
The islands were finally under Castillian domination. Several generations of Peraza rulled La Gomera, being Hernán Peraza sadly renowned by his tyranic and bloody government.
In 1492 the bay of San Sebastian was the last stopover in Christopher Colombus’ trip to the West and the American Continent. It’s well-protected bay has been a preferred stopover point for many distinguised sailors: Hernan Cortes, Pizarro or Vasco Nuñez de Balboa.
The Guanches were destined to dissappear, either by slavery, war or final assimilation of the conqueror’s culture. Still the conqueror’s culture didn’t remain untouched, and many of the traditional customs have been inherited from the original inhabitants.
The myriad of traditions that exist across the island cannot be englobed in a single description. Language, food, architecture and music vary deeply between islands. Even so, among all the inhabitants of the islands is a deep pride and the conviction of a true difference between the islands and the rest of the country. Partly, this difference shows in it’s particular history and culture.
Among the seven main islands, La Gomera keeps the purest traditions and customs. It is also the one with more interesting individual characteristics, the drum dance and the whistle. The Gomeran Whistle is a sign of the efforts of the inhabitants to overcome the communication issues that it’s rough terrain imposed.The cuisine is similar to the one in other islands, but it’s particular variety of ingredients has given many typical recipes. The outstanding examples are the watercress soup, the almogrote and palm tree syrup.
The rich folklore of the island is shown in it’s festivals, where processions include the traditional drum dance (Baile del Tambor), with the chacaras, a unique instrument whose noise trully reminds of the Guanches. The chants, called Endechas, dissappeared with the Gomeran aborigin culture, but they still prevalent in the new music.
The festivals, very popular and colorful, are celebrated with religious festivities. The large number of festivals along the year have favoured the creation of several bands, usually as a family tradition, and that have quite a local taste with many latin american influences in their rythms.