La Gomera, one of the smallest of the Canary Islands, has a rugged and rocky surface full of ravines, which makes the long distances appear to be shorter.
In the old days, communication between different points on the island was difficult for its inhabitants.
This fact, far from being a handicap, allowed a new form of communication that emerged through the interactive capabilities of native people on the island, originating the whistling language, that today is known as Silbo Gomero.
The Silbo Gomero is an articulated language. It is not a code type language like morse, but a whistled version of Spanish.
According to history, this language was present in the aboriginal native population long time before the first visitors arrived on the Island.
Concerning the origin of this language, it is believed that came from North Africa. In fact, until the first half of the 20th century, this language was the only form of communication that natives of La Gomera used to communicate over long distance.
However, this language or form of communication decreased dramatically during the second half of the 20th century due to the new technologies such as telephone or improvement in the infrastructure.
In 2009, the Silbo Gomero was recognized as a language by the European Union and was declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Is the language an inheritance from one generation to the next or is just for those who wish to learn?
The native people have been working very hard to preserve the language over the years. Nowadays the whistle is a mandatory subject in the schools and institutes throughout the Island. As a result, this has helped to preserve the language. However, the language requires a particular skill, and in many cases, students tend to forget it due to lack of practice once they finish their studies. This language has an intangible value for the island of La Gomera.
Some people who have learned the language use it for giving exhibitions to tourists in hotels, restaurants, and in our Mirador de Abrante as a regular job, where every day two professors perform a demonstration while people enjoy their meal.
Is it easy to understand, or does it require a lot of practice?
To be able to understand the language, a lot of practice is necessary. We have our tone of voice when we speak and when we whistle. Our tone of voice can change depending on how we place our hands when we whistle. The complexity of this language lies in the fact that it adapts the five vowels and twenty two consonants of the Spanish language to only two vowels and four consonants. This gives a degree of uncertain making the context of the phrase the key to understand the conversation.
Will the whistle last in time or will it eventually disappear?
The Canarian and European entities are working to preserve EL Silbo Gomero, so everybody on the island has the opportunity to learn the language and use it over the years.
Next time you visit La Gomera, you should not miss an exhibition of this unique language.