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Whistling and walking on La Gomera Back to News
Tuesday 11th July | Posted by On Foot Staff
Launched in 2022, our walking holiday on La Gomera in the Canary Islands is already proving a hit. The combination of dramatic landscapes, rich biodiversity and a walking season running through the winter months is drawing hikers to this magical isle.
“This was one of our favourite holidays ever – the scenery, flowers, bees, birds, food and drink were all a joy. Great network of paths and navigation pretty simple as well.”
While roaming the steep-sided ravines you might wonder how the Gomeran people communicated in the days before telephones without having to hike up and down the hillsides to deliver a message. The answer lies in Silbo Gomera, a whistled language that dates back at least to the arrival of the Spanish in 1402, and possibly to the island’s earlier inhabitants, the Guanches. The piercing sounds make up an aural alphabet that represents Spanish words, and it will drift for two miles or more across the valleys – a quick and efficient method of passing on important news, warning of danger, or communicating between local farmers.
Silbo was so commonly used until the 1950s that queues of farmers would form at vantage points, waiting to send instructions across the valleys, maybe about the movement of livestock. As much of the agricultural land was abandoned in subsequent years, and the telephone became more available, the language was in danger of dying out.
However, it was declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2009, and Silbo is now enjoying a revival. All school age children are required to learn it, and it is practised by much of the island’s population.
You’ll pass the Whistling Tree monument by José Darias at Igualero on your final walk – it depicts the typical stance of the whistler, using one finger between the teeth to produce the sound, and the other hand to project it forwards. Listen out for this distinctive part of La Gomera’s heritage as you hike around the island!