Christopher Columbus, romance and murder in La Gomera

To the south of Tenerife, the Canary Islands resort, lies the small and really lovely island of La Gomera. Too mountainous for a world airfield, it’s nonetheless normally reached by ferries plying from Los Cristianos in Tenerife to the small capital and port of San Sebastian.

Christopher Columbus arrived in San Sebastian in 1492, the final port within the recognized world earlier than the unchartered ocean. He got here on the invitation of a younger Castilian noblewoman, just lately widowed, the Countess Beatriz de Bobadilla. Her husband, Hernan Peraza, had been the Count of La Gomera. Now, she dominated the wild island alone. Columbus made prolonged stops there on the primary three voyages.

It was on La Gomera itself that I heard the story of Columbus and the younger widow. On journeys throughout the island, I typically handed by way of a spot within the mountains, excessive above the port city, San Sebastian, the place the street ultimately ranges and enters the highland forests. I finished there for a lunchtime tapa of goat meat at times.

“Degollada de Peraza”, as it’s known as, shouldn’t be a spot however a reputation on the roadside, no homes, no settlement however one massive road-side bar. ‘Degollada’ was not a phrase I knew at first. I assumed it referred to some panorama characteristic on Peraza lands. I used to be shocked to search out it meant not Peraza’s area however Peraza’s demise. ‘Degollar’, to ‘execute’ or ‘behead’, my dictionary says, so it meant the beheading of Peraza.

On my first go to, I purchased a beer and strolled throughout the cool, tiled inside to the large home windows reverse the door. I wasn’t ready for the shock that met me. Outside, the bottom fell dizzily away. Spread out beneath was an enormous valley hidden from the street, a valley I had by no means recognized was there. On the slope reverse, long-abandoned terraces slipped like a patched cloak off the mountain’s shoulder and fell in narrowing folds to the valley flooring. There, historical paths adopted inexperienced contours beneath bone dry hills, supporting nothing however just a few birds and lizards. Far away, the valley widened right into a blue plain between large escarpments framing the ocean.

The Gomeros are just like the Irish; they’ve lengthy reminiscences and a verbal custom that they hone by fixed use. 

The longest reminiscences are carried in music, ballads of 100 verses. The historical past I heard within the Bar Degollada de Peraza was as a lot the historical past of Gomera’s historical Guanche folks because it was of a passing Italian sailor and a countess. The story of Columbus and Beatriz de Bobadilla begins just a few years earlier than they met.

Peraza was a second-generation conquistador. As a younger man, he inherited title to La Gomera. Unlike his uncle, the unique conquistador, who lived in peace with the indigenous Guanche folks, he broke the accords between them. And then, for some unknown motive, slaughtered the Spanish governor, a fellow conquistador, of close by La Palma when he was unfortunate sufficient to be shipwrecked on Peraza’s shores. Murdering natives was one factor; eviscerating fellow conquistadors was one other. He was known as to Madrid to face trial. There, Queen Isabella interceded to save lots of him from execution by making a secret settlement that he would take her husband’s younger mistress, Beatriz de Bobadilla, as his spouse and take her off to far-away.

Bobadilla made a very good match for avaricious Peraza. Together, they rode roughshod over each accord solid by Peraza’s uncle with the nonetheless unconquered native kings. The remaining straw for the Guanches was when Peraza singled out the thirteen-year-old Stone Age princess Iballa and seduced her. Iballa, the daughter of the good Hupalupa, ruler of the Valle Gran Rey, an unlimited inexperienced valley to the island’s south, was betrothed to a neighbouring prince.

Roque de Agando on the island of La Gomera, which is frequently used as a symbol for the island.
Roque de Agando on the island of La Gomera, which is regularly used as a logo for the island.

Bobadilla was a really lovely lady, however the outdated songs document that the teenage Iballa far eclipsed her. Iballa, on account of the tragedy that later enfolded, was to be the final princess of the Guanches. A good skinned, fair-haired folks, they inhabited the paradise islands, that had been rediscovered by geographers solely a half-century earlier than. The Berber tribes who had settled there from north Africa had forgotten make boats, presumably as a result of there was nowhere they needed to go. Today, the folks of the Gomera highlands are nonetheless wealthy in Guanche blood. They protect a whistling language which is exclusive on earth — not a conference of alerts as one would use with a canine however an articulated tongue wherein conversations could also be held throughout the abysses of the deep valleys.

When Hupalupa heard of Peraza’s despoliation of his daughter, the vessel of peace was damaged for good. Off the shore of Valle Gran Rey stands a rock to which the ringleted Gomero girls and boys nonetheless swim out at this time. It known as the Baja de Secreto, the Reef of the Secret. There Hupalupa and Iballa’s betrothed made their plan.

On the night time of November 20, 1488, they crossed the island with their males and surrounded the cave wherein the Count and Iballa have been making love. Iballa heard the whistled exchanges between her father’s males – exchanges which Peraza, though he had spent most of his life on the island, could not perceive – and tried to warn him however, surrounded and misplaced on a mountain aspect, he ran onto the Guanche spears. It is ironic that the one full sentence of Guanche nonetheless extant was uttered by Iballa attempting to save lots of the lifetime of the rapacious foreigner. “Run,” it goes, “fly, they are climbing by your path…”. It is repeated within the chanted ‘canciones’ of the island.

After the execution, Hupalupa marched on San Sebastian, intent upon driving the Spaniards into the ocean. However, Bobadilla, with or with out husband, was a formidable lady. Pausing solely lengthy sufficient to dispatch a caravel for assist, she carried her kids to the tower, stocked to maintain the tiny Spanish inhabitants by way of a siege. When the caravels got here and the new-made widow emerged once more into the solar, it was to wreak a horrible vengeance on the Guanches. Afterwards, there have been no extra Guanche princesses or kings.

Before provides within the tower ran out, the highly effective Pedro de Vera, Governor of Gran Canaria, sailed into San Sebastian with a big pressure of males. The Guanches, armed solely with stone weapons, have been routed. Hupalupa is alleged to have escaped by swimming to Tenerife, then nonetheless free. Bobadilla, urgent benefit, pursued his routed folks to each nook of the island. Men, ladies and youngsters have been murdered, drowned or mutilated. Those that survived have been offered as slaves.

Columbus most likely met Bobadilla for the primary time in 1490 on the court docket in Castile the place she had been summoned from Gomera to reply fees of slavery and genocide in opposition to her topics. By grace of Queen Isabella, the Guanche survivors have been ransomed into freedom and returned to La Gomera. Bobadilla, from a robust household, was admonished however reinstated.

When she and Columbus met, he would have been a person of 46, sturdy, wholesome and never lengthy a widower. She was a Contessa, far above him in standing, however lady of her instances and never one to languish in mourning for lengthy. There is likely to be enterprise to be performed if the good-looking Italian have been to go to her on his outward voyage looking for a path to the Indies. The island, the scene of homicide and savage repression only some years earlier than, was hardly a spot the place Columbus, pushed by the urgency of desires and aspirations, would have wasted time however for Bobadilla’s charms.

The close by islands of Tenerife and La Palma have been nonetheless unconquered. San Sebastian, comprising the small, fortified tower, a church and some easy homes, was a thousand miles south of Cadiz, the final harbour within the Spanish world. Behind, lay a largely impassable and harmful hinterland. For the all-but-exiled younger countess, the corporate of the cosmopolitan and impressed Italian, straight from the court docket, will need to have been blessed aid from petty colonists, sweating troopers and her whistling, neolithic topics. Later, she married probably the most highly effective governor within the islands. It is ironic that her vicious previous is commonly forgotten, though not in La Gomera. It was her liaison with Columbus, and the half she performed in equipping him for the colonisation of the New World, that earned her a vivid line on historical past’s bloody web page. Today, the tower that saved her life continues to be in use, the oldest constructing within the Canary Islands. The sea that after virtually surrounded it, has drawn again. The tower stands marooned in what’s now a pleasing park.

The folks closest in blood to the Guanches, as soon as rulers of all of the Canary Islands, nonetheless reside within the highlands above the Valle Gran Rey. Over the centuries, they’ve lower mountains into terraces, harnessed water from the forests and made gardens of the valley sides. Where they reside by the coast, they swim like fish within the sea. In 1492, when Columbus first visited the half-wild islands, the Spanish observe of colonisation and Christianisation, slavery-and-God or death-by-the-sword was in full swing. As he and the widow sat collectively, or lay collectively, within the tower lapped by the ocean at San Sebastian, it’s exhausting to imagine that Columbus couldn’t have imagined the tragedy quickly to befall the innocent peoples of his New World.

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