A. B. (Alfred Burdon) Ellis.

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Government, whether monarchical, republican, or

The streets of Santa Cruz, like those of Funchal,
the capital of Madeira, present a sombre appearance,
owing to the windows on the ground-floors of the
houses being small, and grated with heavy iron
bars, and the buildings constructed of a dark vol-
canic stone, which is hewn into huge blocks. Large
carved doorways, frequently arched and ornamented
wdth sculpture, and sometimes sufficiently lofty for
the ingress and egress of a carriage, open on to the
stone footpaths. Entering such a doorway, one
traverses a stone-flagged hall, and emerges upon
an inner courtyard, or loatio, in the centre of the
house. Piazzas run round all four sides of the
quadrangle, and on these open the doors and
windows of the principal apartments. Flowering
shrubs, flowers, and creeping plants adorn the
square, the latter climbing up to the piazzas, and
twining from post to post, so as to form cool and
shady retreats from the hot noonday sun. Fre-
quently a small fountain is found in the centre of
the court, giving forth that soft lulling plash of
falling water which is so refreshing in a hot climate.


All the rooms on the ground-floor are store-rooms
or cellars, and the inmates live in the upper rooms,
to which a staircase from the patio leads. The
principal apartment, a kind of reception-hall, usually
overlooks the street and occupies the entire frontage
of the house, the bed and other rooms being dis-
tributed on the three remaining sides. To the
English eye they all appear bare and comfortless.
The furniture is scanty, grass mats are dotted about
like oases in a vast desert of carpetless floor, and
curtains are rare. As for ornaments and those little
nicknacks which enliven and make a room pretty,
they are never seen ; and the few pictures that
hang upon the whitewashed walls are invariably
execrably executed and tawdry tinsel-covered prints
of hideous saints. Art is at a very low ebb in the
Canaries ; but everything is remarkably solid, and
the wooden lattices of the windows are frequently
curiously carved.

The streets are paved with blocks of volcanic
stone, beautifully squared, and regularly set. Al-
though years old, they appear quite new ; and, were
it not for the grass that springs up everywhere
from the interstices, one might imagine that the
pavement had only been put down a day or two
before. In the lower parts of the town cobble-
stones are used, and there too, especially in the


direction of tlie fortress of San Juan, at the
southern end of Santa Cruz, the streets are any-
thing but clean, offal and refuse of every kind
being thrown into them by the poorer inhabitants.
The public garden, or Alameda, of Santa Cruz,
is a curious little place, about fifty yards square,
furnished with seats, trees, sub-tropical flowers, and
a fountain. Its principal attraction in the eyes of
the natives appears to be a kind of temple, brilliant
with stained glass and paint, where poisons in the
shape of eau d'or, absinthe, and parfait amour
are vended by the presiding high-priest to the
votaries. Here may be seen the frolicsome Spaniard
sadly taking his pleasure with his wife, or the wife
of somebody else ; walking round and round the
gravelled foot-paths with a stern and careworn air,
as if the woes of existence were almost too much
for him. Even the little children partake of this
gloomy character, and one never sees them running
about, laughing and playing like English children.
They promenade up and down with a staid and
dignified air, attired in the choicest flowers of their
wardrobes, like premature men and women ; and
the little girls manipulate their fans, and imitate
the coquettish airs of their elders, as if to the
manner born. This kind of priggish precociousness
is not pleasant to see in children, and whenever I


observe a young Spaniard, of the mature age of nine
or ten, bowing and scraping, and bending over the
hand of a woman old enough to be his grandmother,
with his hand on his heart, and a hlase look on
his face, I always feel inclined to box his ears. I
suppose it would outrage the dignity of these
young dons to play at such rough games as cricket
and football.

Santa Cruz positively swarms with Government
officials, who may always be recognised by their
arrogance, and by the fact that the legion of beggars
never imjDortunes them for alms. The Governor
of the Canary Islands resides in Tenerifte, while an
audiencia administers the government of Grand
Canary. The Governor is supported by an enormous
staff of satellites, whose chief duty seems to be to
keep an eye on the political prisoners, generals and
other dio;nitaries, who have been unfortunate in their
pronunciamientos, and who abound here.

The cathedral of Santa Cruz is considered one
of the sights of Teneriffe, though it possesses no
architectural merit, nor anything inside worth a
second glance. There is, however, a large array of
wax dolls, carefully preserved in glass cases, before
which one may see the ignorant peasantry bending
in pure idolatry; for their intellect is not sufficiently
cultivated to enable them to draw the fine line of


distinction between worshipping an actual image and
worshipping the idea v/hich it represents. Some
of the saints look sadly depraved characters, and
the waxen image of San Jago appeared admirably
suited for Madame Tussaud's Chamber of Horrors.
The raiment of these saints is absurdly grotesque.
Those of the fairer sex are attired in ruffs and
stomachers, after the fashion of the last century,
and the male saints are dressed in costumes ranging
from the trunk-hose and doublet to red morocco
boots and cavalier hats and feathers. Besides these,
there are immense pictures of allegorical scriptural
subjects, in which the drawing and treatment is
vile ; and which, I should think, were purchased
by the foot, since they never could have had any
value beyond the cost of the canvas and paint.
Some of them are perfect pictorial enigmas, which
no one but a Spanish priest could solve. An African
trader, whom I once met in this cathedral, said
that looking at these pictures made him feel as if
he had had too much to drink ; and I never met
a man better cjualificd by experience to recognise
that feeling. But the whole building is fitted up
in tlie very worst taste, and, instead of being
satisfied with honest mahogany, teak, or yellow-wood
reading-desks, pulpits, and other ecclesiastical up-
holstery, the priests must needs have all the wood-


work painted in imitation of lapis-lazuli, malachite,
jasper, and otlier stones ; painted too so badly that
it would not deceive the veriest novice, even at a
Ions; rano'c.

In the same building are two small English boat-
flags, which are carefully preserved in a glass case,
and further protected by a railing. The Spaniards
are quite right to take such care of them, for they
have not many such trophies, and could not easily
obtain others like them. These flags were lost
during the action in which Nelson lost his arm,
and the intelligent Spanish guide points them out
with much pride to the casual Briton, remarking
that that hero has been greatly overrated, as he
was easily beaten, and these trophies wrested from
him, by the gallant militia of the island.

The story of this engagement has been already
told a hundred times, but it may be new to some of
my readers, so, at the risk of being wearisome, I will
insert it. In the early part of July, 1797, the Earl
of St. Vincent detached, from the fleet cruisino- before
Cadiz, a squadron consisting of three sail of the line,
three frigates, and a cutter, to make an attack on
Santa Cruz, and attempt the capture of a galleon
anchored in the bay. This service was entrusted to
Nelson, who arrived ofl" Tenerifie on the 15tli July,
and made immediate preparations for landing the


seamen and marines. A heavy gale of wind pre-
vented an attempt which had been fixed for the 20th,
and on the 22Dd a body who had been landed to
carry the heights of the Paso Alto, to the north of
the town, had to be re-embarked, that position being
found too stronor for the force available.

The long interval that had elapsed since the
arrival of the squadron off the island had naturally
been well utilised by the Spaniards, who had got
several new guns into position, and concentrated all
the militia and troops in the island at the point of
threatened attack. On the evening of the 24th the
frigates anchored about two miles to the north of the
town, as a feint, to draw off a portion of the garrison
in that direction ; and about 11 p.m. about 1,100 men
embarked in boats and the Fox cutter, to endeavour
to carry the mole. The extreme darkness of the night
and the rouerh state of the weather rendered it im-
practicable for the boats to keep together ; and about
half-past one on the morning of the 25th, only the
cutter, Nelson's boat, and a few others arrived off the
mole. They thought they were undiscovered, but
the alarm was suddenly sounded, and a fire opened
from more than thirty guns and a considerable
body of troops who were stationed along the shore.
By this fire the cutter was so injured that she
immediately went down with ninety-seven men, a


shot struck Nelson on tlie right elbow and so disabled
him that he was oblifred to be carried back to his
ship, and another boat was sunk with eight seamen.
In spite of all this opposition the British effected a
landing, and immediately stormed and carried the
mole-head, which was defended by 300 men and six
twenty-four pounders. Having spiked these guns,
our men were about to advance, when they were
checked by a most destructive fire which was opened
from the citadel and houses near the mole.

In the meantime, Captain Trowbridge, with the
division of boats under his command, being unable
to reach the mole, pushed on shore under the battery
close to the south of the citadel ; but the surf was so
heavy that many of the boats put back, and those
that did not were immediately swamped, so that the
men's ammunition was destroyed. Collecting a few
men, however, Captain Trowbridge pushed on to the
Plaza, the appointed place of rendezvous, and, not
meeting any of the other detachments, he sent a
summons to the citadel to surrender. No answer was
received to this summons, and Captain Trowbridge,
being joined by a few men who had landed further
to the south, found himself at daybreak with a body
of 340 men, confronted by a force of some 8,000
Spaniards, who, with several field- pieces, commanded
all the streets. The boats being all stove in, and


there being no possibility of receiving a reinforce-
inent, lie sent a flag of truce to the Governor, offering
to capitulate on condition that the British slioiikl be
allowed to re-embark with their arms. They were to
take their own boats, if any were saved, and, if not,
the Spaniards were to provide others. In case of com-
pliance with these terms, he engaged that the ships
should not further molest the town, nor attack any
one of the Canary Islands. This astonishing proposal
was accepted by the Governor, and the men marched
to the mole-head and embarked in boats furnished by
the Spaniards. The Governor liberally supplied the
retreating invaders with biscuits and wine, removed
their wounded to the hospital, and even gave them
permission to send on shore and purchase any
provisions the squadron might require. Amongst
the wreckage of the boats washed up on the steep
beach were found the two boat-llags, which are now
so carefully preserved in the cathedral. The British
loss amounted to 114 killed and drowned, and 105

The only other occasion upon which we have
made a descent upon the island was in 1G57, when
a fleet, under Admiral Blake, came oft' Santa Cruz
and destroyed the Spanish fleet of galleons which
had put into the roadstead. The inhabitants say
that the town was then defenceless, whereas, at the


time of Nelson's attack, the fortifications must have
been formidable, altliougli the guns mounted in the
batteries of San Cristoval and San Pedro are now
obsolete. A few yea.rs ago the town would have
been at the mercy of a single gun-boat, but in 1881
an armament of modern heavy artillery was sent
to the island, and a work of considerable strength
has since been constructed near the Paso Alto.

The country in the immediate neighbourhood
of Santa Cruz being very sterile, nothing much is
j)roduced but the prickly-pear, which is grown in
terraces on the hill slopes for the cultivation of the
cochineal insect. In the spring of the year each
leaf or lobe of the prickly-pear is swathed in linen ;
and a plantation so adorned looks, at a little distance,
like an array of bandaged hands. The reason of this
practice is that at that season the queen cochineal
insect, so to speak, is j^laced on the plant ; and the
linen wrappers are to keep her from being washed
off by rain, or blown oif by wind. This work is
principally performed by women, who are them-
selves bandaged up from head to foot, like mummies,
to escape being lacerated by the poisonous thorns.

The way in which every little piece of alluvial
soil is scraped up and carried off to a garden is mar-
vellous to behold. Long processions of camels, each
with a large box full of earth on its back, may be


seen almost daily coming into the town ; and tliis
earth is used for makino^ terrace oardens. The camel
is not a nice animal to meet in a narrow street, for
he has an unpleasant habit of reaching out his
telescopic neck, and taking a mouthful of coat and
trowsers out of you. They move so quietly that
you cannot hear them coming behind you, and I
know few things more startling, than when you are
quietly strolling along, to suddenly feel a hot breath
down the back of your neck. AVhen they do not
do this, they nibble unexpectedly at your elbow ;
and they are quite cunning enough to know where
the funny-bone is, and how to get most agility and
amusement out of you. Some people say these
animals are indigenous to Fuerteventura, but I have
been unable to find that any of the earlier Spanish
writers mention them as being there when the island
was first occupied, although they speak of goats
and cattle.

About eleven miles to the south of Santa Cruz,
on the sea-shore, is the shrine of Our Lady of
Candelaria, one of the most celebrated of Spanish
saints, and the patroness in particular of Canary
Island fishermen. The shrine consists of a cave
with a chapel, and is richly endowed with votive
offerings, being, perhaps, the most wealthy in the
island. The imai^e in this shrine is about three feet


in lieio-lit, made of a dark-hued wood of a reddisli
colour ; the face and hands are unpainted, while the
garments are coloured. It appears either to have
been the figure-head of a small vessel, or one of
those images of saints with which, in days long-
bygone, the poops of Spanish and Portuguese cara-
vels were adorned ; and the legend connected with
it bears out this supposition, as it is said to have
been found on the beach at Candelaria. In 1464,
when the Spaniards first visited Tenerifi'e, they took
away with them a Guanche youth, whom they of
course converted to the Koman religion, and baptized
by the name of Antonio. This boy, observing the
great reverence with which his captors regarded the
various images of saints that were on board the
caravel, informed them that there was an image of
the same kind in Teneriffe, which had been washed
ashore after a storm. From his description of it the
Spaniards told him that it must be an image of the
Virgin Mary. Some time after Antonio escaped to
Teneriffe, and, happening to see the image again, he
informed his fellow-countrymen that it represented
the mother of the Lord of the universe. The
Guanches had not treated it hitherto with any
greater respect than they paid to other wreckage,
but, on hearing this account of it, they set it up
in a cave and treated it with much reverence.


The foregoing is the history of the miraculous
image, and, besides being both possible and probable,
it may be observed that it is the one given by the
Spanish historians who wrote before Our Lady of
Candelaria had acquired such a widespread reputation.
Naturally, when the island was subdued, the Spanish
priests took advantage of the veneration in which the
image was held, and turned it to their own account ;
building up, on the above slight foundation, a mass of
fabrications which are accepted by the credulous and
ignorant peasantry and fishermen as uncjuestionable
truths. According to the history, as narrated by the
priests, the image arrived in the island in the year
1390, that is to say, about one hundred years before
the Spanish conquest. They say that, one morning,
when two goatherds were drivino; their flocks towards
a cave in the ravine at Candelaria they saw the holy
image standing upon a rock on the sea-shore, at ihe
mouth of the ravine. These goatherds mistook it for
a living woman, which, however, it does not in the
least resemble ; and, as the goats would not pass it,
they made signs to it to move. As it took no notice
of them, one of them picked up a stone to throw at it,
when, strange to say, his arm became fixed, and he
could not drop the stone. The other goatherd, seeing
this, went towards the image and tried to cut off its
hand with his obsidian knife, still labouring under the


strange delusion that a living woman was before liim ;
but, instead of harming the image, he only cut his
own hand. Enraged at this, he made another attempt
to mutilate it, but only succeeded in cutting himself
again. Upon this the goatherds concluded that the
image came from heaven, a place of which they had
no idea, and, going to the king of the district, told
of what had happened. The latter at once assembled
all his people, and the entire population proceeded to
the ravine, where, finding the image still in th& same
position, they were greatly struck with admiration
and reverence. The kiog, however, ordered the two
goatherds to carry it to his cave. They took hold of
it accordingly, and immediately upon touching it
were cured, to the no small astonishment of the
spectators. The image remained in the king's cave
till about 1465, when Diego de Herrera, the Governor
of Lanz^afote, was so moved by the descriptions of
the above-mentioned Guanche convert, Antonio, that
he despatched some Guanches who were in his service
to steal it. On its arrival in Lanzarote the valuable
prize was received with great demonstrations of joy,
and was carried in solemn procession to the church of
Eubicon, where it was carefully deposited on the
altar. The image apparently did not like its new
abode so well as the cave of the Guanche king, for
next morning it was found with its face turned to the


wall ; and, alfcliougli turned round again every day,
was always found in that position in tlie morning.
The people were panic-stricken at this marvellous
sign of the displeasure of the image, and Diego de
Herrera, imagining that it was unwilling to remain in
Lanzarote, sailed to Teneriffe and restored it to the
natives, who received it with much pomp, and put it
back in its cave.

Since then the image has gained great celebrity
as the protectress of seamen — a reputation which,
it seems to me, may be very easily earned. Hundreds
of fishing boats go out annually to fish on the banks
off the African coast. When a squall or a storm
comes on, the fishermen implore the protection of
Our Lady of Candelaria, and promise her candles
and pretty little things to hang up in her shrine.
If the boat goes down, nothing more is heard about
its crew, and nobody can say that the image failed its
worshippers in the hour of need. On the other hand,
if the boat lives through the storm, the fishermen at
once attribute it to the powerful protection of theii-
patroness, and, returning on shore, spread her reputa-
tion far and wide. On the girdle, skirt, neck, and
sleeve-band of the image are certain Roman cha-
racters, which are evidently of much more recent
date than the figure itself The priests, having put
these on themselves, are of course able to interpret


their meaning ; which they do in the manner best
suited for deceiving their gullible parishioners, and
for keeping up the popularity of the shrine.

There is a strange resemblance between the
grosser forms of Roman Catholicism, as seen in these
islands, and the fetish worship of the negro tribes in
the Gulf of Guinea. Both these islanders and the
negroes profess to believe in one mighty and omnipo-
tent deity, whom, however, they both practically
ignore, worshipping subordinate gods, fetishes, or
saints instead. These lesser deities are represented
by tangible objects. The Spaniard, being a better
workman, has images of wax or wood, made in
imitation of the human form, and attired in clothing
such as he wears, or his ancestors used to wear. The
negro, being a poor modeller, makes a grotesque
clay image, round the waist of which he ties a
strip of rag, to represent such scanty clothing as he
himself wears ; while, in districts where clay is scarce,
or where there are no modellers at all, a cone of mud
or a piece of wood suffices to give his idea both
substance and form. Both, if questioned, will un-
hesitatingly assert that they do not worship these
tangible objects, but the persons whom they repre-
sent ; and, if asked what then their use may be, they
reply that they are useful to keep them in mind of
their reli odious duties.


Eacli has his own particular deity, of whom he
thinks better than of the others ; for the Spaniard
has his patron saint, and the negro his household or
family fetish. Many of these supernatural persons
have specialities of their own ; thus some cure lame-
ness, some prevent sickness, some remove barrenness,
and others, like Oar Lady of Candelaria, preserve
sailors from the perils of the sea. So too the fetish
Tegba., if propitiated, cures sterility ; Bo preserves
soldiers from injury; So protects from lightning, and
Azoon from fire. The Spaniard, to propitiate his
fetish or saint, gives him wax candles, cheap mirrors,
crucifixes, and other trifles ; while his wife thinks her
welfare is secured when she hangs her last season's
ball-dress on the shoulders of her particular patroness.
The neofro, havino; none of these thiuG-s, offers that
which to him is of much more value, namely food and
drink, and ])Ours over his clay or wooden image palm-
oil, eggs, palm-wine, and rum. Both are so super-
stitious, and a belief in these fetishes or saints is so
much a part of their daily lives, that any attempt to
challenge or eradicate it is futile. The negro fetish-
priest meets his neighbour and says : "I saw Azoon
in the bush the other day. He is much pleased with
that palm-oil you gave him ; you will be quite safe
from fire for some time." AVhile the Spanish priest
says to his dupe : " St. So-and-so appeared to me


in a vision last night. I think if you will burn
tapers before his shrine for the next fortnight, the
safety of your cargo will be assured." In this way,
always hearing these supernatural persons spoken of,
and frequently meeting people who profess to have
seen them, the belief becomes so engrafted into their
natures, that they believe in them as implicitly as
they do in their own existence ; and all goes well for
the class who make a living by imposture.

Any person without bicis must acknowledge that
these two worships, or superstitions, are practically
the same, the very slight difference between them
being due to the different degrees of civilisation, and
their consequent different modes of thought and
trains of ideas. Although the Roman Catholic is
wilfully blind to this fact, and would never acknow-
ledge that there is the least similarity between the
two, the negro is not afflicted by any such mental
obscurity. Not very long' ago, some Roman Catholic
missionaries settled at Whydah, the seaport of the
negro kingdom of Dahomey. Intelligence was at
once conveyed to the king, at Abomey, the capital,
that new white fetish-men had come to the sea-
sliore, and that they had brought their god witli
them. The king expressed his surprise at this, it

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Online LibraryA. B. (Alfred Burdon) EllisWest African islands → online text (page 14 of 22)