A. B. (Alfred Burdon) Ellis.

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being contrary to what he had heard before con-
cerning the religion of white men, and at once sent


orders for the new crod to be brousfht to him. The

o o

missionaries, regarding this as a good opening, sent
a number of images of saints, madonnas, and crucifixes
to the king, who, when he received, them, said he
was glad to see that the white man's worship was
like Iiis, since they had many gods and so had. he,
and what they had sent him were very much like
his, only better made. He then had the images
transported, with much ceremony, beating of drums,
and firing of guns, to a fetish house which he had
had purposely built for them. ■

To the student of human nature it will not
appear strange that an ignorant and debased
peasantry should jjlace full credence in such bug-
bears as saints, visions, and apparitions, but that
men of culture and education should lend their
suj)port to bolster up such a belief is indeed a sad
spectacle. It is curious to trace the history of
such appearances, and to observe how, with the
change of religious belief, the nature of the super-
natural visitors also chan^-ed. The Greeks and
Romans used to see apparitions of Bacchus, Minerva,
Venus, and others of their deities ; but no one has
ever heard of any of those mythical personages
appearing to man since the downfall of the Greek
gods, because, since then, the world has ceased to
believe in them. Similarly, when England was a


Roman Catholic country, visions and apparitions of
saints occurred as frequently there as they now do
in Spain and her colonies ; yet no Protestant in
England is, in these days, ever troubled by a visit
from a saint, whether of his own or the Romish
Church. All he sees, or fancies he sees, are solitary
spectres, who appear to delight in inhabiting damp
and unwholesome houses, attired, even in the most
inclement weather, in nothing more substantial than
a shroud or sheet ; and he fancies he sees these
things because he still has a lingering belief in
supernatural appearances. In fact, in all ages,
when the man of a nervous temperament, with a
disordered liver and a quick imagination, has
imagined he has seen an apparition, it has been
an apparition of something which he has vaguely
believed to exist ; and how intelligent and educated
persons can, in the present day, lend a credulous
ear to such absurdities as the manifestations of
spiritualism, ghosts, and visions of saints, is one of
not the least wonders of the aire.



Its Early History — The Massacre of Centejo — San Cristoval de la
Laguna — The Perspiring Portrait — Orotava — El Puerto —
Eestas — The Orotava Murder — Garachica — The Great Lateral
Eruption — Island Tradition — Storms.

In tlie preceding chapter I have said that the
Spaniards first visited Teneriff'e in 1464. In that
year Diego de Herrera and the colonising bishop, who
had been foiled at Grand Canary in 1402, arrived
at the island, and, finding the inhabitants prepared
to oppose a landing, assured them that they were only
actuated by a desire to cultivate their friendship and
trade with them. Being permitted to land on this
understanding, Diego went through the farce of
taking formal possession of the island, and then
returned to Lanzarote. Some years later Sancho
Herrera obtained permission to build a tower and
fort at Anaso, where the city of Santa Cruz now
stands, under the pretext of it being merely for


trading purposes ; but tlie Spanish garrison com-
mitted so many outrages that the Guanches rose
in arms, razed the buildings to the ground, and 2:)ut
to death the whole garrison except five men, who
contrived to escape to the shipping in the port.

The first real invasion took place on May 3rd,
1493, when Alonso de Lugo, having completed the
conquest of the island of Palma, arrived with the
armament that had been there employed at the port
of Anaso, which, on account of the day, the festival
of the Holy Cross, he named Santa Cruz. At this
time the island was torn by internecine strife, war
being waged by the king of Taora (now called
Orotava) against the kings of all the other districts
of the island.

Disembarking his troops, Alonso de Lugo marched
up to the plain where the city of Laguna now stands,
and, proceeding as far as the hermitage of Garcia,
there encamped. Here he had interviews with the
other kings, formed an alliance with them, and then
commenced to move against Ventomo, the king of
Taora. The latter, hearing of his approach, came
to the Spanish camp, accompanied by only 300
picked men, and asked Alonso what he came
for. The Spanish leader replied that he came
merely to seek his friendship, to request him to
embrace Christianity, and to persuade him to become

s 2


a, vassal of the King of Spain. To these modest
proposals the Giumche king proudly replied that as
for his friendship, he accepted it most willingly, for
it should never be said that he refused that of any
man; but that, being a free-born man and subject
to no one, he intended to live and die free ; that
he did not know the King of Spain, but in any
case he would not become his or any other person's
vassal, while, as for embracing Christianity, he did
not know what that meant. " This answer," says
a pious historian, "plainly showed the stiffnecked-
ness of this stubborn heathen, who thus continued
guilty of the horrible sin of remaining ignorant of
the tenets of the true faith."

Having thus answered, the haughty islander at
once left the camp with his trusty body-guard, and
retired to his own district, into which Alonso de Luga^
immediately advanced, penetrating as far as Orotava
without meeting with any resistance. The numerous
herds of cattle in the valley were swept in by his
cavalry, the crops were destroyed, such caves as the
Spaniards could find were pillaged, and he then, with
a vast cavalcade of booty, prepared to thread the
narrow and diilicult passes which lay in the way of
his return to Santa Cruz. Despising the uncivilised
islanders, and unconscious of danger, the Spaniards
straggled along in a lengthy train, without order.


and mixed up witli tlie flocks and herds wliich they
had taken. No sooner, however, were they well
within the mountains, and movino; alonsf a narrow
defile, whose bed was much encumbered with huge
boulders which had fallen from the clifis that to\vered
above, than a loud cry was raised, and they were
fallen upon by the warriors of Ventomo. The sur-
prise was complete, and the Spaniards, entangled
with the flocks, were thrown into confusion ; while
the agile mountaineers, leaping from crag to crag,
rained down showers of darts and hurled vast
masses of rock upon them. Some of the horse-
men endeavoured to spur their steeds up the
steep face of the mountain and close with their
foes, but only to fall back or be dashed down
l)y the boulders detached from above, and choke
the narrow pathway with a crushed and struggling
mass of men and horses. Encumbered with the
weight of their armour, and entangled in the
fastnesses of an unknown country, the Spaniards
knew not which way to turn. Every moment men
were struck down and trampled under foot, or
immense stones, bounding down the steeps, ploughed
lanes alike through the ranks of the soldiery and
the crowds of the bellowing and terrified cattle ;
until at last, panic-stricken and unable to resist,
they sought safety in a precipitate flight, in which


they were closely followed by the victorious Guanches.
The pursuit continued for miles ; every harranca
and mountain glen resounded with the din of arms ;
and the defiles were strewn with the corpses of
the vanquished Spaniards. Alonso de Lugo himself
narrowly escaped capture. Being struck ofi" his
horse by a stone, which knocked out several of his
teeth, he was surrounded by a number of Guanches,
when an old soldier named Pedro Benitez rushed
to his assistance, and cutting down four of his
opponents, succeeded in placing his chief upon
another horse, and escaping with him from the
scene of conflict. In this action the Spaniards
lost GOO men, the bulk of their force, and
this slaughter had been effected by the 300
Guanches only who formed Yentomo's guard,
the remainder of the men of the district, who had
been called out, not coming up in time to take
part in the battle. The spot where the Spaniards
were first attacked was near the village of Centejo,
and the defile where the greatest loss occurred is
still pointed out as the scene of "la Mantanza de

The fugitives, arriving at Santa Cruz, escaped
on board the shipping, from which boats were
immediately despatched along the coast to pick
up any survivors. At one place they found ninety


men clinging to a rock at some distance from the
land, to whicli they had escaped by swimming.
After a few days, Alonso de Lugo, having collected
the remnant of his scattered force, attempted another
landing near Santa Cruz. They were at once met
by the natives, who, encouraged by the success
which had attended the arms of the king of Taora,
had buried their own differences and united to repel
the invaders ; and, in the action which ensued, the
Spaniards were driven back to their ships, with a
loss of over a hundred men.

This second defeat so crippled Alonso that he
could not again venture to land, and he accordingly
returned to Grand Canary, from whence he sent to
Spain for assistance. Some merchants of Seville,
who had assisted him with money in his expedition
to Palma, sent him a further supply, with which he
raised troops in Grand Canary. The Duke of
Medina Sidonia also sent six caravels, havins: on
board 650 men and forty horses; while Inez,
the widow of Diego de Herrera, sent a rein-
forcement from Lanaarote. Thus assisted, Alonso
de Lugo now found himself at the head of about
1,100 men, of whom seventy were cavalry, and
with this force he at once sailed for Teneriffe.
The troops disembarked at Santa Cruz, and marched
to the plain of Laguna, where they had a slight


skirmish with the Guanches. Thence they moved
in two cokimns into the district of Taora, where
several indecisive engagements with the united
islanders took place. The latter, however, dis-
heartened at not obtaining a complete success, and
surprised at the return of their enemies so soon
after their defeat and heavy loss at Centejo, began
to think of coming to terms. Tliey accordingly
asked for a cessation of arms in order that they
might hold a conference, the result of which was
that they submitted to be Christianised and to
become subjects of Spain, on condition of being
allowed to remain in peaceable possession of their
lands and property.

About four miles from Santa Cruz is the old
town of San Cristoval de la Laguna, the former
capital of Teneriffe, and which was founded by
Alonso de Lugo, immediately after the pacification
of the island, on the 25th of July, 1495. The
town is situated on one side of a plain of about
four square miles in extent, and derives its name
from a lagoon which lies behind it, and which dries
up in the summer. There is a gradual ascent to it
from Santa Cruz by a magnificent raised road of
volcanic stone, which, if it depended upon Laguna
for traffic, would be but little used ; for that town
is like a city of the dead, most of the houses being


deserted, and the streets grass-grown and empty, with
scarce a sound to awake their echoes. Everything
betokens decay and neglect. Splendid houses w^ith
sculptured fronts are dropping to pieces ; shattered
doors, once richly carved, hang flapping to and fro
on their rusty hinges in the strong breeze ; grass
and moss grow everywhere, on the summits of the
walls, in the crevices of the sculpture, on the stone
steps, and even on the window-sills, while rank
vegetation fringes each side of the desolate streets.
It is a place to give one the horrors, being gloomy
and depressing to the last degree ; and when
wandering along the damp and silent thoroughfares,
where one's footstep seems to reverberate strangely
from the empty buildings, one instinctively thinks
of old-world stories of populous cities suddenly de-
vastated by a pestilence, and half expects to see
mouldering coffins or unburied corpses inside each
tottering doorway or ruined arch.

Of course the place has a few inhabitants, about
one to every ten houses, I should think, and how
they can exist there without being driven to commit
suicide is marvellous. Occasionally you will see a
black figure gliding along a mildewed street like a
ghost, and treading carefully as if any noise would
awaken some ghastly echo — that is an inhabitant.
There are several churches and chapels in Laguna,


and three convents of friars ; and, ^Ylle^c these are,
there will l3e priests and monks, who form the
majority of the population. Perhaps one reason
of its being deserted by its former inhabitants is
that being exposed, from its high situation, to the
strong north-west trade-wind, it is, for the latitude,
extremely cold in winter ; although the removal of
the large staff of Government officers, judges, and
clerks to Santa Cruz would, of course, partly account
for its decadence. It used to be the head-quarters
in Teneriffe of that humane institution the Inquisi-

The show church in Lao-una is that dedicated to
La Virgen de la Concepcion. In it is a j^ainting
which is said to be a Murillo, and which may be
the truth for all any one can see to the contrary ;
for the picture is more like a slab of mahogany that
has been blackened by the smoke of a century of
candles, than anything else. It is supposed to re-
present the Assumption of the Virgin, but, to the
profane eye, it much better represents neglect and
dirt. I have heard that the priests oil it annually
before some festival, and then have the church swept,
so as to allow the dust to settle on it and o-ivc it
a good tone ; the consequence being that the tone is
now about an eighth of an inch thick, and the picture
looks like the work of a very old master indeed.


This church also contains another painting, which
is said to possess miraculous powers. The legend is
to the effect that in May, 1648, when a priest was
celebrating high mass over a corpse which was ex-
tended before the high altar, he observed the picture,
which was painted on pitch-pine, to be covered with
drops of moisture. The service being at an end, he
asked the sacristan if he had sprinkled water upon
it when he was laying the dust in the church, and,
as that individual declared that he had not, the
reverend father at once smelt a miracle, and ordered
the bells to be rung to celebrate the joyful occur-
rence. The towns^^eople soon hurried in to ascertain
what was the matter, and with them came the Vicar-
General, the Inquisitor, and many other salaried pillars
of the Church. It at once occurred to these latter
that the laity, being unfortunately only too prone to
receive miraculous manifestations in a carping and
incredulous spirit, were not proper persons to inquire
into the matter ; so they ordered them to be turned out,
and then, locking the doors of the church, proceeded
to make a most careftd examination. Strange to say
they could discover nothing which might reasonably
account for the extraordinary moisture ; but, to make
sure there was no deception, they had the picture,
and two others which were next to it, well sprinkled
with water, and then withdrew from the building,


locking all the doors, and placing sentries ovei

After some hours the reverend fathers, accom-
panied hy the Captain-General, reopened the chnrch,
and they found, as they had expected, that the
miraculous picture was still perspiring, while the
others, that had also been wetted, were quite dry
The townspeople were accordingly marched in, so
that they might have ocular demonstration of the
miracle ; and the Captain-General, who was an ex-
ceedingly devout man, obtained permission from the
priests to touch the drops with his fingers. He then,
with the utmost devotion, anointed his eyes with
the moisture, and, keeping them closed while he
offered up a short prayer, he was surprised and
horrified at its conclusion to find that he was unable
to open them. The populace were much struck by
this extraordinary circumstance, and the Captain-
General was not able to open his eyes until he had
bathed them copiously with warm water. Two wicked
men who were in the crowd, having observed that
every fly that inserted its profane proboscis into the
sacred fluid remained stuck to the picture, were bold
enouofh to assert from this, and from the miracle that
had happened to the eyes of the Captain-General,
til at the miraculous perspiration was nothing more
than a resinous exudation from the fresh boards of


pitcli-pine on wliicli the picture was painted. Fortu-
nately for the honour of the saints, and the welfare
of the Christian religion, the Inquisitor heard the
remarks of these scoffers, and perceiving that they
savoured of an abominable heresy, and that these men
were setting themselves up above the authorised ex-
pounders of the true faith, he called several familiars
appertaining to his office, and had these doubters
removed, in order that they might be subjected to
the question, and have their spiritual condition in-
quired into. After that he asked the remainder of
the townspeople if any of them had any doubts about
the genuineness of the miracle, and they all hastened
to declare that they had no doubts. The miracle was
then of course beyond question, since no one could
venture to say afterwards that it was a piece of
priestcraft, when so many independent witnesses had
openly attested to its genuineness. However, to put
the matter beyond dispute, even to the most aban-
doned heretic, the Vicar-General ordered cotton
wicks to be moistened with the sacred drops. Lights
were then applied to them, and they burned brightly
in the sight of all men. This was entirely conclusive,
as, if the moisture had been resinous, the wicks
would naturally not have burned at all, whereas
everybody knows that there is nothing so inflammable
as perspiration, which partakes largely of the nature


of turpentine. A solemn mass and an act of thanks-
giving were at once performed, and the ungodly
scoffers expiated tlieir crime at the auto-da-fe held in
the market-place in the ensuing week. It was after-
wards observed that the picture did not perspire so
copiously in cold weather, which was a further proof
that it was not a fraud, as no person perspires so
much when he is cold as he does when he is hot ; and
as it advanced in years the perspiration gradually
ceased, showing that as the saint grew old the juices
of the body dried up. It has now not perspired for
more than two hundred years.

The most pleasant town in Teneriffe is Port Oro-
tava, generally called JEl Puerto, to distinguish it from
the village of Orotava proper, which lies back some
three miles from the sea. A species of dilicjcnce
runs from Santa Cruz to these places at fitful inter-
vals, and the journey offers some of the most
beautiful views of mountain scenery to be found in
the island. The road leaves the western extremity
of the plain of Laguna and descends into broken
and mountainous country, At about half-way be-
tween Santa Cruz and Orotava, the villao^e of
Centejo, near the defile where the Spanish defeat
took place, is passed ; and beyond the hermitage
of Nuestra Senora de la Victoria, where the treaty
with the Guanchcs was concluded, the valleys appear


dotted with houses, while on the right are some
large villages. The view of the valley of Orotava
as seen from the mountain road is most strikinof,
the white houses of the port standing out pic-
turesquely against the blue waters of the sea, while
from the neck of the mountain the ground falls
away, first rapidly and broken up into rugged
chasms, then more gradually and covered with culti-
vation and groves of trees.

The village of Orotava is a quiet dreamy place,
built on the slope of a hill, with a mountain torrent
bounding it on one side. The houses, though of
some pretension, are all dreadfully dilapidated ; for
this village, which was once the favourite resort of
the island grandees, has now gone out of fashion,
its marble ixitios, and groves of orange and banana,
alone testifying to its former grandeur. '"

Port Orotava was once a commercial town of
some note, and was celebrated for its Canary Sack ;
but a great part of its trade left it some fifty years
ago, and its grass-grown streets are not now much
disturbed by mercantile bustle. The smiling valley
in which it stands would, however, make amends
for a great deal of dulness. A curious contrast

* The place is buried in flowers ; pomegranate, f uclisia, jasmine,
heliotrope, and hundreds of other plants growing and clambering
everywhere in wild confusion.


to tlie sterility of the neighbourhood of Santa Cruz,
this part of the island is a perfect garden. Vine-
yards, cornfields, orchards, plantations of prickly-pear,
and groves of orange and banana cover the ground,
forming, when seen from the hills above, a patch-
work of various brilliant colours. Here and there
the white walls of a chapel or farmhouse gleam
out from amid clumps of trees, and the profusion
of wild flowers of every hue that clothes the earth
baffles description. Below the mountain ranges
which enclose the valley are wooded hills, on which
are the groups of houses of distant villages, the
church spire of one, Eealixo, being a prominent
object ; while far above all towers the majestic
mass of the Peak. Nor is softness the only charac-
teristic of this valley. It is intersected by deep
and rocky barrancas, at the bottoms of which moun-
tain streams leap and sparkle over the boulders,
while the sides are covered with dense vegetation
and sweet-scented blossoms.

Like Santa Cruz, Port Orotava also possesses a
Plaza de la Constitucion, sometimes known by the
less aristocratic title of " Shrimp Square." It is
rather a pleasant place, being a rectangle surrounded
on three sides by well-built and picturesque houses,
and open to the sea on the fourth. The footpath
is shaded by jDlanc-trecs, and numerous stone seats


are provided for the use of loungers. Standing
down on the sea front here, where the surf breaks
heavily below the old battery of rusted cannon,
one sees on either side a small bay with a beach
of shining black sand. These are the anchorages of
the port, and are so much exposed to sudden
gales, that it is not probable that the curious little
fort which protects the one, nor the infantry bastion
which defends the other, will ever be called into
requisition to repulse a hostile armament.

On saints' and feast days this plaza is thronged
Avith the peasantry of the surrounding country, who
there exhibit their poor finery to their neighbours
and the townspeople after mass. On these occasions
stalls are erected in the square, at which eatables,
drinkables, tin saints and similar rubbish are sold ;
and the street near the church is decorated with
flowers and the branches of trees. In the evening
there are dances, and the twanging of the guitar
and the reedy piping of the flute draw out crowds
of idlers from every street. Here may be seen
performed the grave and stately saraband, the lively
fandango, and, occasionally, the canario, the dance
of the ancient Guanches. As the night wears on
and the fun grows faster, couples stand up and per-
form the zapateo, a dance which at a certain c^joch
in civilisation is or has been common to all countries


and nations, and wliicli is called hornpipe by the
English, sheh-sheh by the Mandingoes, hula-hula by
the South Sea Islanders, adunkuni by the Fantis,
and jig by the Irish. In the United Kingdom,
althouo;h the dance has been retained, modern ideas
of refinement have caused the gestures and motions
to be so modified as to be inoflfensive ; but there
can be no doubt as to what it was originally in-
tended to represent, and in countries where the
people are not much influenced by motives of
decorum, it may still be seen undisguised. While
these dances go on squibs and crackers are let ofif,

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Online LibraryA. B. (Alfred Burdon) EllisWest African islands → online text (page 15 of 22)