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Post More on Silbo Gomero: The Whistling Negrins
Created by John Eipper on 05/26/18 7:23 AM

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More on Silbo Gomero: The Whistling Negrins (Carmen Negrin, France, 05/26/18 7:23 am)

The government of Canarias has re-introduced the teaching of the "silbido," in particular in the island of La Gomera.

Herewith is a note from the Canary government on its meaning and use:


I have to say that it has become rather popular although not widespread, in the sense that even a successful French song talking/singing about it came out a year or two ago.

Personally, in our family, although not from La Gomera, we have always called each other, when at a distance or in a crowd, with a special whistle, transmitted from one generation to another. Maybe not always regarded as very polite, but certainly very useful!

JE comments: Very cool. Carmen, did your grandfather know silbo? Did he use it?

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  • Juan Negrin, Silbador (Carmen Negrin, France 05/27/18 3:10 PM)

    John E asked if my grandfather was a "speaker" of Silbo (the Canarian whistling language). He was indeed!

    JE comments:  Juan Negrín was an outstanding polyglot, so no surprise here.  His biographers claim ten languages.  I don't know if they count Silbo among them.

    Speaking of singing Canaries, Gary Moore (next) has sent us some on-line demonstrations of Silbo in action.

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    • A Demonstration of Silbo Gomero; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 05/28/18 4:30 AM)

      Gary Moore writes:

      So that's why they're called the Canary Islands.
      Thanks very much to Carmen Negrín for opening
      the wonderland of the Silbo Gomero.

      Whole flocks of them can be found here:


      JE comments:  What is most charming about this video is that the two young Gomerans in Madrid, Aileen and Estefanía, cannot find each other the old-fashioned way (with their cell phones).  Only some tried-and-true silbo cuts through the hubbub and confusion of the Puerta del Sol.

      In the crime underworld, it's a sin to "sing like a Canary," but not on La Gomera!  The credits at the end of the video state that silbo is taught to all Gomero schoolchildren.  Bravo.

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      • Dogs, Canaries, and The Canaries (Carmen Negrin, France 05/30/18 4:26 AM)
        So sorry to disappoint Gary Moore (May 28th), but the name of Canary Islands, according to several sources, comes from the Latin canis, meaning dog, and not from the bird!


        Some, Pliny the Elder in particular, say that the Romanized Berber, King Juba II, who sent an expedition to conquer the then called Fortunatae Insulae, was offered two Canarian mastiffs; others says the local population ate dogs. Whatever, but today the mastiff is the symbol of the islands. In front of the Cathedral of Las Palmas, there are several statues of dogs (https://www.alamy.es/imagenes/canary-island-dog-statue.html ).

        Also, every year, the regional government awards a golden statue of a dog to those who have done something special for the region. We have one sitting in our Foundation in Las Palmas.

        I also have to admit to John, that besides whistling in a particular "Gomeran" manner to call my brother and me, my grandfather (and my father, after him) didn't really use the Silbo Gomero to communicate.

        Last but not least, perhaps you have noticed that the Latin Americans and in particular those from Venezuela, Cuba and Colombia, have a pronounced Canarian accent.

        JE comments:  The birds, rather, got their name from the Islands.  Dog birds? 

        I've never been to the Canaries, but Caribbean Spanish (in Colombia they call it "Coastal"/costeño, to distinguish it from bogotano and other national variants) is always traced back to Andalusian through the Canaries.  A language curiosity, Carmen:  are the Canarios able to recognize accent differences among the islands--i.e., whether the speaker is from Tenerife or Gran Canaria or Lanzarote?

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        • A Question on Whistling Technique; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 05/30/18 3:28 PM)

          Gary Moore writes:

          On the day the headlines read "Offensive Tweet" (Roseanne Barr),
          I learn that the Canary Islands are named for dogs.

          This news from Carmen
          Negrín (30 May) seems bird-wreathed, if not star-crossed. But it doesn't solve
          my quandary: In those amazing YouTube videos of the Silbo Gomero,
          you can see the adepts sticking one finger into their mouths
          (not two fingers as in some American wolf-whistles, or no fingers
          as in others). So how do they turn that knuckle into a trumpet valve?

          In distant adolescence I was finally shown what I couldn't figure out:
          that the power of two-finger wolf-whistling comes from a careful
          combination of placements (which after a time become habitual),
          involving channeling outflow to a single spot (in this case, by pressure
          of the two fingers against the slightly upraised tongue).

          Can Carmen, or some other WAIS adept, enlighten me on how the
          single-finger Silbo method works? Carmen, even if you didn't learn the
          full Silbo language (as in the videos), you evidently learned the basic technique
          of producing a beautifully emphatic blast of sibilance. Is there a how-to
          manual somewhere on the Web? As in that ancient adolescent quest,
          I wanna play too.

          It's like hearing a new bird in the monte of Central America, and wondering what
          to call it. Very tricky, because a moment has to arrive, star-crossed, when the bird
          happens to decide to sing at the same time that a local adept is present, so
          one can ask: "What's that? What do you call it" And it can't be just any adept--
          but the rare one who will not only 1) know what the name of the bird is in local
          parlance (say, a pica piedra or a papan), but also can b) articulate such knowledge
          to the unknowing. It's a social riddle. Not every busy campesino cares about the
          names of birds. But some do. So how to find that one wizard, to explain the
          knuckle blast?

          JE comments:  I can hear the Gomeran maestra now:  "Niños, it's time for silbo class.  Pass around the hand sanitizer."

          Carmen, can you give us some pointers on silbo technique?  Problem is, how does one explain such a thing in writing?  (Can you learn to ride a bike by reading about it?)

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          • Learning the Silbo Canario (Carmen Negrin, France 06/01/18 4:28 AM)
            In response to Gary Moore's request, this is the best I could find on the techniques of the silbo canario:




            In the second clip you will also see the stick (called astia or lanza) with which the shepherds move from one mountain to another.


            I hope it helps!

            JE comments:  The first YouTube video is off-limits to us Yanquis ("not available in your country").  Darn.  But the second shows the knuckle-in-mouth whistling technique that so intrigued Gary Moore.  I must practice.

            La Gomera is one of the most rugged places imaginable.  The roads have to be few and tortuous.  So why walk (or drive) when silbo does the trick?

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            • Whistling Canaries Again...and Colonel Bogey (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA 06/02/18 11:17 AM)

              Gary Moore writes:

              Thanks to Carmen Negrin (June 1) for the insights into the
              whistle-language, Silbo Canario. I'm beginning to see the
              technique--but as they say, thinking isn't doing.

              I do find that if I entirely close off the left side of my mouth
              by plugging it with the first knuckle of my left hand, I can make
              the requisite restricted opening in the right corner of my mouth.
              Then, by simultaneously pressing on my right check with my
              right hand, and varying the pressure, I can regulate the channel
              a bit, to get a slight ghost of sibillance.

              But only a slight ghost, not a real whistle.

              There are more videos. In this one, you can watch an adventurous
              CBS correspondent puffing on her finger gamely, with Canary ruggedness
              as backdrop, while there are also glimpses of technique (like a woman
              who doesn't use her fingers at all, but visibly curls her tongue). In this and another tantalizing video, there are
              charmingly whistle-thunderous classrooms where this bit of cultural
              heritage is formally inculcated.

              And the second video nods to the most famous whistle-moment in modernity.
              It has a clip from Bridge Over the River Kwai.

              JE comments:  As kids we insisted on the "Comet" version.  The British preferred to sing about Hitler's male anatomy.  The "Colonel Bogey March" is associated with WWII, but like so many cultural icons, it emerged from the Great War (published in 1914).


              We marched down the Bogey trail once before, in 2016:


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        • Canary Islands and Canarianisms: Waiting for a Guagua (Henry Levin, USA 05/30/18 3:56 PM)
          I have been to Tenerife and Gran Canaria many times. They are lovely and with warm people.

          Some of the words are similar to what I experienced in Puerto Rico and Latin America, but not in the Peninsula. For example, the term autobús is rarely used by anyone but tourists. The term used is the cute word: "guagua." Who knows the origin of this?

          JE comments:  I always assumed "guagua" was an onomatopeia for the noise of internal combustion, but several sources claim it comes from the English wagon.  There is also some debate on whether the Canarians got the word from the Cubans, or the other way around.

          In Perú and Chile, guagua is a baby (from the Quechua).


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        • Lanzarotto Malocello and the Island of Lanzarote (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 07/10/18 10:05 AM)
          On 30 May, Carmen Negrín posted a very good essay about the marvelous Canary Islands, which I have visited and love very much--almost as much as my beloved Mount Prospect, Illinois.

          Carmen mentioned a 1776 book by Joseph de Viera Clavejo, Noticias de la historia general de las Islas Canarias.

          Reading this book I was dismayed that chapter XIX, on the island of Lanzarote, presents the name of the "modern" (1312) discoverer in a rather fuzzy way.

          For an Italian seafarer with a passion for the voyages of exploration, this is a serious blow, and I feel obliged to correct the error.

          The European navigator who first arrived in 1312 at the island of Lanzarote was Lanzarotto Malocello.

          The Malocellos were a rich family from Genoa with many proprieties in Liguria since at least the 1100s. This family provided eleven consuls to Genoa and various important individuals even related to Popes. Carbone Malocello in 1235 attacked the Sultan of Ceuta to make him pay for depredations against the Genoese merchants residing there. The first Doge of Genoa, Simon Boccanegra, died in 1363 in the "palazzo" of the Malocellos, probably poisoned by the feuding Adorno and Fregoso families. See also the opera by Giuseppe Verdi.

          Lanzarotto, born at Varazze near Savona in 1270, sailed toward the South Atlantic in search of the brothers Ugolino and Vadino Vivaldi, who were planning to reach the Indies well ahead of Henry the Navigator of Portugal. Lanzarotto did not find the Vivaldis, but in 1312 he reached Lanzarote and remained there for 20 years until he was sent away by the Guanci.

          Jean de Bethencourt arrived in 1402 and found the ruins of the fortification erected by Lanzarotto on the hill of Guanapay. Later the surrounding waters became very congested shipping lanes.

          The first chart/portolano of Angelino Dulcert appeared in 1339, on which Lanzarote is clearly indicated as "insula de Lanzarotus Maloncelus."

          In 2012 Spain and Italy organized great conferences and studies on the 700th anniversary of the discovery.

          It is reported that one branch of the Malocello family at the end of the 14th century moved to France to offer its services as shipping captains. They later became the De Maloisel. Probably it is from this fact that in 1659 a French family claimed to be the discoverers of Lanzarote, their ancestor being called Lancelot Maloisel.

          On other topics in response to Noah Rich and Istvan Simon:

          !) For a long time I have been strongly against the death penalty, especially for political reasons, but now I am so sick and tired of our lousy society that a death penalty for some particularly despicable crimes does not seem so bad. But certainly a death penalty imposed 20 years after the crime is ridiculous.

          2) Of course an average American does not like Putin and will probably believe all the possible evil about him. He would prefer the drunkard Boris Yeltsin, as with the latter a broken Russia was about to become the final colony of the Empire.

          But an enlightened authoritarian leader is preferable to a lackey of foreigners.

          Finally, please, do not speak too badly of Stalin, after all he was the good Old Uncle Joe for FDR and his followers.

          JE comments:  Most on-line sources give the first name of Lancelotto, but I am indebted to Eugenio Battaglia for another "pre-Columbian" history lesson.  We Latin Americanists tend to look no further back than 1492.

          All this begs the question:  where would the Spanish be without the contributions of their Genoese/Savonese sailors?

          To shift gears, Eugenio has once again expressed his fondness for enlightened authoritarians.  Perhaps I could too, but I cannot think of any.  Perhaps--just perhaps--Abraham Lincoln?  Russia had some aggressive modernizers, from Peter the Great to Stalin, but I wouldn't call them enlightened.

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