Textos: Juan Montesinos, Macarena Murcia Suárez – Fedac, Aider La Gomera Cabildo de Fuerteventura, Yuri Millares, FAO, Gerardo Mesa Noda y Eduardo Franquiz.
Few types of plants have become an agricultural cultivation so connected to human life as some of the Phoenix palm trees have, among which we find the Canary Island Date Palm. One can go as far as saying that it got lost in history. Not only did it provide food full of energy, which could be stored and taken on long journeys but it has also created an environment for the town providing shade and protection from the wind. The Date Palm has also provided us with a variety of products to be used for agricultural production and domestic utensils, and nearly every part of the Date Palm has fulfilled a useful purpose. If the Date palm had an impact on human life, the influence is reciprocal because after a long process of learning and experience, the cultivation of the palms has been adapted to the necessities of the community.
Therefore, the farmer-craftsman learned how to manage the productivity of the palms to suit his own interests, limiting the number of plants per hectare, choosing their gender before planting them. He began by looking after his date palm, learning the benefits of its leaves, roots, fruit, sap, fibre and trunk. This process has taken place for thousands of years, which makes it possible for it to adapt to different environments, including deserts.
The exact origin of the Date Palm´s culture has been lost in history, but proof of the cultivation of the palms goes as far back as 4000b.c in the south of Iraq. Although, references to palm trees have also been found in Ancient Egypt and there seems to be a consensus in which the first form of cultivation of palms coincides with one of the most ancient civilizations, and it was originated in northeast Africa, extending to the northeast of the Delta of Euphrates and Tigris. From there onwards the cultivation of the palm tree extended.
The culture of the palm tree expanded in two directions as a result of historical factors, the first one went from Mesopotamia to Orient, where there were ancient manifestations in India, Pakistan, and in the whole of the Arabian Peninsula. The second went towards the north of Africa reaching the Atlantic through Sahara and towards the central-north Africa. Apart from these areas, the rest of the concentrations are much more localized.
It is assumable that this culture was common to all the islands of this archipelago, as Pedro Agustin Del Castillo (1737) quotes for Gran Canaria “They used to cut the palms at the core giving it the cut of luck that distilled it in a wineskin made with goat´s skin, they collected a lot because this tree distilled in abundance until exhaustion and they made wine, vinegar, honey and sugar from it”. However, due to the amount of palm trees and other socio-economical and historical reasons, in La Gomera this culture has survived until now, changing and progressing. In the historical texts we find abundant references about the importance of the palm tree for the old inhabitants of La Gomera; thus we have chosen these two testimonies concerning their traditional use:
The other palm groves of Chipude are very extensive; they extend towards the south, almost to the valley of Santiago. (…) They make the most of these palms by cutting the trunk they distil a type of liquor from it which is used as a wine, which is pleasant and tastes good. There are taverns where it is sold. In order to make the most of it they place a tube from the cut to the container to be filled. The rest is to drink. (Gaspar Frutuoso, 1590).
From the palms as we have already mentioned they breed in abundance all over the island especially in Venchigigua , a liquid is extracted from the drain made at the foot of the core(or heart of the palm) healing it every day before night, it is taken twice a day, it gives about 18-20 cuartillos castellanos of the liquid, the best known refreshment especially if it is taken at the bottom of the palm. The honey is made from this liquid and it is very fresh and pectoral, sell it at 14 or 16 quarters el cuartillo as the Guarapo sells at two. To make the honey, boil the liquid until reducing, add no other ingredients, and just judge correctly its thickness.
According to the previous inhabitants, before the conquest they passionately used this liquid yet nobody says how they preserved it. On the contrary, they constantly had the palms open and we know that the palm is giving liquid with more or less force, at least two months, the hotter the better. I have tried preserving it in bottles and I have not been able to protect it from the force of fermentation, we tried with a barrel and after 4 months opened it and discovered a foul smelling liquid that was impossible to swallow. Therefore the secret of the former inhabitants is still unknown. (Juan de Castro Ahita, 1856).