Last summer I went to visit some of my in-laws and the World’s Coolest Nephew in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, and disappointed our dear editor John O’Neill by missing the Piracy Museum.
Well, I just got back from another trip to Lanzarote, and this time I made it there! The Piracy Museum is housed in the 15th century Castillo de Santa Barbara and is a delightfully cheesy tourist trap. You get cardboard cutouts of pirates, a mock up of a ship complete with a cabin boy taking a dump, televisions playing old pirate movies, and of course a big Jolly Roger. You even get a bit of history.
El Castillo de Santa Barbara, built in the 15th century to protect
the port of Teguise from pirate attacks. It was extensively rebuilt in the 16th century and
now houses a piracy museum. Photo courtesy Almudena Alonso-Herrero
When I told Black Gate‘s editor, high guru, and overall generalissimo John O’Neill that I was headed to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands and would visit a castle that had a piracy museum, he was over the Moon. What fantasy blog wouldn’t want an article on that?
Unfortunately for him, I spent my week eating, swimming, and learning to play Grand Theft Auto 5 with my son and nephew. When I finally got around to driving out to the castle, it was closed. Yeah, I failed in my job as a travel writer because I enjoyed my vacation too much.
But the island itself is worth a look, and its history is fascinating. Lanzarote lies in the Canary Island chain just off the coast of Western Sahara. It’s volcanic in origin, with a dramatic coastline ringing an interior that looks like something from a post-apocalyptic movie.
Earlier this summer I was fortunate enough to spend two weeks working on Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands. This island chain is owned by Spain and sits just off the coast of Western Sahara. Besides having my first flying lesson, I got to drink lots of wine explore the island’s culture and history. In prehistoric times, the Canary Islands were home to a native people called the Guanche. While they had no writing of their own, some of their language has survived in the local dialect and has similarities to Berber. For thousands of years they kept their culture intact, being visited by the Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians, and Arabs but remaining uncolonized until the Spanish landed in 1402.
The Guanches came to the islands by 1000 BC, although some archaeologists claim they arrived much earlier than that. They survived by a mixture of farming and fishing and were divided into several small kingdoms. Each island was fairly isolated from the others and in fact Guanche is only the term for the people of Tenerife. The other islands each had their own distinct term but Guanche has now become the general term.
Sadly, the Guanches suffered a common fate of colonized peoples. Many died off from war and disease, or merged into the Spanish community through marriage. A significant percentage of modern Canary Islanders boast Guanche blood and names. The coolest survival from those times is Silbo, a whistling language that you can see on this video. The sharp whistles used in Silbo carry far across the mountains and valleys of these rough islands and were a common means of communication until very recent times.