And other useless information about the islands which
may reduce the amount of General Ignorance in the world.
Dogs.The birds are named after the islands (where they are indigenous), not the other way round. The archipelago gets its name from the Latin name for the largest of the islands, which the Romans named ‘Isle of Dogs’ (Insula Canaria) after the large numbers of dogs there, both wild and domesticated.
Canaries are a kind of finch and were originally a mottled greeny-brown, but over 400 years of cross-breeding by human beings produced their familiar yellow colour. No one has ever bred a red canary but it seems a diet of red peppers may turn them orange.
Only the male canaries sing; they can also mimic telephones and other household devices. ‘Tweety ‘ in the Warner cartoons is, of course, a very precocious canary.
For centuries, British mining regulations required the keeping of a small bird for gas detection. They were used in this way until 1986, and the wording wasn’t removed from the regulations until 1995. The idea was that toxic gases like carbon monoxide and methane killed the birds before they injured the miners. Canaries were favoured because they sing a lot, so it’s noticeable when they go quiet and fall over.
Other interesting stuff about the Canary Islands
While there is a possibility that a previous civilisation had existed on the Archipelago, the original inhabitants appear to have arrived sometime between 1000BC and 100BC. Named the Guanche, they have linguistic affinities with the Berber people.
In ‘Canarian Wrestling’ the participants face each other in a sand circle called a terrero; the aim is to make your opponent touch the sand with any part of his body other than the feet. No hitting is permitted. The sport originated with the Guanches, the islands’ pre-Spanish indigenous people.
The Silbo Comero (Gomeran Whistle’) is a whistled language used in the Canary island of La Gomera to communicate across its deep valleys. Its speakers are called’ silbadors’. Although it was originally a Guanche language, it has been adapted so that modern silbadors are, effectively, whistling in Spanish. It’s a compulsory subject for Gomeran schoolchildren.
The volcano on La Palma in the Canaries is said to have the potential to cause a catastrophic collapse of the western half of the island, creating a tsunami that could cross the Atlantic and hit the eastern seaboard of the United States of America eight hours later with a wave as high as thirty metres. New York is in for an interesting day, some day.
London’s Isle of Dogs was first so-called on a map dated 1588: perhaps because it was home to the royal kennels, though it may simply have been a term of abuse. It’s an odd coincidence that Canary Wharf is located there.
Much of the information in this post was discovered in “The Book of General Ignorance”; Lloyd and Mitchinson, 2006. Faber and Faber
Filed under: geekiness, off beat | Tagged: berber, canary islands, gomeran whistle, Guanche, isle of dogs, la palma | 2 Comments »