The inhabitants of El Hierro have a long tradition in culture, passed down over the centuries from the time of the original natives, the Bimbaches. This takes the shape of sports, local festivities and, logically, handicraft.
The local handicraft is very much alive a kicking. Traditional customs are kept alive, above all in places like Sabinosa and El Pinar. The handicraft is simple and functional, meant to be used in everyday life and mainly for domestic chores. There are women who still spin and weave using their primitive wooden looms to do so with products such as saddle-bags and shoulder-bags or multi-coloured woven rag rugs, blankets and bedspreads. Mulberry wood, pine, chestnut and beech are used to hand carve utensils like bowls, spoons, barrels, pincers to pick up prickly pears with, and the musical instruments called “chácaras”, a kind of large pair of wooden castanets used by the dancers to mark out the rhythm of their dances. The basketweavers make sturdy baskets, hampers and trays of all shapes and sizes, the product of painstaking work since the cane must first be left to soften in seawater for weeks on end. The traditional earthenware has been revived. This is and always has been typically ‘women’s work’ with the most traditional product being large pots. The smithies still produce the cowbells, bridles and bits for the goats, sheep and cattle, sophisticating them and giving them their individual touches. Nowadays, crafts are still an important sector of the island economy besides one of the mainstays of the identity in the traditions and folklore. The dancers’ hats and the large wooden and leather drums of El Hierro are the result of centuries of traditions, as are the famous reed flutes and the large castanets, known as ‘chácaras’.
SPORTS El Hierro has always been considered the home of the greatest names in Canary wrestling or lucha canaria, a traditional sport described in the chronicles of the Conquest and that has been passed down from generation to generation. This is a game of skill and trying to catch your opponent off balance and making them touch the floor with some part of their body. It needs skill and respect for your opponent, the main characteristics of this sport. It is so popular that it is a part of all the local festivities and groups and clubs are to be found in every village. The club joust or juego del palo is another traditional Canary activity that, however, has been seriously in danger of extinction over the last few decades, perhaps due to the fact that the different techniques were only being passed down secretly from family to family. Eventually, some of the elder experts acceded to teach people outside the family nucleus, which has allowed for various places dotted round the islands to get the young people interested in learning one of the most traditional games of their ancestors. Another deep-rooted activity is what is now known as the Shepherd’s Pole Leap or Salto del Pastor. There are references to this ability in the chronicles written on the Conquest of the Archipelago where various of the contributors cite their astonishment at observing how nimbly the Guanches moved around the rugged landscape, using what they called a lever or pole, “lanza” which they handled with great dexterity to allow them to vault from rock to rock of the deep gullies, at incredible speed. This activity is now officially protected and has a Federation which is designed to preserve it in its traditional form.
FESTIVITIES Sacred festivities have always been an opportunity, through time, one of the few and far between, for the islanders of El Hierro to forget their daily chores for a while and get together to share their religious devotion. All of the main festivities revolve around three types of events: religious processions where statues and figures are brought out of the churches or sanctuaries and there is a celebration with typical dances; cultural events where there will always be a session of Canary wrestling or lucha and dances, formerly held in the Casino but now out in the open air, in squares and public places. The most representative of all the festivities, of course, is the Descent of the Virgen de los Reyes. This began as a vow made in 1741 to hold a procession to the Virgen de los Reyes for her to intervene in the extreme drought suffered at that time on the island. Thereafter, every four years, the Patron of the island is taken down in a procession from her sancturay in La Dehesa to Valverde, some 28 kilometres of paths winding down the mountainsides. This is divided into stretches, known as rayas where the figure of La Virgen de los Reyes is handed over from one village to the next and their committe of bearers is responsible for taking the procession one strecth further down to its final destination. The festivity of the Crosss (La Cruz) in El Pinar, together with that of the shepherds, Los Pastores in La Dehesa, St. Simon in Sabinosa and that of the Vírgen de La Peña and the Vírgen de La Caridad all have a charm of their own,thanks to the mixture of religious fervour and traditional rural simplicity. Each village has its own patron saint and celebrates the feastday each year.
Las más importantes son:
The most important of these are the following:
•17th January: The Feast of San Antonio Abad in El Pinar.
•The first Sunday in February: the feast of Ntra. Sra. de La Candelaria in Los Llanillos.
•February – March: Carnival time in Valverde and Frontera.
•19th March: The Feast of San José (St. Joseph)in Isora.
•25th April: The Festivity of the Shepherds, Los Pastores in La Dehesa.
•3rd May: Festivity of the Cross, La Cruz in El Pinar.
•15th May: Feast of San Isidro in Valverde.
•30th May: The Festivity of the Autonomous Canary Islands.
•May: Feast of la Vírgen de La Caridad in San Andrés.
•First Sunday in June: The Festivity of La Apañada(Sheep shearing and cattle/goat branding and marking) in San Andrés.
•24th June: Feast of San Juan in La Restinga, Las Puntas, Tamaduste and Pozo de Las Calcosas.
•29th June: Feast of San Pedro (St. Peter) in El Mocanal.
•First Saturday in July every four years: The Descent of the Virgen de los Reyes
•16th July: Feast of the Virgen de El Carmen in La Restinga and San Andrés.
•19th July: Feast of Ntra. Sra. de Fátima (Our Lady of Fatima) in Isora.
•The first Sunday in August: Feast of San Salvador in Frontera.
•10th August: Feast of San Lorenzo in Frontera.
•15th August: Feast of La Candelaria in Frontera.
•8th September: Feast of Ntra. Sra. Los Remedios in San Andrés.
•12th September: Feast of La Paz (Peace) in El Pinar.
•14th September: Feast of San Telmo in Puerto de la Estaca.
•24th September: Feast of Ntra. Sra. de Los Reyes in La Dehesa. On the night before is the lantern-lit procession of “Los Faroles”, a procession from La Dehesa to the various other villages on the island.
•19th October: Feast of Ntra. Sra. de La Peña in the villages of Mocanal, Erese and Guarazoca.
•28th October: Feast of San Simón (St. Simon) in Sabinosa.
•30th November: Feast of San Andrés Apóstol (St. Andrew, the Apostle) in San Andrés.
•8th December: Feast of Ntra. Sra. de La Concepción (Our Lady of the Imaculate Conception) in Valverde.