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The World Whistles Research Association

El Silbo, the language whistled of Gomera

La Gomera island is the only island of the archipelago where a whistled language still exists. El Silbo is a whistled transformation of the local Spanish but it is an adaptation of the ancestral use to whistle a berber language of the prehispanic populations called Guanches. In linguistic terms its a transfer of practice. As the Guanche language disappeared, the whistled form of spanish is one of its last oral vestige. But it has gradually lost vitality because it was forbidden to use it in the past (especially during the colony and under Franco domination). Recently, the very few last whistlers decided to try to transmit it to the youngest generations of gomeros. Several initiatives have been launched among which a compulsory teaching program in all the primary schools of the island (25 minutes a week). Other whistlers try to teach whistled speech in a more traditional way, in open air. But the children have now less occasions to speak in whistles to each others because their everyday activities are less rural.

In La Gomera, the botanic heritage is also very precious, it is now under UNESCO protection. The Garajonay forest is one of rare forest of the Tertiary still well preserved: the cliffy valleys (barrancos) converge in the center of the island to form a big plateau covered by trees.

We met the first whistler, Isidro Ortiz , in the small village of Chipude . He developed an educational learning method of the whistled language and teaches the whistled language in the southern part of the island. He's also Characas and drum Maestro which are the instrument played along folk dances.

During our first meeting he indicated us the organization of the first international whistled language congress in La Gomera on the 23 rd and 24 th April 2003. He also invited us at a whistled language class with children from 7 to 12 years old. Finally he introduced us to the Silbo coordinator on the island: Eugenio Darias.

Eugenio Darias (here with Julien) is a Spanish teacher in San Sebastian Colegio, the capital of La Gomera island. Since February 2003 he had been choosen by the government to organize Silbo teaching and cultural manifestations linked to Silbo. We met him several times and he followed our investigation and recording work on the island. He introduced us to another Silbo maestro, Lino Rodriguez, whom we interviewed and recorded. He also invited us to the congress and proposed us to present our travel and the whistled languages we would study. (see )

We went to Laguna university on Tenerife island to meet professors who studied Silbo:

  • Manuel Careiras , psychology teacher realised the first cerebral imagery of a person who understands Silbo.
  • Ramon Trujilo and his associate Marcial Morera, linguistic teachers.

The first international whistled language congress enabled us to meet a greek professor Charalambakis, Sergio Sanchez a young photographer coming back from a travel to see the Mazatecs in Mexico and Luis Morales Mendez a whistler from Vallehermoso village.

And here is Julien during his presentation in Spanish entitled: Algunos Lenguajes silbados del Mundo . He introduced the audience to the variety of the languages whistled in the world.


©2009 The World Whistles