The dogs of the conquerors and settlers in the Canary Islands

With the conquest of the Canary Islands, we enter an unprecedented and by all means desolate chapter in the life and customs of the aboriginal Canary Islanders. Their way of life was completely disrupted, many were sold on the Mediterranean coasts, their lands and livestock were appropriated and distributed among the new population arriving from outside the Iberian Peninsula, mainly from Spain and Portugal. The new owners implemented a model of society totally different from the aboriginal one. Many are farmers, livestock breeders, artisans, merchants, bricklayers, etc. etc. These men bring with them their work tools, animals of all domestic species exploited in Spain, and some from the African continent. Horses, mules, donkeys, cows, goats, sheep, pigs, dromedaries, poultry, pigeons, partridges, rabbits, and dogs…, dogs of different breeds for different tasks: mastiffs, prey dogs, hounds, hounds, cattle dogs, pachones, water dogs, bloodhounds, etc. The conqueror has always, in all known times, taken to the places he has conquered his language, his folklore, his animals, his fruit trees, his seeds, which will make his subsistence possible, his religion (in this case Catholic Christianity). In the Canary Islands it was in no way different.

THE FIRST CONQUERORS OF THE CANARY ISLANDS

Two French knights, Gadifer de La Salle and Jean de Bethencourt, left La Rochela on the first day of May 1402 with a good ship with 280 people for the Canary Islands with the purpose of conquering them. “and were to follow the course of Belle-Isle; but on leaving behind the island of Ré they had a contrary wind and directed their way to Spain, and arrived at the port of Vivero and remained there 8 days; and there was great strife among the people, who had formed two sides, and feared that their voyage would be undone; but they appeased them and left there and came to La Coruña (Le Canarien, version G)”, then “we set out on our way. After rounding Cape Finisterre, we followed the coast of Portugal as far as Cape St. Vincent; then we retraced our course and continued on our way to Seville and arrived at the port of Cadiz, which is quite close to the entrance of the Strait of Morocco (Le Canarien, version G”. After serious setbacks “the sailors, moved by evil intentions, so discouraged the company, saying that they had few provisions and that we were taking them all to their death, that out of 280 people only 63 remained (Le Canarien, Version G)”.

Little do we know about the dogs brought to the Canary Islands by the conquistadors and colonists, but we will try to keep track of them. Once the conquest of the Canary Islands had begun, since Jean de Bethencourt and Gadifer de La Salle found themselves without the means to continue it, they decided that the former (Jean de Bethencourt) with a group of men would travel to Spain in order to bring as soon as possible “some reinforcements of people and supplies” (Le Canarien, version G). Once in Seville, Jean de Bethencourt requested an audience with the king, then Henry III of Castile, informed him of the conquest they had begun, “and paid homage to him for all the Canary Islands” (Le Canarien, version B), “and obtained from him great gifts and great franchises” (Le Canarien, version B). In this way the Canary Islands became a jurisdictional part of the kingdom of Castile, and both characters established a bond of reciprocal obligations and rights. From that moment on, the King of Castile took control of the conquest of the Canary Islands. And “by Royal Decree of December 25, 1403, it was established that Jean de Bethencourt could extract from the kingdoms of Castile a certain amount of iron, fifty cahíces of wheat, five hundred pieces of arms and an equal number of men, with some horses and other animals”, (Viera, t.2º, p. 4).

And other animals, that is, from the kingdoms of Castile. And what other animals would these be? It is not specified, but we can imagine it. In addition to horses, cows, pigs, chickens, dogs… This animal has always been used by the conqueror in every time and place, if he could get his hands on it. In Spain there were a multitude of dog breeds that fulfilled different functions. Jean de Bethencourt and Gadifer de La Salle were with their men in a strange land conquering, and they had to watch very carefully for their lives and belongings if they did not want to lose them, and the dog was the best helper, the one who sees and hears in the night, who does not fear weapons, who does not sell himself or betray, who does not speak, who only warns and attacks if necessary.

Jean de Bethencourt’s men have moved from Lanzarote to Fuerteventura. They have already raced this island on other occasions, and they want to conquer it at all costs as soon as possible. On this occasion “they set out at night, each with bow in hand, to lay an ambush near the place where the Canaries had rested the night before. Then set out d ‘Andrac to go towards them the next morning, accompanied by the companions from my lord’s house and from the island of Lanzarote. And they had dogs with them, as if they were entertaining themselves along the island” (Le Canarien, version B)”.

Previously, at no time is there any mention of dogs in Fuerteventura, nor in Lanzarote. This occurred after Bethencourt’s arrival in Lanzarote on his return from Spain, which was on October 7, 1404.

Subsequently there is another news item about dogs in Fuerteventura. “There are more than four thousand camels and a very large number of wild asses. In the year of 1591, they ordered a hunt to be made because of the great damage they did to the land, with many hounds, and with many people on horseback, and the land was surnamed, and they killed more than a thousand and five hundred donkeys that were a delicacy for crows and guirres, of which there is an abundance in these islands”, (Fray Juan de Abreu Galindo, Historia de la Conquista de las Siete Islas de Gran Canaria, p.40).

In relation to the said montería, José de Viera y Clavijo, in his Noticias de la Historia General de las Islas Canarias, 1982 edition -Goya Ediciones-, Tomo Primero, Pages 813-814, writes: “Shortly after the Bethencures introduced the camels from Africa, there were more than four thousand head of camels. But the species that spread to an unbelievable extent and that bothered the inhabitants greatly was that of the donkeys because, having bred wild in the bushes and pastures, they caused irreparable damage to the crops and farms”. “There was much talk of this unprecedented plague at a time when the captain general Don Luis de la Cueva y Benavides, Lord of Bedmar; the bishop Don Fernando Suarez de Figueroa; the provincial Gonzalo Argote de Molina, and Father Juan de Abreu Galindo, a Franciscan of the province of Andalusia, illustrious writer of Canary antiquities, were in Fuerteventura. And in order to give these commendable guests an amusing and new spectacle, Don Fernando and Don Gonzalo de Saavedra agreed that a general raid should be made against those brutes. To this end, having set in motion all that land and having gathered a body of good cavalry, followed by the brave mastiffs of the country, such a complete hunt was achieved, that more than one thousand and five hundred donkeys were left dead in the field”.

Let’s see, Abreu Galindo, who, according to Viera y Clavijo, participated in this hunt, says “lebreles”, he does not specify more. And what did Abreu Galindo mean by hounds? Viera y Clavijo, who finished writing his first book in 1763, that is, 172 years after the aforementioned hunt, writes, “bravos mastines de país”, and I have no doubt that he says it with absolute knowledge of what happened. Viera y Clavijo was no ordinary historian. He must have reviewed all the documents of the time related to the reality that interests us.

Now let’s go back. Were the dogs that Jean de Bethencourt and Gadifer de La Salle’s men carried when they walked along the coast of Fuerteventura sighthounds? I am inclined to think not. Which dogs were they? Dogs for guarding and defense of people and property, BRAVE MASTINES RECENTLY BROUGHT FROM SPAIN. It is not known if they were used as attack dogs against the natives of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura in the skirmishes they had with them, although I think not, otherwise it would be recorded in some writings of the time. So those dogs were either prey dogs, or cattle dogs, or both at the same time. In the Agreements of the Cabildo of Tenerife, in the Agreements of the Cabildo of Betancuria (Fuerteventura), and in the Ordinances of Tenerife we read, “perros de presa, perros de ganado, perros de caza, perros perdigueros, y perros de los grandes” (prey dogs, cattle dogs, hunting dogs, perdigueros, and large dogs). These large ones were probably also Spanish mastiffs of the time. nothing to do with the Spanish mastiffs of our days, because of their bravery.

And from those mastiffs descend the current cattle dogs, or dogs of the land, existing in Fuerteventura, although crossbred and degenerated, these, unfortunately.

It is very important to keep in mind that before the arrival of the conquerors and colonists, there were no partridges or rabbits in the Canary Islands. Then they brought perdigueros and lebreles, “hunting dogs”, as we read in the Agreements and in the Ordinances, which are none other than the podencos, to hunt rabbits and partridges.

Manuel Curtó Gracia

Manuel Curtó Gracia

Propietario del criadero de Presas Canarios "Irema Curtó" desde 1975. Además de ser el criador de esta raza más antiguo del mundo, y de que sus perros sean la base de gran parte de las líneas de Presa Canario, también es autor del libro "El perro de Presa Canario ,su verdadero origen", del libro "El Presa", colaborador en periódicos, revistas especializadas, documentales, debates, programas de radio, televisión, etc.

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Manuel Curtó Gracia

Manuel Curtó Gracia

Propietario del criadero de Presas Canarios "Irema Curtó" desde 1975. Además de ser el criador de esta raza más antiguo del mundo, y de que sus perros sean la base de gran parte de las líneas de Presa Canario, también es autor del libro "El perro de Presa Canario ,su verdadero origen", del libro "El Presa", colaborador en periódicos, revistas especializadas, documentales, debates, programas de radio, televisión, etc.

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