The name of Canaria

We often hear from improvised historians that there have been dogs (many and large) in the Canary Islands since ancient times, and that this is the origin of the name Canaria. One, truth be told, has not been untouched by such a mistake, from what I had heard. Several years ago (1976-77) I wrote a couple of articles in which I talked about bardic dogs, whose origin dates back several thousand years. At that time, bardinos, verdinos, or presas, for the vast majority of canaries were one and the same thing, all authentic canary dogs. Then, with time, one became clearer among the diversity of names to refer to canary dogs. It seems that the subject of dogs is marginal and unimportant for Canarian historians. Men, their lineages, their conquering, commercial or warlike enterprises, etc., are of interest. Hence, the canary, whether on foot or on horseback, ignores everything, or almost everything, about Canary Island dogs, prehistoric and historical, and so we continue to speak of verdinos or bardinos to refer to prey dogs or cattle dogs indistinctly. And all of them suppose (or insist on supposing) that they descend from the pre-Hispanic dogs that the natives of these islands bred with great “care” before the conquest. In Book IV, T.I, 1st edition, 1975, of the General History of the Canary Islands, by Agustín Millares Torres, page 176, we read: “Pliny and Statius Seboso were the first to call it (Canary Islands), deriving its name from the large dogs that were found there at the time of the famous expedition of Juba, and of whose animals they took two to the king of Mauritania. This etymology, accepted by all the authors who later commented on that trip, has later found serious impugners. Undoubtedly, there were no dogs of extraordinary corpulence in Canaria, since the chaplains and historiographers of Bethencourt, when describing this island, expressly say: “There are pigs, goats and sheep and wild dogs that look like wolves, although they are small”. In Book II, by the same author, p. 134, we can read: “Much has been discussed to find out the true correspondence between the names that Juba’s envoys gave to the different islands and the names they bear today, a discussion that, although curious, does not entail the great historical importance that some of our chroniclers have later tried to give it. It is indisputable that the two main islands are designated by the names of Canaria and Nivaria, an important circumstance that removes all suspicion of falsehood and leaves no doubt as to the accuracy of Pliny’s account”. “It can be assured, however, that the news collected by Juba and transmitted to us by Statius Sebose and Pliny have arrived truncated and without due correlation and linkage, either by defect of unfaithful copyists or ignorance of their own commentators.” And he continues, “When Pliny deals with the Fortunate Ones, he quotes Statius before Juba, which could mislead us as to the source where the former drank the data he provides us with, very doubtful, by the way. Some claim that Seboso gathered this information during a trip he made to Cadiz, without having gotten to know Juba’s account; but we believe it is more plausible that he consulted Juba’s work and added to it everything he could find out for himself among the Cadiz sailors. The arbitrary placement that Pliny gives to the islands and the repetitions that he uses in his account are vehement indications that he speaks from memory, or trying to remember what he has read many years before. The confusion that is also noticed in the distances and the note with which he concludes regarding the salubrity of the climate, giving it as the cause of the putrefaction of the corpses that the sea throws on the beaches, also proves to us that it is necessary to admit his observations with certain reservations”. And on pag. 135, where the author speaks of historians and geographers, he writes, “We have already seen that Juba, philosopher and naturalist in the universal meaning that was then given to this word, was the first to obtain the most accurate news about this Archipelago, being evident that since his famous exploration these islands took the name of Canary Islands, either by the canes ingentis magnitudinis of which Pliny speaks, already for other causes according to others with better criteria“. Now let us return to Book IV, T.I, page 176, where we read, “Taking into account this and other judicious observations, some new etymologies have appeared that we will briefly explain. Pliny assures us that, on the western slopes of the Atlas, there were some peoples called Canaries and, perhaps for that reason, Ptolemy called Cape Bojador Caunaria Extrema. But did these names come from the name given to the island of Canaria or, on the contrary, was it the island that lent its name to those peoples and to the African promontory? Be that as it may, this curious identity should not be forgotten, because of the correlation between the two designations. Others suppose that the euphorbium canariense, ferula of the Latins or bitter reed known to Juba who wrote a treatise on this vegetable, giving it that name as a reminder to his doctor Euphorbius, was the one who lent his name to Gran Canaria, making it derive from canna. Thomas Nichols, writing in 1525, considers this hypothesis to be plausible, and adds in this regard: “I have heard the ancient inhabitants say that it was so called (Canaria), because of a certain four-stage reed that grows in abundance in the country, from which a milk is extracted that is a very dangerous poison”. And on pag. 177 says, “The island of Canaria was surnamed by its primitive inhabitants Tamaran or Tameran, which seems to mean in their language country of the brave”.

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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