To this day, scientists cannot agree on where the original inhabitants of La Gomera came from. This leaves a lot of room for hypothetical and phantasmal explanations. Legends are still abundant about the island of the blissful.
One thing that we can be sure of, is that the Phoenicians, coming from what is known today as Cadiz, were bold sailors, who explored the Atlantic Ocean between 1100-800 B.C. and very probably were the ones to discover every one of the Canary Islands.
Phoenicians as the First Discoverers
In the Canaries, the Phoenicians found the sought after plant, the Orchilla-lichen and took it back home with them. The purple substance which could be won from the plant became their main commodity.
From 5000 B.C., the first settlers landed on La Gomera. It is unclear as to whether they came from north African Berlan Tribes or if they were part of the megalithic culture. It is also still unknown, if the settlement was part of a specific migration.
The Original Inhabitants, the Ancient Canarians
It is assumed that the Ancient Canarians on La Gomera, had neither contact to Africa nor to the neighbouring islands.
the peaceful people lived in a stone-age culture. Mostly they were farmers and shepherds, who also sustained themselves by fishing and clothing themselves with furs.
The social structure of the Ancient Canarians, which was based on the principal of equality, is seen as highly developed.
Four Tribes on La Gomera
When the Spanish arrived on La Gomera in the 15th century, the island was divided into four tribal regions. The natural religion of the original inhabitants, which consisted of the cosmic and earthly elements (stars, rain, plants, animals, mountains, etc.) and also the belief in good and evil, was the most important pillar of their culture.
The religious aspect influenced social, political and economical life. Even today, the cult sites on the table mountain La Fortaleza, as well as the highest mountain on the island, Garajonay, are a sign of the culture of the island’s original inhabitants.
Cloak of Oblivion
The geographic location of La Gomera, as with all of the Canary Islands, was known very early on. The mathematician and geographer Ptolemy determined the exact location of La Gomera between 85 and 160 A.D. However a cloak of (European) oblivion fell over the island of eternal spring.
In the Sights of the Conquerors
For hundreds of years, the island of the blissful remained forgotten in Europe until the end of the 12th century, when seafarers and merchants started looking for new markets to develop.
Improved nautical technology made it possible from this point on, to invade the islands, enslave the islanders and take hold of the island’s natural resources.
Conquistadors Bethencourt and de Lugo
Spain’s conquest of La Gomera began in 1404, after the Norman aristocrat Jean de Bethencourt annexed Lanzarote and Fuertaventura to the Spanish Crown.
Supported by the Catalan King, Bethencourt acted under the guise of a Christian missionary, however, his real interest was of economical nature. In 1404, Bethencourt tried to invade La Gomera, but failed because of the bitter resistance of the natives. An attack at a later time managed to subdue two of the four tribes.
The Spanish authority changed many times, until Hernan de Peraza, together with the beautiful Beatriz de Bobadilla, ruled cruelly over La Gomera in 1447.
The fortress tower, Torre del Conde, was built in San Sebastian as a retreat. The two remaining tribes resisted the regime and were not finally defeated until 1488 due to an ambush by Alonso Fernandez de Lugo, the conqueror of Tenerife and La Palma.
The Ancient Culture is Slowly Lost
After the conquest, many islanders were sold to the Spanish mainland as slaves or were moved around within the archipelago, to prevent uprisings.
The remaining Benahores came to terms with a life under the conquerors.
Soon they started speaking their language and their own language was lost. Today only a few reminders of the ancient language remain, in place names such as Tijarafe.
In 1514 they became emancipated and were legally equal to the Spanish. A feudal system was established, which remained in La Palma until into the 18th century.
Sugar, Wine and Dye
Sugarcane and wine were the most important export goods of la Gomera until well into the 16th century. After an economical crisis, the Canaries were declared a free trade area in 1852 and new accents were given to the economy.
Conchenille-lice, which live on prickly pears, provided a very sought after red dye. Shortly afterwards however, synthetic dyes were invented, which caused the Cochineal production to collapse.
Because of these factors, a second wave of emigration took place at the end of the 19th century. Many tried their luck in Cuba and Venezuela.
The road into the European Community
When Franco died in 1975, King Juan Carlos introduced democracy to Spain. For the first time, the Canarios had a chance to elect a regional government. In 1982 the canaries were granted autonomic status, divided into the provinces of Gran Canaria and Tenerife, to which La Gomera belongs.
When Spain joined the EC, the Canaries were given a special status with a trade guarantee for bananas, which ran out in the mid-1990s. The island’s government now concentrates on the branches of industry tourism, agriculture and fishing. The individual branches are supported through specific promotions.