Lanzarote: the fulcrum of an empire

The history of the Spanish conquest of the Americas upon the famous voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1492, pivots on an earlier conquest, that of Lanzarote and the Canary Islands.

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Sailing is largely dependent on ocean currents. The Canary current sweeps down from Spain and Portugal along the West African coast, until it reaches the Equatorial current and shoots off into the Atlantic all the way to South America. Lanzarote is the first island in that current’s path.

Lanzarote had long been favoured by marauding Spanish adventurers covetous of the profits procured from dyes and slaves, when, in 1402, Norman knight and ambitious conqueror, Jean de Bethencourt left La Rochelle with Gadifer de Salle and a retinue of men-at-arms. Bethencourt and Gadifer were determined to take possession of the “Fortunate Islands” on behalf of any Kingdom willing to strike a good deal. Following in the tradition of Church-sanctioned conquest, they took with them two priests, Pierre Bontier and Jen Le Verrier, who documented the conquest in a journal that would later become, The Canarian.

And in The Canarian the priests depict Lanzarote as wooded with brushwood, olives and higuerilla. There were natural springs in the foothills of the mountains. There were plains and broad valleys of tillable land. And plenty of rocks to build shelter. And a small and amenable indigenous tribe, (later known as los Conejeros, or Guanches). 

After ‘subduing’ with empty promises the tribal leader, King Guadarfia, Bethencourt sailed back to Cadiz to strike a deal with Henry III of Castile that would make him conqueror and owner of all the islands.

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Bethencourt was a greedy opportunist who knew the islands would bring ample wealth. He’d been keen to acquire the blue dye of the orchilla that clung assiduously to the malpais, and the sanguine sap of the drago trees, for use in his mills back in France.

After much betrayal, treachery and a series of attacks and counter attacks worthy of a Johnny Depp movie, King Guadarfia was a hero defeated. When Bethencourt returned with provisions, men and arms, and of course his permission by King Henry III to conquer all the Fortunate Islands in the name of Castile, Guardafia and his people were worn out and demoralised.

Bethencourt returned to a hero’s welcome. According to the priests, the natives surrendered and were duly baptised. At this point the priests claimed that all present had rejoiced, the heathens brought to salvation at last and a legitimate society born on this beleaguered land.

Of course the priests were biased. Guadarfia had no choice but convert or die.

The stage was set for a later conquest, that of the Americas. Lanzarote was the trading post. Ships laden with gold and silver and other treasures  would put in to harbour en route to Spain, and so began a new wave of piracy.

We’d know a whole lot more about Lanzarote had the island’s official records not been destroyed in 1586, when renegade Jan Janz – Dutch privateer taught by the infamous Red Beards, turned Algerian pirate, Morato Arráez – went on a bloody carnal rampage.

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Based on extensive research for The Drago Tree

Colonisation in Reverse

bennett_louiseLouise Bennett (1919-2006)

I’m sharing a poem I first came across in the 80s when I was studying a course with the Open University, UK, called, ‘Third World Studies.’ It was a brilliant multidisciplinary introduction to the North South divide. Hats off to the OU for that seminal moment in my life.

The 80s seem a distant memory but so much of what we see happening and complain about today has its roots in that time of transition, from widespread social democracy in the North, with  Keynesian influenced economies holding Capital in check, to Neoliberalised economies in Northern nations, whose citizenry find themselves going through the same sorts of austerity strictures imposed decades earlier by the IMF on the South. The South could have told us what would happen and how it would feel.

Savvy Southerners have devised all sorts of strategies to survive. Colonisation in reverse is one of them. The logic of it goes something like this: “Since you invaded our lands, took us over, came in your thousands and squeezed yourselves in, stole our resources and rendered us destitute, we will do the same to you.”

11535809_937654186278117_4221243687846749497_nhttp://www.MintPressNews.com

I’ve reposted the poem from where it appeared in New Black Magazine, May 6, 2007. It is written in Patois. It’s hilarious, and I think we could do with a little laughter right now.

Colonisation in Reverse

(You can hear Louise Bennett tell her poem here – go to 4.48mins

Wat a joyful news, Miss Mattie,

I feel like me heart gwine burs

Jamaica people colonizin

Englan in Reverse

 

Be the hundred, be de tousan

Fro country and from town,

By de ship-load, be the plane load

Jamaica is Englan boun.

 

Dem pour out a Jamaica,

Everybody future plan

Is fe get a big-time job

An settle in de mother lan.

 

What an islan! What a people!

Man an woman, old an young

Jus a pack dem bag an baggage

An turn history upside dung!

 

Some people doan like travel,

But fe show dem loyalty

Dem all a open up cheap-fare-

To-England agency.

 

An week by week dem shipping off

Dem countryman like fire,

Fe immigrate an populate

De seat a de Empire.

 

Oonoo see how life is funny,

Oonoo see da turnabout?

Jamaica live fe box bread

Out a English people mout’.

 

For wen dem ketch a Englan,

An start play dem different role,

Some will settle down to work

An some will settle fe de dole.

 

Jane says de dole is not too bad

Because dey paying she

Two pounds a week fe seek a job

dat suit her dignity

 

me say Jane will never fine work

At de rate how she dah look,

For all day she stay popn Aunt Fan couch

An read love-story book.

 

Wat a devilment a Englan!

Dem face war an brave de worse,

But me wondering how dem gwine stan

Colonizin in reverse.

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