The catastrophe of La Palma does not seem to have an easy prognosis. Not being a volcanologist, I will limit myself to taking it as a pretext to evoke two masters of my youth: the palmero Don José Pérez Vidal (1907-1990) and Don Julio Caro Baroja (1914-1995). Both worked in successive periods at the Museo del Pueblo Español: Don Julio as director until 1955, and Don José as curator from the following year. In his obituary of Pérez Vidal, Caro Baroja lamented that the kindness and timidity of the eminent Canarian ethnographer had deprived him of the public recognition that his work deserved. Among his many studies, the one that most influenced me was, without a doubt, ‘Endechas popular en trístrofos monorrimos’, published in La Laguna in 1952. The title,
Indecipherable to the profane in philology, it simply means “popular funeral songs in stanzas of three lines that rhyme with each other.”
Pérez Vidal discovered that in the 15th and 16th centuries there was a common tradition of lamentors who used the same poetic form at three very distant points and with different languages. Guanches, Basques and Corsicans sang very similar dirges, which began with an invitation to cry for the deceased and continued with explicit imprecations or curses about the place of death. In the aforementioned work, Pérez Vidal also divulged a dirge in Castilian composed in 1443, on the death of a young Sevillian captain, Guillén de Peraza, who fell in combat during the conquest of the island of La Palma. Lay that still lived in oral tradition when it was collected, a century later, by Gonzalo Argote de Molina. This dirge imitated the shape of the enemy’s funeral songs, some of which were collected at the end of the 16th century by the Italian military engineer Leonardo Torriani in Hierro and Gran Canaria. Pérez Vidal’s study suggested to one of the ETA ideologues of the sixties, Federico Krutwig, the hypothesis of a disappeared Atlantic continent whose primitive population was scattered remains of Guanches, Basques and Corsicans. Atlanteans all, come on.
But what interested me was to bring here the third stanza of Guillén Peraza’s dirge, which contains the curse on La Palma: “Your fields break sad volcanoes. / See no pleasures, but sorrows. / Cover your flowers on the sand.” It is clear that already in the 15th century the Castilian conquerors of the Canaries experienced volcanic activity on the island. Intense, if judged by the first verse. The second is to remember today the dead of the poet. But the third is the one with the greatest linguistic interest. It shows that on La Palma in 1443 there was no distinction between volcanic ash and sand. Nor now, when we have heard palm growers complain that bananas and pineapples have been covered in sand and more than one hotelier deplore that the beach invades their parking lots and swimming pools … from the volcano.