While drinking a cup of leche y leche, the typical coffee drink in Canarias consisting of condensed milk, coffee and hot milk, one way or another we would end up talking with somebody. One person would lead us to another and so we filled our notebook with names and addresses. We wanted to go deep into the local culture. Fascinated this land’s ability to create, we wanted to see how certain handcrafts survive and the way they are done. From craftsmen to cheese producers. People who have made the Canary Islands the unique place it is.
We were fed up of just hearing about the Canary Islands only in relation to its long sunny beaches and its resorts.
El Alcón, together with his neighbour, has been building
their boat hand in hand for nearly twenty years.
These people. They talked about their works as if they were their own daughters. I remember a palm frond worker in Gran Canaria who would tell us “Do you see that gulley? Well, I gather the raw material for these works you see in its deepest spot,” as he pointed to some baskets and brooms. Mr Tino went down to that spot with his knife, cut the palm fronds and had to let them dry for one month or longer, depending on the climate: this way he could carry a lot more material, since the dry palm fronds weigh half as much as the wet ones. I love these simple details, the search for increasing his production is not the same as that of a large store. These people depend a lot on their raw material and this man had learned from previous generations how to collect it.
Mr Juan Morales has lived in the same house his entire life; it is where he was born and raised. In a small town of Lanzarote, I remember being on the way to a home-workshop to meet him. People had told us that he was a genius at woodworking. We arrived at his workshop and upon opening the door to his garage, it was very clear that wood was his thing. Juan told us so many anecdotes that we spent hours with him. He repeatedly asked us what our names were. Mr Juan then proudly showed us all the materials and the machines, the draft and the finished pieces. He told that one day a German guy came to see his pieces: “He fell in love with this gem.”
It turns out that the gem was a car made of wood. Yes, life size, all the bodywork was made of wood as well as many interior details. The German had offered him a great deal of money for that piece, yet the great Morales was incapable of giving it away. He loved that piece of art as if it were his daughter. This is where you really see the love and respect these people have for craft work. It was sad to listen to this man tell us that not so many people were interested in his work anymore and that he himself had tried to hire some youth for his workshop and teach them the trade.
But everybody always told him, “How is this going to be useful for us, Juan?”
The least we can do is pay homage to the defenders of cultural traditions on the archipelago. Potters, carpenters, banana growers, small businessmen, these people who have made these islands the Canary islands, who to date do not depend on true assistance. Everything is becoming souvenir tourism, these people lose their history and the authenticity of the territory leaves with them if the younger generations do not support them.
Words & Photography. Octavio Barrera
Artworks. Octavio Barrera
“A journey to our homeland”
A short film by Dani Millán for Eldorado
Extract from the documentary ‘Maresía’.
The short film, the documentary and this story are presented in the framework of ‘Proyecto Islas Canarias‘,
co-founded by the two travelers Dani and Octavio. Follow their new-born Instagram @proyectoislascanarias!