In a few hours I’m heading of to Tenerife with students and colleagues for our annual undergraduate field course, following which I’m staying on to be joined by Karin for a further 10 days of field work. I’ll try to post as and when I can, though it’ll be a packed few weeks.
In the meantime this week’s Spiral Sunday is a piece of Canarian independence graffiti that I photographed a few years ago on the road above Guimar. As I’ve mentioned before, the spiral is an ancient and important symbol in the Canary Islands. Adios!
To celebrate number ten in my series I thought I would fulfil a promise that I made in Spiral Sunday #1 to tell the story behind the main image of a blue spiral that adorns this blog.
In 2008 I was leading a group of students on a walk in the Anaga region of Tenerife during our annual undergraduate field course to the island. We were hiking through laurel forest along the trails from the restaurant at Cruz del Carmen, looking at the forest and cliff vegetation community structure. During our lunch break I set off alone down a side trail and came across a shallow recess, a sort of low natural grotto, in the vertical bank that defined one side of the track.
The walls of the grotto were green with lichen which made a vivid backdrop to what appeared to be a small consisting of branches, including one set upright that looked like a human figure with arms raised, or could it represent a crucifix? Around this were scattered coloured pencils (to the right on the main image) and pieces of paper with writing on them, possibly prayers (on the left).
Most striking of all was a drawing of a blue spiral, its colours smudged and faded with the humidity, but still a conspicuous contrast to the lichen. I took a few photographs, being careful not to disturb the display, then headed back to catch up with the students.
There is a strong local sense of traditional, pre-Spanish identity in this part of Tenerife and it is well known for its local stories such as the “Witches of Anaga“, and it’s possible that this shrine relates to local ritualistic practices. The spiral is a traditional design used by the original Guanche inhabitants of the Canary Islands and still regularly found on logos, pottery, etc. Alternatively what I discovered could have been just kids playing in the forest, though that seems unlikely as it’s off the beaten track and not close to any villages.
I’ve occasionally found other ritualistic items on the island (e.g. a child’s doll wrapped in cloth, with folded paper in the bindings) but the Anaga spiral shrine was a particualrly striking discovery. When we returned with the field course the following year the spiral had disintegrated but the rest of the shrine had been tidied up and more neatly arranged (see lower photograph). I wonder if it’s still there?