Written in the Wind
A documentary on El Silbo, the whistling language of La Gomera.
The existence of Silbo is unique in Europe to La Gomera, one of the seven islands that make up the archipelago of the Canary Islands. Handed down through the centuries the
origins of this mystical language have disappeared into the mists of time, but the tiny island, with a population of only 20,000, is rugged and remote and communications over
the landscape were difficult. The advent of modern times brought the threat of death to the language. Now this ancient and anachronistic tradition is being upheld and against
the inexorable impingement of progress, a law has been passed that all school children from age six to fourteen learn to whistle.
These are the children of an entire generation who never learnt the language. By the time their grandparents were retiring, roads and landline telephones had begun to arrive,
many were emigrating to South America and the future held no need at all for such a skill.
Until the law was passed, well-off families did not allow their children to whistle as it was considered the language of peasants. This of course has changed. There is a freedom
of expression in the whistling and against this unusual background children are using it once again, perplexing their linguistically whistle-challenged parents. Deeply rooted in
Canarian culture and in the frenetic world in which we now live, the whistle still serves as a cohesive factor, providing a strong sense of community among those who practise it.
Silbo is not unique as a whistled language, but is used by a greater number than any other and the only one which is being actively protected. Fitting perfectly with UNESCO´s
requirements, of historical, linguistic,anthropological and aesthetic values, the islanders wait to hear whether it will be declared an intangible cultural heritage.
Over the deep and craggy ravines the whistle once again drifts on the wind and a culture lives on.
Written and directed by Francesca Phillips.
Produced by Al Jazeera Children´s Channel (JCC), Qatar.
Edited by Michael Bradsell.
Original score by Stephen Daltry.
The language has now been accepted by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.