Written in the Wind
26:29 Spanish, English subtitles.
A documentary on el Silbo Gomero, the indigenous whistling language of La Gomera.
The existence of el 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.
El Silbo is used by a greater number of people than any other whistled language in the world, and the only one which is being actively protected. Fitting perfectly with UNESCO´s requirements of historical, linguistic, anthropological and aesthetic values, in 2009 it was inscribed on their Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
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.
Voice-over Rigoberto Perera
Camera Francesca Phillips and Michael Miles
Editor Michael Bradsell.
Original score Stephen Daltry.