Culture and Society News
Pottery and basketry: the most traditional trades of the Canary Islands
June 2023

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Pottery and basketry: the most traditional trades of the Canary Islands

Pottery and basketry: the most traditional trades of the Canary Islands

The Canaries are synonyms of traditions. A territory that maintains its customs and respects ancestral culture by protecting it, and preserving it from generation to generation. Pottery and basketry are clear examples of ancestral trades that have been preserved, by evolving and adapting, but without losing their original traits. Two thousand years ago, the natives were already creating items of clay and basketry is a trade that has remained alive thanks to the Canarian palm tree. Ancestral trades from the Canaries are one of their most precious bastions and a cultural attraction for tourism.

The omnipresence of the palm tree

We find examples of palm tree uses everywhere; with baskets, hats, bottle racks and brooms, bags and lamps... Basketry isn’t dying, it has been in the Canary Islands almost since their origins and it doesn’t look like it will die off while there are families that keep on transmitting this knowledge to the new generations. One element has a crucial role in this story: we are talking about the “pírgano”: which is the shoot that unites the branch from the trunk of the palm tree. This is where the palm hearts come from, which are used to create the mould for cheese, for example. We also use them to create brooms, and obviously basketry. In order to work the leaves, they need to be flexible and green. This work is done 100% by hand and requires as much skill as patience. First, we let the “pírgano” dry and then, the palm hearts are removed. Also, to ensure that the plaiting is easier, we humidify the “pírganos”.

Items elaborated with palm tree leaves

As we said, we find palm trees everywhere. In the beginning, people created basketry artefacts to help carry food or objects. With the passing of time, fashion and decorating have taken over this typical Canarian material to create mirrors, rugs, pots, bags or hats. The latter is very stylish and elaborated by the traditional hatters from the island of La Graciosa.

Ancestral pottery from the Canaries

Pottery is another traditional trade that attracts tourists so much. Gran Canaria is the island where this trade has survived the most. The first Canarian ceramics date back to the XVI century, but the boom arrived with tourism,in the XX century. Although we should point out that the most obstinate didn’t see this success as a positive outcome, and many traditional potters ended up abandoning the ancestral techniques to create mass-produced souvenirs. The Canarian pottery is still being elaborated with the procedures of the native populations, without a potter’s wheel, all made by hand, using the “churros”technique. They create walls with cylinders of clay and the baking is made with the “guisado” technique, in the open air and without an oven.

Culinary and decorative uses of the pottery

As for basketry, the uses of objects had a lot to do with tasks in the home and nowadays with decorating. Some are no longer used such as the “tofio”, which was used to collect the milk after the milking, or the “porrones” and “bernegales” to carry water. There are also dishes, “sahumadores”, pots or all kinds of different figurines. Practicality or decorative use, pottery and basketry have been present in the Canary Islands since the most ancient times. The preservation of those traditions and the interest that they still generate amongst foreigners forecast their survival and that they will never fall into oblivion.