“The old philosophers, were those who investigated most the occult, and as they saw these qualities and others, they esteemed these islands so much that they obtained them through Eliseos Campos and they named them “Good Fortune”.
by Eduardo de Benito Ruiz
Of the diverse etymologies about the origin of the name of the Canaries, the Indo-Germanic preferred by Nebrija (“They called themselves gomers and by Gomer, is meant son of Jafet.”) the one of the cane, the one of the numerous dogs, the last is the best known. Cita Chil y Naranjo in his fat Historic Climatalogical and Pathalogical Studles of the Canary Islands (Las Palmas 1876-l891) a text attributed to Barker-Webb that fell upon this curious theory of the dogs and canaries. “The Canaries has conserved with its Roman name its dogs of great size. This breed of which Pliny gives value, has not followed the luck of the primitive inhabitants of the Canaries and is concentrated today on the island of Lanzarote. In the time at which Juan de Bethencourt arrived in 1402, the Grand Canary still possessed many dogs.” Botic and Le Varrier qualify them as ³savage dogs², that resemble wolves, although they are somewhat smaller. Antonio de Viana, adopting in his patriotic poem the etymology of the name of the Canaries, according to the designation of the Roman historian, expresses in the following terms:
“Some affirm that because there are many dogs that even up to today are bred on Grand Canary.”
What we can deduce is that in the times of the Canary poet, that is to say, at the end of the XVI century, the indigenous dogs still existed on that island. We will not omit, morover that the city of Las Palmas, capital of the Grand Canary, has kept on its coat of arms two rampant dogs at the foot of a palm tree and that dogs holding a coat of arms completed with the crown of Spain and seven islands on a blue field, are seen also on the arms common to all the archipielago. Neither should we omit, how much Lopes de Gomara in his General History of the Indies as also Francisco de Tamara in his extravagant Customs of All the people assure that the Canaries are so named “because the inhabitants of these islands used to eat much and to eat things raw like dogs.” Also Viera y Clavijo, the greatest Canary historian assured, citing Tomas Nichols, that the food of the ancient Canary dwellers was goat milk and meat of castrated dogs. Finally, the archeological studies of Carmen del Arco Aguilar about burial in the prehispanic Canaries picks up several testimonies of the presence of the dogs among the remains of animals that made up the household of the deceased stored in caves or tombs. What appears certain is that the islands and the dogs have been intertwined since the most distant antiquity.
The Canaries are a land of dogs and the dog fight seems to be the unquestionable origin of the Presa Canario dog. We synthesize the cultural elements that propitiate the birth of this love for fighting. A first fact is evident, said custom does not have its roots on the Peninsula where dogs never fought. Then we must seek its origin in the idiosyncracy or genius of the island, that is called the “Island Air” or culturally strange to the hispanic world.
A BELICOSE SPIRIT
Antonio de Nebrija in the XV century wrote “there is a belicose type of men that are called gomers and are accustomed to hire for war.” Hurculean strength, extraordinary physical agility and large stature are characteristics of the primitive men island chroniclers repeat. Canaries, the lost Atlantis, used to be populated by giant–or Atlases that surprised the Britains and the Castillians not only with their pack of green dogs’ strange canine color, (which according to some legends the dogs were set on the Spanish troops), but also with the giant rocks that were hurled and could not be lifted by two Spaniards together.
The Canaries, land of Atlases is presented to us by Garcia de la Torre in his Guanche Legends of the Canarv Islands (Barcelona, 1972) on bringing us the memory left in Lanzarote by the tomb of Mahan, an Atlas of 22 feet tall. The same Chil y Naranjo tells that a certain prisoner by the name of Guadarfia broke his chains with his own hands with little effort. This people, son of Atlas in the physical, and Mars in the spiritual aspect, found in the fight their most noble expression.
In England these were the golden years of Combat among dogs. In 1600 the historian Guillermo Camden gave us the description of a garden situated near St. Thomas Hospital. “A place like an ampitheater, to pursue bears and bulls with ‘bandoge’ dogs that are so strong and bite so hard that three of them are sufficient to seize a bear, and four for a lion.” The English merchants took to the islands their affection for fights and their dogs. Those primitive specimen, ancestors of the modern Bulldog and Mastiff were used also as guard dogs in consideration to the name by which they were known: “Ban Dog” and “Tie Dog” (chain dogs). The vigilance exercised by a dog of whose qualities we have full confidence seems fundamental when we compel them to guard ships and stores in a strange land and with a profound gulf of hate which awakened religious disparity in many. In the islands the English found “a multitude of dogs of strange size.” (Pliny); and their affection for fighting found a model in the fiery island character. The result of this mixing is evident and soon were born threats, fights, and crossbreeds. While lacking documentary testimony I dare to affirm that the affection for dog fighting germinated in the Canary Islands more that 300 years ago.
For the islander the existence of the Presa Canario dog is an unquestionable truth, a truth that is at first a concept of breed, now that one counts tangible reality of his dogs. If some want the Presa Canario dog to be like the island of San Borondon, a fable, it is necessary to remind them that Viera y Clavijo said of it, “to deny the inhabitants of La Palma, Hierro y Gomera, that what they were accustomed to seeing at certain times of year was not a real and true land, it was to give them the death of denying an evident thing. Today that evidence is called the Presa Canario.