On the rugged crags of Barranco de Ávalo, a ravine on the small Canary Island of La Gomera, two local 12-year-olds were practicing their Silbo Gomero, the local whistling language. For an entrancing few minutes, Irún Castillo Perdomo and Angel Manuel Garcia Herrera’s lilting warbles reverberated around the barren gorge and soared proudly into the air like eagles in flight.
They were accompanied by 70-year-old retired Silbo Gomero teacher Eugenio Darias, whose grandfather used to own and work on this very same land. He told me that the boys’ whistled conversation was similar to any they would have over text message or in the playground, but the focus was instead on the six differentiating sounds that make up La Gomera’s protected whistle language.
While it’s true that most children their age would sooner pick up their phone and tap away, this small Canary Island invites them to think differently. Thanks to Darias, their threatened tongue has been a compulsory school subject since 1999 – and almost all 22,000 residents can understand it alongside their mother tongue of Canarian Spanish.
“It’s important to give students the idea that they can really use it if they need to, like other languages, but also that it’s not necessary for everyday use,” said Darias, who pioneered the Silbo Gomero learning programme. “Our aim is to give the whistle more importance so that the children can be confident using it together. Importantly, having the whistle protected within our compulsory curriculum prevents extinction altogether.”
Read more: BBC Travel
With the advent of the internet, communication technology has evolved to a point where you are just one click away from interacting with the world. Recently, however, we heard about a rather amazing part of the world where the locals use an ancient form of communication.
In the rugged mountains of La Gomera, in the Canary Islands, the locals “speak” Silbo Gomero – an elaborate “whistle language” that allows them to communicate across the deep ravines and narrow valleys that radiate out across the island.
The human voice can only travel so far, but a whistle can carry on for miles. The speakers of Silbo Gomero can exchange messages over a distance of up to 5 kilometers.This peculiar yet fascinating method of communication is a transposition of Spanish from speech to whistling, replaced by four whistled consonants and two vowels. The whistles can be distinguished according to pitch and continuity.
The exact origin of the language is unknown, although in the 15th Century when the first European settlers arrived in La Gomera, the locals of the island were already using the whistle language. The Silbo Gomero was used as a common form of communication until the mid-20th Century. In the 1950s, due to economic decline, many Silbo Gomero speakers were forced to flee La Gomera and seek better jobs elsewhere. The innovation of the phone also contributed to the decline of the whistle language, as its role was mainly to help to overcome distance and terrain.
Read more: The Vintage News
In a remote mountain village high above Turkey’s Black Sea coast, there are villagers who still communicate across valleys by whistling. Not just whistling as in a non-verbal, “Hey, you!” But actually using what they call their “bird language,” Turkish words expressed as a series of piercing whistles.
The village is Kuskoy, and it’s inhabited by farmers who raise tea, corn, beets and other crops, and also keep livestock. The landscape is unusual by Turkish standards, and the residents are also considered a bit eccentric by other Turks.
Everyone we met in Kuskoy was warm, welcoming and very generous. But when our meeting with Nazmiye Cakir, 60, was interrupted by an eruption of gunfire from across the valley, our hosts smiled reassuringly and paused, as if waiting for more. Sure enough, a few seconds later came an even louder volley – a response from our side of the mountain.
Read more: NPR