Canarian Folktales: The Legend of Gara and Jonay

La Gomera, view towards Teide

From Wikimedia Commons – La Gomera, view towards Mount Teide – Image by Tamara Kulikova – CC BY-SA 4.0

La Gomera

La Gomera is one of the seven Canary Islands which are an autonomous community of Spain situated to the west of Morocco in the Atlantic Ocean  The original inhabitants before the arrival of the Spanish were the Guanche people who were believed to be related to the Berber people of North Africa.   Although much of their culture has been lost some still exists and can be found in legends and traditions of the islands.  Roughly situated in the middle of the island is the Garajonay National Park which is a mountainous region of lush wild evergreen laurel forest. There is a folktale said to be of Guanche origin that tells how the Garajonay National Park was named after two lovers named Gara and Jonay.

The Legend of Gara and Jonay

Gara was a princess of Agula that was known as a place of water on La Gomera and looked across the sea to Mount Teide on Tenerife.  Jonay was a prince and the son of the Mencey of Adeje a ruler of Tenerife known as the place of fire.  This was because of the great volcano Mount Teide that the Guanches called Echeyde or Hell, that was situated on the the island.  Presented here is a retelling of the legend of Gara and Jonay garnered from several other versions.

Los Chorros de Epina

chorros_de_epina

From Wikimedia Commons – Chorros de Epina – Photo by Noemi M.M. – CC BY-SA 3.0

On La Gomera, there was a tradition that there were even places where magic waters could be found.  These waters had special properties beneficial to health and good fortune and were said to be able to foretell the future.   One such place was called Los Chorros de Epina which is a natural spring that local legend says has healing powers and can also reveal the future to an extent.  The spring water is fed through seven wooden tubes which turn the flow into seven jets of water each of which has different attributes.

According to tradition men should drink from the odd numbered jets starting from left to right and women should drink from the even numbered jets.  It was said the first two pipes were for health, the next two pipes were for love and the next two were for fortune. The seventh jet should only be used by witches.  It was a tradition that the Epina jets were visited by local girls to discover who their future husband or lover would be.  They would take a drink and look into the water. If it was clear they would meet their true love within one year.  However, if it appeared cloudy then the girl would not find a lover.

Princess Gara went to the jets and took a drink and looked into the water.   At first, she just saw her reflection in the clear water.  Then to her alarm, her face turned into a fiery ball like the sun and the water bubbled and hissed as steam rose and the flames tried to mix with the water.  This frightened her and she went to a wise man of the island named Gerián, to ask his advice.  He told her that this was a bad omen saying fire and water could not mix and warned her of trouble brewing in the future.

The Festival of Beñesmen

The festival of Beñesmen was a popular and important festival in the Canary Islands. The Mencey of Adeje, who was one of the kings from the neighboring island of Tenerife, visited La Gomera to take part in the celebrations and with him he brought his son, Prince Jonay.
There were many competitions taking place where the young men of the islands competed against each other, showing off their physical prowess to the girls hoping to impress them.  Jonay took part in many competitions and excelled in all and caught the eye of Gara who cheered him wildly.   Her cheering caught the eye of Jonay and as their eyes met they fell in love.

Every day Jonay would sail across to La Gomera from Tenerife to see Gara.  Their love blossomed and spent many happy hours together walking in the enchanted laurel forest.  After a time the two lovers asked their family for permission to marry which was gladly given and the engagement was publicly and formally announced and all the people rejoiced.

Fire and Water

During the night, Mount Teide the great volcano on Tenerife began sewing forth flame and lava.  A great plume of smoke rose high in the sky and the sea turned red as blood and bubbled and heaved.  As the volcano became increasingly fiery and the sea more dangerous the people grew afraid.  Gerián the wise man who Gara had asked for advice went to see her parents and told them of what she had told him of the vision at the Epina jets.  He warned them that fire and water cannot mix and told them about her relationship with Jonay.  Then he went to Tenerife to see the Mencey of Adeje and warned him of his son’s relationship with Gara.

The two families forbade their son and daughter to meet again.  The lovers were devastated and heartbroken but reluctantly obeyed their parents.   This appeared to satisfy the volcano which ceased spewing out lava and flame and as Mount Teide grew quiet the skies cleared and the seas became calm and the people were glad.

Despite the appeasement of the volcano Jonay could not get Gara out of his mind.  One night while his parents slept he stole down to the sea and tied two goatskins around his waist which he had inflated.  Plunging into the sea he swam from Tenerife to La Gomera in the night.  Gara was overjoyed to see him again and the two vowed that never again would they be parted.  Gara’s parents soon missed their daughter and began searching for her.  Realizing they had been discovered the two lovers fled through the tangled laurel forests of La Gomera until they reached the highest mountain.  The same morning in alarm, Gara’s father called out his army who quickly hunted the two runaways down and by evening had them surrounded.  The setting sun set the sky aglow turning the sea as red as blood.

A Vow of Love

Knowing they would be caught and forced to separate the two made a vow of love.  Jonay took his knife and cut a straight branch from one of the laurel trees and sharpened both ends.   The two lovers positioned the spike to press upon their hearts.  As the soldiers surrounding them advanced the two lovers pressed together in one final embrace and as the fiery sun sank into the bloodred ocean, fire and water became one.

© 07/03/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright March 7th, 2017 zteve t evans

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