To the Gold Coast for Gold
By Richard F. Burton

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Chapter IX


I must not leave the Jezirát el-Bard (of Gold), or Jezirát el-Khálidát (Happy Islands), without some notice of their peculiar institutions, the cochineal, the gallo, and Canary ’sack.’

The nopal or tunal plant (Opuntia Tuna or Cactus cochinellifera) is indigenous on these islands as well as on the mainland of Africa. But the native growth is woody and lean-leaved; and its cooling fruit, which we clumsily term a ’prickly pear’ or ’fig,’ is everywhere a favourite in hot climates. There are now sundry claimants to the honour of having here fathered the modern industry. Some say that in 1823 a retired intendant introduced from Mexico the true terciopelo, or velvet-leaf, together with the Mexican cochineal, the coccus cacti hemipter, [Footnote: The male insect is winged for flight. The female never stirs from the spot where she begins to feed: she lays her eggs, which are innumerable and microscopic, and she leaves them in the membrane or hardened envelope which she has secreted.] so called from the old Greek KÓKKOS, a berry, or the neo-Greek KOKKIVOS, red, scarlet. It is certain that Don Santiago de la Cruz brought both plant and ’bug’ from Guatemala or Honduras in 1835; and that an Englishman, who has advanced a right even in writing, labours under a not uncommon hallucination.

But the early half of the present century was the palmy day of the vine. The people resisted the cactus-innovation as the English labourer did the introduction of machinery, and tore up the plants. Enough, however, remained in the south of Tenerife for the hour of need. Travellers in search of the picturesque still lament that the ugly stranger has ousted the trellised vine and the wild, free myrtles. But public opinion changed when fortunes were made by selling the insect. Greedy as the agriculturist in general, the people would refuse the value of a full crop of potatoes or maize if they suspected that the offerer intended to grow cochineal. No dye was prepared on the islands, and the peasants looked upon it as a manner of mystery.

The best tuneras (cochineal-plantations) lay in Grand Canary, where they could be most watered. Wherever maize thrives, producing a good dark leaf and grain in plenty, there cochineal also succeeds. The soil is technically called mina de tosca, a whitish, pumice-like stone, often forming a gravel conglomerate under a rocky stratum: hardening by exposure, it is good for building. Immense labour is required to prepare such ground for the cactus. The earth must be taken from below the surface-rock, as at Malta; spread in terraced beds, and cleared of loose stones, which are built up in walls or in molleras, cubes or pyramids. Such ground sold for $150 per acre; $600 were paid for mčtre-deep soil unencumbered by stone. Where the chalk predominates, it must be mixed with the volcanic sand locally called zahorra. In all cases the nopals are set at distances of half a yard, in trenches at least three feet deep. The ’streets,’ or intervals, must measure nearly two yards, so that water may flow freely and sunshine may not be arrested. Good ground, if irrigated in winter and kept clear of weeds by the haçada (hoe), produces a cactus capable of being ’seeded’ after the second year; if poor, a third is required. The plant lasts, with manure to defend it from exhaustion, a full decade. [Footnote: The compost was formerly natural, dry or liquid as in Switzerland; but for some years the costly guano and chemicals have been introduced. Formerly also potatoes were set between the stems; and well-watered lands gave an annual grain-crop as well as a green crop.]

I now translate the memoir sent in MS. to me by my kind friend Dundas. It is the work of Don Abel de Aguilar, Consul Impérial de Russie, a considerable producer of the ’bug.’

The semillado, or cochineal-sowing, is divided into three cosechas (crops), according to the several localities in the islands.

The abuelas (grandmothers) are those planted in October-November. Their seed gives a new growth set in February-March, and called madres (mothers). Thirdly, those planted in June-July, gathered in September-October, and serving to begin with the abuelas, are called la cosecha (the crop). The first and second may be planted on the seaboard; the last is confined to the midlands and uplands, on account of the heat and the hot winds, especially the souther and the south-south-easter, which asphyxiate the insect.

And now of the abuelas, as cultivated in the maritime regions of Santa Cruz, Tenerife.

Every cochineal-plantation must have a house with windows facing the south, and freely admitting the light–an indispensable condition. The cuarto del semillado (breeding-room) should be heated by stoves to a regular temperature of 30°-32° (R.). At this season the proportion of seed is calculated at 30 boxes of 40 lbs. each, or a total of 1,200 lbs. per fanega, the latter being equivalent to a half-hectare. The cochineal is placed in large wooden trays lined with cloth, and containing about 15 lbs. of the recently gathered seed. When filled without crowding, the trays are covered with squares of cotton-cloth (raw muslin), measuring 12-16 inches. Usually the fanega requires 20-30 quintals (128 lbs., or a cwt.), each costing $15 to $17. The newly born insects (hijuelos) adhere to the cochineal-rags, and these are carried to the tunera, in covered baskets.

The operation is repeated with fresh rags till the parturition is completed. The last born, after 12-15 days, are the weakest. They are known by their dark colour, the earlier seed being grey-white, like cigar-ashes. The cochineal which has produced all its insects is known in the markets as ’zacatillas.’ It commanded higher prices, because the watery parts had disappeared and only the colouring matter remained. Now its value is that of the white or cosecha.

The cochineal-rags are then carried by women and girls to the tunera, and are attached to the cactus-leaves by passing the cloths round them and by pinning them on with the thorns. This operation, requires great care, judgment, and experience. The good results of the crop depend upon the judicious distribution of the ’bugs;’ and error is easy when making allowance for their loss by wind, rain, or change of temperature. The insects walk over the whole leaf, and choose their places sheltered as much as possible, although still covered by the rags. After 8-10 days they insert the proboscis into the cactus, and never stir till gathered. At the end of three and a half to four months they become ’grains of cochineal,’ not unlike wheat, but smaller, rounder, and thicker. The sign of maturity is the appearance of new insects upon the leaf. The rags are taken off, as they were put on, by women and girls, and the cochineal is swept into baskets with brushes of palm-frond. As the abuelas grow in winter there is great loss of life. For each pound sown the cultivator gets only two to two and a half, innumerable insects being lost either in the house or out of doors.

The crop thus gathered produces the madres (mothers): the latter are sown in February-March, and are gathered in May-June. The only difference of treatment is that the rags are removed when the weather is safe and the free draught benefits the insects. The produce is greater–three and a half to four pounds for one.

The cosecha of the madres produces most abundantly, on account of the settled weather. The cochineal breeds better in the house, where there is more light and a higher temperature. The result is that 8 to 10 lbs. become 100. It is cheaper too: as a lesser proportion of rag is wanted for the field, and it is kept on only till the insect adheres. Thus a small quantity goes a long way. At this season there is no need of the cuarto, and bags of pierced paper or of rengue (loose gauze), measuring 10 inches long by 2 broad, are preferred. A spoonful of grain, about 4 ounces, is put into each bag and is hung to the leaves: the young ones crawl through the holes or meshes till the plant is sufficiently populated. In hot weather they may be changed eight times a day with great economy of labour. This is the most favourable form; the insects go straight to the leaves, and it is easy to estimate the proportions.

So far Don Abel. He concludes with saying that cochineal, which in other days made the fortune of his native islands, will soon be completely abandoned. Let us hope not.

The cosecha-insects, shell-like in form, grey-coloured, of light weight, but all colouring matter, are either sold for breeding abuelas or are placed upon trays and killed in stoves by a heat of 150°-160° (Fahr.). The drying process is managed by reducing the temperature to 140°. The time varies from twenty-four to forty-eight hours: when hurried it injures the crop. Ninety full-grown insects weigh some forty-eight grains, and there is a great reduction by drying; some 27,000 yield one pound of the prepared cochineal. The shiny black cochineal, which looks like small beetles, is produced by sun-drying, and by shaking the insect in a linen bag or in a small ’merry-go-round,’ so as to remove the white powder. [Footnote: Mr. H. Vizetelly (p. 210) says that black metallic sand is used to give it brilliancy.] The form, however, must be preserved. It sells 6d. per lb. higher than the cochinilla de plata, or silver cochineal. Lastly, the dried crop is packed in bags, covered with mats, and is then ready for exportation.

The traffic began about 1835 with an export of only 1,275 lbs.; and between 1850 and 1860 the lb. was worth at least ten francs. Admiral Robinson [Footnote: Sea-drift, a volume published by subscription. Pitman, London, 1852.] in 1852 makes the export one million of lbs. at one dollar each, or a total of 250,000l. During the rage of the oďdium the cultivation was profitable and raised the Canaries high in the scale of material prosperity. In 1862 the islands exported 10,000 quintals, or hundred-weights, the total value being still one million of dollars. In 1877-78 the produce was contained in 20,000 to 25,000 bags, each averaging 175 lbs., at a value of half a crown per lb.: it was then stated that, owing to the increased expense of irrigation and of guano or chemical manures, nothing under two shillings would repay the cultivator. In 1878-79 the total export amounted to 5,045,007 lbs. In 1879-80 this figure had fallen off to 4,036,871 lbs., a decrease of 5,482 bags, or 1,008,136 lbs.; moreover the prices, which had been forced up by speculation, declined from 2s. 6d.-3s. 4d. to 1s. 8d. and 1s. 10d. [Footnote: These figures are taken from the able Consular Report of Mr. Consul Dundas, printed in Part viii., 1881.] When I last visited Las Palmas (April 1880), cochineal, under the influence of magenta and mineral dyes, was selling at 1s. 4d. instead of one to two dollars.

It is to be feared that the palmy days of cochineal are over, and that its chief office, besides staining liqueurs and tooth-powders, will be to keep down the price of the chemicals. With regret I see this handsome and harmless colour being gradually superseded by the economical anilines, whose poisonous properties have not yet been fully recognised by the public. The change is a pregnant commentary upon the good and homely old English saying, ’Cheap and nasty.’

The fall of cochineal throughout the Canaries brought many successors into the field, but none can boast of great success. Silk, woven and spun, was tried; unfortunately, the worms were fed on tartago (a ricinus), instead of the plentiful red and white mulberries. The harvest was abundant, but not admired by manufacturers. In fact, the moderns have failed where their predecessors treated the stuff so well that Levantines imported silks to resell them in Italy. Formerly Tenerife contained a manufactory whose lasting and brilliant produce was highly appreciated in Spain as in Havana. At Palma crimson waist-sashes used to sell for an ounce of gold.

Tobacco-growing was patronised by Government in 1878, probably with the view of mixing it in their monopoly-manufactories with the growths of Cuba and Manilla. But on this favour being withdrawn the next year’s harvest fell to one-fourth (354,640 lbs. to 36,978). The best sites were in Hierro (Ferro) and Adejo, in the south of Tenerife. The chief obstacles to success are imperfect cultivation, the expense of skilled labour, and deficiency of water to irrigate the deep black soil. Both Virginia and Havana leaves were grown, and good brands sold from eight to sixteen dollars per 100 lbs. The customers in order of quantity are Germany, England, France, South America, and the West Coast of Africa, where the cigars are now common. One brand (Republicanos) is so good that I should not wish to smoke better. At home they sell for twelve dollars per 1,000; a price which rises, I am told, in England to one shilling each. They are to be procured through Messieurs Davidson, of Santa Cruz.

The Canarians now talk of sugar-growing; but the cane will inevitably fare worse for want of water than either silk or tobacco.

Next to cochineal in the Canary Islands, especially in Tenerife, ranks the gallo, or fighting-cock. Cockfighting’ amongst ourselves is redolent of foul tobacco, bad beer, and ruffianism in low places. This is not the case in Spain and her colonies, where the classical sport of Greece and Rome still holds its ground. I have pleasant reminiscences of the good Padre in the Argentine Republic who after mass repaired regularly to the pit, wearing his huge canoe-like hat and carrying under his arm a well-bred bird instead of a breviary. Here too I was told that the famous Derby breed of the twelfth Earl had extended in past times throughout the length and breadth of the land; and the next visit to Knowsley convinced me that the legend was based on fact. As regards cruelty, all popular sports, fox-hunting and pigeon-shooting, are cruel. Grallus, however, has gained since the days of Cock-Mondays and Cock-Fridays, when he was staked down to be killed by ’cock-sticks’ or was whipped to his death by blindfolded carters. He leads the life of a friar; he is tended carefully as any babe; he is permitted to indulge his pugnacity, which it would be harsh to restrain, and at worst he dies fighting like a gentleman. A Tenerifan would shudder at the horror of our fashionable sport, where ruffians gouge or blind the pigeon with a pin, squeeze it to torture, wrench out its tail, and thrust the upper through the lower mandible.

The bird in Tenerife surpasses those of the other Canary Islands, and more than once has carried off the prizes at Seville. A moderately well-bred specimen may be bought for two dollars, but first-rate cocks belonging to private fanciers have no price.

Many proprietors, as at Hyderabad, in the Dakhan, will not part with even the eggs. The shape of the Canarian bird is rather that of a pheasant than a ’rooster.’ The coat varies; it is black and red with yellow shanks, black and yellow, white and gold, and a grey, hen-like colour, our ’duck-wing,’ locally called gallinho. Here, as in many other places, the ’white feather’ is no sign of bad blood. The toilet is peculiar. Comb and wattles are ’dubbed’ (clean shaven), and the circumvental region is depilated or clipped with scissors, leaving only the long tail-feathers springing from a naked surface. The skin is daily rubbed, after negro fashion, with lemon-juice, inducing a fiery red hue: this is done for cleanliness, and is supposed also to harden the cuticle. Altogether the appearance is coquet, sportsmanlike, and decidedly appropriate.

The game-chicks are sent to the country, like town-born babes in France or the sons of Arabian cities to the Bedawin’s black tents. The cockerel begins fighting in his second, and is not a ’stale bird’ till his fifth or sixth, year. In early spring aspirants to the honours of the arena are brought to the towns for education and for training, which lasts some six weeks. I was invited to visit a walk belonging to a wealthy proprietor at Orotava, who obligingly answered all my questions. Some fifty birds occupied the largest room of a deserted barrack, which proclaimed its later use at the distance of half a mile. The gladiators were disposed in four long, parallel rows of cages, open cane-work, measuring three feet square. Each had a short wooden trestle placed outside during the day and serving by night as a perch. They were fed and watered at 2 P.M. The fattening maize was first given, and then wheat, with an occasional cram of bread-crumb and water by way of physic. The masálá and multifarious spices of the Hindostani trainer are here ignored.

The birds are not allowed, as in India, to become so fierce that they attack men: this is supposed to render them too hot and headstrong in combat. Every third day there is a Pecha, or spurring-match, which proves the likeliest lot. The pit for exercise is a matted circle about 6 feet in diameter. A well-hodded bird is placed in it, and the assistant holds up a second, waving it to and fro and provoking No. 1 to take his exercise by springing to the attack. The Indian style of galloping the cock by showing a hen at either end of the walk is looked upon with disfavour, because the sight of the sex is supposed to cause disease during high condition. The elaborate Eastern shampooing for hours has apparently never been heard of. After ten minutes’ hard running and springing the bird is sponged with Jamaica rum and water, to prevent chafing; the lotion is applied to the head and hind quarters, to the tender and dangerous parts under the wings, and especially to the leg-joints. The lower mandible is then held firmly between the left thumb and forefinger, and a few drops are poured into the beak. Every alternate day the cage is placed on loose ground in sun and wind; and once a week there is a longer sparring-bout with thick leather hods, or spur-pads.

Cock-fighting takes place once a year, when the birds are in fittest feather; it begins on Easter Sunday and ends with the following Wednesday.

The bird that warned Peter of his fall

has then, if victorious, a pleasant, easy twelve months of life before him. He has won many a gold ounce for his owner: I have heard of a man pouching 400l. in a contest between Orotava and La Laguna, which has a well-merited celebrity for these exhibitions. The Canarians ignore all such refinements as rounds or Welsh mains; the birds are fairly matched in pairs. Navajas, or spurs, either of silver or steel, are unused, if not unknown. The natural weapon is sharpened to a needle-like point, and then blood and condition win. The cock-pit, somewhat larger than the training-pit, is in the Casa de la Galera; there is a ring for betters, and the spectators are ranged on upper seats.

Lastly of the wine Canary, now unknown to the English market, where it had a local habitation and a name as early as madeira and sherry, all claiming ’Shakespearean recognition.’ The Elizabethans constantly allude to cups of cool Canary, and Mr. Vizetelly quotes Howell’s ’Familiar Letters,’ wherein he applies to this far-famed sack the dictum ’Good wine sendeth a man to heaven.’ But I cannot agree with the learned oenologist, or with the ’tradition of Tenerife,’ when told that ’the original canary was a sweet and not a dry wine, as those who derive “sack” from the French word “sec” would have us believe.’ ’Sherris sack’ (jerez seco) was a harsh, dry wine, which was sugared as we sweeten tea. Hence Poins addresses Falstaff as ’Sir John Sack and Sugar;’ and the latter remarks, ’If sack and sugar be a fault, God help the wicked!’ And the island probably had two growths–the saccharine Malvasia, [Footnote: As we find in Leake (p. 197 Researches in Greece) and Henderson (History of Wines) ’Malvasia’ is an Italian corruption of ’Monemvasia’ ([Greek: monae embasia]–a single entrance), the neo-Greek name for the Minoa promontory or island connected by a bridge with the Laconian Coast. Hence the French Malvoisie and our Malmsey. Prof. Azevedo (loc. cit.) opines that the date of the wine’s introduction disproves the legend of that ’maudlin Clarence in his Malmsey butt.’] whose black grape was almost a raisin, and a harsh produce like that of the modern Gual, with great volume and alcoholic strength, but requiring time to make it palatable.

The Canaries mostly grew white wines; that is, the liquors were fermented without skins and stalks. Thus they did not contain all the constituents of the fruit, and they were inferior in remedial and restorative virtues to red wines. Indeed, a modern authority tells us that none but the latter deserve the name, and that white wines are rather grape-ciders than real wines.

The best Tenerife brands were produced on the northern slopes from Sauzal and La Victoria to Garachico and Ycod de los Vinos. The latter, famed for its malmsey, has lost its vines and kept its name. The cultivation extended some 1,500 feet above the sea, and the plant was treated after the fashion of Madeira and Carniola (S. Austria). The latadas, or trellises, varied in height, some being so low that the peasant had to creep under them. All, however, had the same defect: the fruit got the shade and the leaves the sun, unless trimmed away by the cultivator, who was unwilling to remove these lungs in too great quantities. The French style, the pruned plant supported by a stake, was used only for the old and worn-out, and none dreamt of the galvanised wires along which Mr. Leacock, of Funchal, trains his vines. In Grand Canary I have seen the grape-plant thrown over swathes of black stone, like those which, bare of fruit, stretch for miles across the fertile wastes of the Syrian Haurán. By heat and evaporation the grapes become raisins; and, as in Dalmatia, one pipe required as much fruit as sufficed for three or four of ordinary.

The favourite of the Canaries is, or was, the vidonia, a juicy berry, mostly white, seldom black: the same is the case with the muscadels. The Malvasia is rarely cultivated, as it suffered inordinately from the vine-disease. The valuable Verdelho, preferred at Madeira, is, or was, a favourite; and there are, or were, half a dozen others. The vendange usually began in the lowlands about the end of August, and in the uplands a fortnight or three weeks later. The grape was carried in large baskets by men, women, and children, to the lagar, or wooden press, and was there trodden down, as in Madeira, Austria, and Italy. The Canarians, like other neo-Latins an unmechanical race, care little for economising labour. The vinification resembled that of the Isle of Wood, with one important exception–the stove. This artificial heating to hasten maturity seems to have been soon abandoned.

Mr. Vizetelly is of opinion that the pure juice was apt to grow harsh, or become ropy, with age. They remedied the former defect by adding a little gloria, a thin, sweet wine kept in store from the preceding vendange; this was done in April or in May, when the vintage was received at headquarters. Ropiness was cured by repeated rackings and by brandying, eight gallons per pipe being the normal ratio. That distinguished connoisseur found in an old malmsey of 1859 all the aroma and lusciousness of a good liqueur; the ’London particular’ of 1865 tasted remarkably soft, with a superior nose; an 1871-72, made for the Russian market, had an oily richness with a considerable aroma; an 1872 was mellow and aromatic, and an 1875 had a good vinous flavour.

’Canary’ possessed its own especial charác-ter, as Jonathan says. If it developed none of the highest qualities of its successful rivals, it became, after eight to twelve years’ keeping, a tolerable wine, which many in England have drunk, paying for good madeira. The shorter period sufficed to mature it, and it was usually shipped when three to four years old. It kept to advantage in wood for a quarter of a century, and in bottle it improved faster. My belief is that the properest use of Tenerife was to ’lengthen out’ the finer growths. I found Canary bearing the same relation to madeira as marsala bears to sherry: the best specimens almost equalled the second or third-rate madeiras. Moreover, these wines are even more heady and spirituous than those of the northern island; and there will be greater difficulty in converting them to the category vino de pasto, a light dinner-wine.

Before 1810 Tenerife exported her wines not from Santa Cruz, but from Orotava, the centre of commerce. Here, since the days of Charles II., there was an English Factory with thirty to forty British subjects, Protestants, under the protection of the Captain-General; and their cemetery lay at the west end of El Puerto, whose palmy days were in 1812-15. The trade was then transferred to the modern capital, where there are, and have been for years, only two English wine-shipping firms, Messieurs Hamilton and Messieurs Davidson. The seniors of both families have all passed away; but their sons and grandsons still inhabit the picturesque old houses on the ’Marina.’ In 1812-15 the annual export of wine was 8,000 to 11,000 pipes. The Peace of 1815 was a severe blow to the trade. Between 1830 and 1840, however, the vintage of the seven chief islands averaged upwards of 46,000; of these Tenerife supplied between 4,000 and 5,000, equivalent to the total produce since the days of the oďdium. In 1852 Admiral Robinson reduced the number of pipes to 20,000, worth 200,000l. In 1860-65 I saw the grape in a piteous plight: the huge bunches were composed of dwarfed and wilted berries, furred and cobwebbed with the foul mycelium. The produce fell to 100-150 pipes, and at present only some 200 to 300 are exported. The Peninsula and the West African coast take the bulk; England and Germany ranking next, and lastly Spain, which used the import largely in making-up wines. The islanders now mostly drink the harsh, coarse Catalonians; they still, however, make for home consumption a cheap white wine, which improves with age. It is regretable that fears of the oďdium and the phylloxera prevent the revival of the industry, for which the Islands are admirably fitted. Potatoes and other produce have also suffered; but that is no obstacle to their being replanted.

I left Santa Cruz and Las Palmas, after two short visits, with the conviction that both are on the highway of progress, and much edified by their contrast with Funchal. The difference is that of a free port and a closed port. In the former there is commercial, industrial, and literary activity: Las Palmas can support two museums. In the latter there is neither this, that, nor the other. Madeira also suffers from repressed emigration. The Canaries wisely allow their sons to make gold ounces abroad for spending at home.

Spain also, a few years ago so backward in the race, is fast regaining her place amongst the nations. She is now reaping the benefit of her truly liberal (not Liberal) policy. Such were the abolition of the morgado (primogeniture) in 1834, the closing of the 1,800 convents in 1836-37, and the disamortizacion, or suppression of Church property and granting liberty of belief, in 1855. Finally, the vigour infused by a short–which will lead to a longer–trial of democracy and of republican institutions have given her a new life. She is no longer the Gallio of the Western world.


Cover  •  Preface.  •  Chapter I.  •  Chapter II.  •  Chapter III.  •  Chapter IV.  •  Chapter V.  •  Chapter VI.  •  Chapter VII.  •  Chapter VIII.  •  Chapter IX  •  Chapter X.  •  Chapter XI.

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