Notes on Historical Accuracy in the Filmscript

'SILBOGOMERO: Gomera's Whistling Language'
copyright 1990 J. Brent

The first mention in any literature of the existence of a whistling language (that I have been able to find) is a reference by the ancient historian Diodoro of Sicily (fl. 1st century BC).

This reference, which I stumbled upon while reading Bartolome de las Casas' 1527 "Historia de las Indias" (written in the margin at the end of Chapter XL), refers to a people who "not only spoke like men but also as the birds sing". These people's tongues were (coincidentally?) also cut! However, their tongues were cut longways to give the appearance of being forked.

The French verb "tailler" and the Spanish verb "cortar" can either mean "cut" or "cut out". It is the Germans (ausgeschnitten) and the English who have always insisted on taking the early tales of Gomera's deportees to mean that their tongues were cut "out".

In fact, it is entirely possible that the first Gomeran's tongues were cut medially as in (Diodoro's account) as opposed to laterally, as everyone has always assumed.

Nonetheless, since I am the only one on Earth who puts forth this theory, I have chosen to follow popular opinion and have the Gomerans' tongues cut laterally in scene 18, ie. cut "out".

In Diodoro's account of this fabulous race of forked-tongued whistlers ("Historia" Book 3/chapter 13, according to Casas), there are a good number of other traits which are strikingly similar to many of the other customs that the ancient Canary Islanders practiced. Still, I would like to examine Diodoro's original manuscript before getting any deeper into a forked-tongue/no-tongue controversy.

* * * * * * *

As regards nudity in this film, it is quite simply historical fact that the ancient Gomerans didn't wear clothing. The goal here is to paint the most accurate historical picture possible.

In scene 27 the Gomerans' custom of "free love" comes up. It was a well known fact that the ancient Gomerans shared their women freely. I have not treated this subject nearly as graphically as many of the early writers on this subject. For example, Bartolome de las Casas (the only extant source of excerpts from the lost Columbus log) states quite frankly that the Gomerans spent all their time fornicating. In comparison, my treatment of this custom is rather tame.

* * * * * * *

In scene 28, I left out a part where the slave-catchers, upon landing on Gomera, attacked (or were attacked by) a group of islanders led by King Amaluige's brother. In this initial skirmish, Amaluige's brother was killed.

I suppose I could have preceded scene 28 with this bloody battle scene, but it's already pretty far-fetched that the King would let the slave-catchers go - without making it totally unbelievable by adding that after these invaders killed the King's brother, the King still let them go.

On the other hand, I could have left out this whole scene altogether, since it has nothing to do with the history of the whistling language. But since it is an "action" episode and one that is frequently referred to in the history books, I decided to add it in to demonstrate the typical naïve kindness that the generous Gomerans continually showed the treacherous invaders. It is also an excellent example for the dodging/throwing/catching skills that the ancient Gomerans were such masters of.

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In scenes 33/34, I have Peraza the Younger present at General Rejon's death. In fact, Peraza did not arrive until the day after he had heard that Rejon had died. In reality, Peraza ordered the General brought to him. The General resisted, and was killed for his trouble. I wrote these scenes the way I did to:

a) shorten the length of the scene - (Imagine: 1. Peraza tells his men to go and get the General and bring him to the capital. 2. Peraza's men confront the General, and then there is a battle. 3. This story is stretched out even more because the General did not die in the battle, but was mortally wounded - meaning they put him back on the boat and after a couple of days of suffering he finally expired. 4. Then once he's dead, Peraza takes the trip over the hill to console the General's widow.

All this just to explain why Peraza was forced to marry Beatriz de Bobadilla? No thanks!), and

b) to make the scene more dramatic - Here are these two enemies in a screaming confrontation over the noise of a howling storm. It keeps this essential scene short and gives it a great sense of immediacy.

* * * * * * *

The telescope was not invented until 1608, however I have scenes using a telescope in the late 15th century. At the time of the writing this script (1989) I had no means of investigating whether or not telescopes existed in Columbus' era.

Nonetheless, I have chosen not to rewrite the script and have left it in its original form.

* * * * * * *

As far as I've been able to determine, the very first specific mention of the whistling language on Gomera is found either in Castillo/1686 or in Marin de Cubas/1687. Both of these authors had revised editions to their work published later (51 years later in Castillo's case, and only 8 years later in the case of Marin de Cubas). The question is not so much which of these two were the first to include whistled communication as part of the story of Peraza the Younger's death in 1488, but why it took two centuries for this to trickle into the history books! Augustin Darias Ramos, the curator of the Casa Colon (The Columbus House) in San Sebastián de La Gomera, suggests that it may have been because many important documents were lost and burned in the 16th and 17th centuries during pirate raids.

It was long held that the native Gomerans had become extinct after 1488. But who could have passed the tale of Peraza's demise at his mistress' cave down through the generations except the Gomerans themselves? Had the whistling language become extinct, the story of Peraza the Younger's death would have seemed a mere romantic myth. In view of the whistling language's survival (probably thanks to Bishop Miguel de la Serna), the story of the Count's assassination in 1488 becomes the crucial proof of the existence of that Gomera's whistling language before the conquest!

There are earlier accounts of the 1488 Gomeran rebellion, but none of them include a mention of the whistled communications associated with the death of Count Peraza.

Other references to pre-conquest whistled communications in the Canary Islands:
Espinosa (1594) and Abreu (1602) both mention battle whistles on Tenerife (at Acentejo), and Abreu also mentions whistling while attacking on Gran Canaria (Lairaga).

* * * * * * *

In scenes 59/60, I have Beatriz expecting Columbus to arrive, and then when he does show up he is royally greeted. In fact, the first time Columbus landed on Gomera, Beatriz was not even on the island!

And although the tourist guides would have you believe that there was a torrid love affair between Chris and Bea, the only indication of their supposed romance comes from a letter that one of Columbus' crewmen (who went on the 2nd voyage) wrote to a friend of his saying that on the second voyage they had stopped at Gomera to see Beatriz "whom the Admiral was previously infatuated with".

The first time Columbus showed up on Gomera, he was actually looking for a boat to replace the Pinta (which was taking on water and being repaired on Gran Canaria).

Columbus and Beatriz, of course, did meet (in fact, they almost certainly met for the very first time in Seville). And Columbus did stop at Gomera on three out of his four transatlantic voyages.

I prefer to think of my treatment of the "Chris and Bea affair" as all three of his stops on Gomera rolled up into one.

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Scene 75 - where the Gomeran whistlers help Franco's forces win a battle against the communists is mentioned in Nowak's article, and in two places in the book "Whistled Languages". However, after reading reams of boring books about the Spanish Civil War, I was unable to find out exactly when, where, and how it all happened. I'm sure it did happen but I would have preferred a little more information to go on before writing this scene. Still, I imagine that my fabrication of the incident isn't too far from the truth, and maybe before the final draft screenplay is finished I'll be able to track this reference down.

* * * * * * *

In scene 76, someone's life is saved. This anecdote is only mentioned in Nowak's article. Nowak goes so far as to tell us that someone with a life threatening disease was saved through the doctor's long-distance whistled advice. Nowak fails, however, to mention what this particular malady was.

After breaking my head trying to figure out what disease you can die from that you could be saved by a doctor's advice over the "telephone", I finally opted for cardiac arrest.

But since Nowak's article also states that it takes twenty minutes to relay whistles from Vallehermoso to Taguluche, and CPR has to be administered within 3 minutes, I decided to change the doctor's name "to protect the innocent". (I even went so far as to try to contact the doctor that Nowak mentions - Dr. Alberto Trujillo, but I'm just a couple of years too late. It seems he is no longer with us, and has taken the tale to his grave.)

J. Brent March 1990


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