Mystery on Tenerife

Mystery on Tenerife

A Story by Kim Robinson

This is a bit of historical fiction, based on the early peoples of the Canary Island of Tenerife, and their conflict with the Spanish, who eventually eradicated them.


The square form of a Guanche woman stepped out from the low stone enclosure that marked the grounds of her home. She peered down the rugged terraced hillsides.

Their valley was in the interior of the steep volcanic island, but her people were farmers who shunned the dangerous ocean waters.

            “Arico! Arico! Stew’s on!” she called strongly, watching for any sign of her son’s manly form along the hillsides. “Arico!”

            Terdé stepped out of his doorway a little upslope from the stocky woman. “Arico not back yet, eh Marova?”

            She looked at her son’s best friend as he came down the path and stood beside her. She shook her head in mild concern.

            “Not to worry, Mother Arico, as I think he has gone hunting.” He grinned with an evil gleam in his eye.

            “We are not in need of meat at this time,” Marova asserted proudly.

            “Ah, Mother, there is more than one kind of game afoot.” His eyes twinkled. “I noticed that Arona went forth today, I believe to the tanner’s? Is she back yet?”

            Marova studied the brazen young man’s face for a moment. He laughed, clapped her heartily on the back and commented as he turned away. ”Haven’t you often heard your mighty son declare, I always have my way with the pretty girls? Give him the time to find his way, little Mother. He will return!” He continued on down the path with an explosion of crude laughter.

            Marova frowned, glancing apprehensively about the harsh surrounding hills.  Then she re-entered her own dwelling to serve up the stew to her husband and younger son who were waiting.

            The day passed slowly. As she finished her afternoon chores, and absent-mindedly cleaned and peeled some cactus fruit for her husband’s refreshment, she saw Terdé climbing the steep slope from his madroña trees, carrying his harvest of “apples” in his woven sack on his back. He paused by her, noticing her anxious eyes searching the slopes. Suddenly her tough, weathered husband, Oro, swung around the side of the rock enclosure, looking tired and hungry after his day’s work. Terdé nodded to the man and stepped back as Marova stood and offered her husband a clay bowl with the prepared fruits. He smiled, took the bowl and sat inside his enclosure on a stone bench to enjoy his repast.

            “Arico still has not returned from his little rendezvous, eh little Mother?” Terdé asked her playfully. “Perhaps Arona was a more difficult girl to beguile than he anticipated, eh?” Marova’s husband grunted in coarse laughter behind them.

            “Perhaps he has found a different heifer, closer to the path, eh Terdé?” Oro called.

            Marova frowned. This kind of chatter made her uncomfortable.  “Arico knew that I was making his favourite stew today. He said he would be back for it. This is unlike him.”

            “It is the beginning of the rains,” Terdé said cheerfully. “Even Tarovo’s goats are feeling restless. Don’t worry, your son will be home soon.”

            At that moment the air was rent by long trumpeting from a curved goat’s horn.

            “That’s Shabata’s horn!” cried Oro, jumping up. “It is the call to arms!” He raced into his dwelling and came out a moment later, armed with a stout club. He strode quickly down the slopes, veering across the valley toward the ocean, in the direction of the sounding. As he disappeared, swift and sure of foot, the horn sounded again, a lonely and long cry. Other men stepped out and followed.  Marova shuddered. She ducked into her dwelling. As she glanced around the four alcoves carved into the hillside, she shuddered anew. Something was terribly wrong. She took up the bowl of stew she had saved for her son, and fearfully brought it to the little fat goddess that sat on the rock ledge carved in the back of the second alcove of the dwelling.

            “Bring him back,” she whispered. “O all-seeing goddess, guard my son’s life against the angry spirits!” She poured out the stew before the figure, crumpled down to the earth, and groaned.

            That is where Oro found her when he returned an hour later.

            “Come, Orowoman,” he said grimly. She followed him out and saw a figure lying on a leather blanket. The head and legs were all askew in unnatural positions. She shuddered again, and began to turn to Oro to inquire, when she stopped suddenly and peered into the distorted, beaten face with horrified recognition. Her wails reverberated off the rocky slopes and through the caves.


            As she flung herself on the ground beside the broken remains of her son, sobbing, a woman with dark, wildly dishevelled hair slithered up behind Oro.

            “Arico?” she asked. Oro turned in disgust to shoo the wretched gossip away. “Ah, I wondered about that,” she said softly, and stepped slightly out of Oro’s way.

            He paused. “You wondered about that?” he echoed.

            “Yes, this morning, when I overheard Arona Mother telling Arico that the girl had gone to the tanner about some hides. Arona is always so curious about how the artists do their work, you know.” She paused and looked at Oro sidewise. He frowned, knowing that she was pulling him into her whisperings.

            Ah,” I thought, “Arona will have some company. But then I saw Tarovo coming down the hillside, and slipped quietly behind the rocks to observe. Arico did not see him coming. You know, the silly goatherd, Tarovo, has his heart set on that girl. Just the other day I saw her fingering a necklace, and Tarovo looking especially satisfied. Yes, I do believe that he has gifted her already. He has high hopes, for a shy goatherd, no?” Again she looked sideways at Oro, whose frown deepened at the conniving of the woman beside him.

            “Auntie Chimca, what are you saying?” asked a neighbour standing sadly by. Marova’s sobs quieted somewhat, as she, too, listened.

            “Only this,” the weaselly gossip continued, “as Arico bragged to Terdé that he always has his way with the pretty girls, and started off down the path toward the valley of the tanner, Tarovo set his face in great anger and clenched his fists. A short time later I saw him send out his little brother, young Ucano, with his goats, and he himself strode down the path Arico had taken shortly before.” She looked around at the solemn faces and spoke innocently, “I ask you now, what can this mean? I am a simple woman and cannot decipher such signs.” Grumblings and murmurs passed through the gathering crowd. Marova renewed her keening.

            As if to echo her story, Ucano rounded the point behind his goats who frisked happily up ahead of him to their enclosure where they knew some treats would be awaiting them. Oro’s huge hand reached out and stopped Ucano mid-stride, seizing his shoulder. Ucano turned, surprised, and suddenly saw Marova and Arico, and gasped.

            “What do you know of this, young Ucano?” growled Oro.

            Ucano’s young face paled as he stared at Arico’s twisted and lifeless body. “What…what has happened?” he gasped.

            “Why don’t you tell me,” Oro growled, tightening his grip on the boy. “Where is Tarovo?”

            “My brother went to the tanner today,” Ucano answered nervously. I have not seen him because I was out with the goats.”

            Solemn heads nodded approval of his words, as his return with them made his testimony true.

            “Ah, but where is he now? Has anyone seen Tarovo? Someone fetch his father here.”

            “There is no need. I am present,” a deep voice answered. Tarovo’s barrel-chested father stepped out beside Oro, who dropped his hand from Ucano’s shoulder in surprise.

“Do you wish to speak evil against my sons?” the big man growled. He pushed Ucano uphill toward their home, and the boy quietly withdrew.

            “Did you hear Auntie Chimca’s testimony?” Oro demanded nervously. “You know how the boys were rival admirers of the girl. Where is Tarovo? For that matter, where is Arona?” His question echoed and buzzed among the watchers.

Suddenly a voice called out, “Here she comes now!”

At that moment Arona’s gentle face, ringed with long, dark curls appeared around the bend. She glanced up at the villagers and stopped in surprise.

“What is going on?” she called up. She looked from face to face, and suddenly saw Oro indicate the ground before him. She could hear Marova’s keening cry, and stiffened. “Has someone been injured?” she called. No one answered.

Arona walked slowly up, and the crowd parted silently for her until she reached the side of Oro and Tarovo Father. She stared in mute revulsion at the twisted figure on the ground, battered almost past recognition.

“What has happened?” she cried in sudden recognition of Arico’s lifeless form. She crumpled down beside Marova and joined her in the death wail. The crowd waited as the two women rocked back and forth in grief. After a time, Oro pulled the girl to her feet.

“What do you know of this,” he demanded gruffly.

“Know?” she repeated with confusion. “I know nothing of this.”

“Arico followed after you today. Did you not go to the tanner?” asked another in the crowd.

“Yes, I did. He was not at his hut, but in the hillside, gathering madroña bark for tanning his hides. He showed me his technique, how he can harvest enough to do his work, yet without causing harm to the tree. He says he can harvest this way year after year. Wise, isn’t he?” her troubled eyes searched the grim faces around her.

“Did you not encounter Arico today?”

“No. I never saw him today. I left early this morning before Oro Family was out.”

“Did you see Tarovo?” another voice called out.

“Tarovo? No, why would I see Tarovo?”

“He left little Ucano to watch the herds and went after you.”

“He did? Where is he now?” She looked about her in bewilderment.

“That is what we would like to know. Arico did not fall to his death, Arona. He had been badly beaten with a club before he fell to his death off the cliff. Look at his face and shoulder.”

She turned her tear-stained gaze once more upon the still figure. Suddenly the sound of men’s voices could be heard coming up the mountainside. Then a crowd of men surged toward them.

“Shabata!” called Oro as soon as he saw the leader. “What do you find?”

The burly, hairy figure of Shabata strode up, his horn slung over his shoulder on woven rawhide, a stave in hand.

“There are signs of a fight. We found Arico’s staff broken at the foot of the cliff, not far from where we found him. Unfortunately, too many went up and down and around to tell what had happened. The markings are blurred now. However, there are definitely feet moving away from the site. Someone or some persons walked away from the fight, down into the valley towards the ocean.

Grumblings broke out in the crowd, and more than one voice was heard cursing Tarovo.

“Why do you curse Tarovo?” demanded Arona bravely, fingering the red-brown necklace of beads at her throat. “What has Tarovo to do with this?” She spotted young Ucano slipping up behind the crowd to listen, pale and trembling. Someone grabbed his shoulder.

“You! Ucano! Where is your brother?” Ucano stared at his questioner with round frightened eyes.

“I do not know,” he answered sadly. “Perhaps he has been killed, too.” He looked from face to face in growing alarm.

“Not likely,” growled the fierce Shabata. “There are no remains, other than the remains of fleeing footprints!” Silence settled on the crowd. “We will form a search party at dawn,” Shabata announced. He turned to look at Tarovo Father and Ucano. “We shall find Tarovo, if he is to be found,” he said sternly. Then he turned away, and stalked up to his dwelling high up in the cliff caves. He was one of the guardians of the tribe, so no one challenged his plan of action.

After a moment Oro and Terdé stooped to lift up the blanket and the dead, indicating with a nod of the head to two others to join them, and they bore the body to the silent house of the preparer, who would prepare the body to survive the centuries until the gods might call him to life again. The next few days would be spent preparing the tomb, while the others went in search of Tarovo.

As all returned, still murmuring, to their various homesteads, Ucano slipped beside Arona.

“Arona,” he whispered. She turned slightly, and pulled him down behind some rocks.

“What is it, Ucano? It is dangerous to speak now.” She whispered back with some urgency.

“I do not believe that this is the work of Tarovo. He is a man of honor. Much as he hated Arico, he is no murderer!” the boy whispered through clenched teeth.

Arona’s face softened. “I do believe you, Ucano, but those are only words. The witnesses testify otherwise. Words cannot stand against the testimony of two.”

“Auntie Chimca may talk enough for two, but she is barely one, if you ask me,” he muttered.

“You are right. She was the only witness who really saw. What do you propose to do?”

“I shall go tonight. I shall slip out to the site and try to track the footsteps of whoever did this. We shall see what we shall see.” He straightened himself. “I am my brother’s keeper,” he declared proudly. “I will redeem his name, and find him!” With that, he stood and turned briskly away, fading into the underbrush of the evening’s twilight.

After a moment Arona also stood and walked warily back to her home. She could see the light of her mother’s clay lamp shining from the doorway as she ascended, and wondered what the morrow would bring. Where can Tarovo be? Why did those quarrelsome fellows have to follow me? She pondered these things and many more in the long night.


Ucano travelled swiftly around the bend. First he went uphill, to put anyone off his trail. Eventually he doubled around and down, and after circling a couple of times, made his way through the darkening thickets down between the tall candelabra cactus towards the next valley where Arico had met his doom. When he came upon the site, he studied it carefully. Years of tracking the goats with his brother had made him sure-footed and quick of eye. He climbed down the cliff to where the body had been found, and studied its signs as well. Why had someone sent Arico down there and simply left him? He scaled the cliffs anew and walked beside the very trampled path for some distance. At last he found the sign he had been looking for. A true footprint. He stooped low and studied it. This was not Tarovo’s print! It was not the print of any of the men of his region. It had on a type of footwear that made a stiff impression in the ground, with a deeper imprint for the heel. And there was more than one such print. There were several that had passed here. Two, though, made the deepest impression. The others merely scuffed the surface. Either they were much heavier, or…? Ucano straightened and looked ahead. After a moment’s thought, he loped easily down the valley, always to the side of the trail, leaving no record of his passing.


 Two days passed. The searchers returned, with two tokens. They had found Tarovo’s staff near the site where the fight had taken place, bloodied. They had followed the strange footprints down to the second valley, where they ended at the water’s edge. They followed along the water for some distance, looking for any sign of the tracks returning to land, but found none. Tarovo had perhaps swum away.


Arico was buried, and the wailers completed the three days of wailing. Offerings were made to the spirits, and the circle of rocks built to protect the tomb. All the men went back to work. No one spoke to Tarovo Father, as he herded the goats out each morning and returned each evening. He ignored the neighbours’ murmurings about Tarovo and Ucano, who were now both missing some time. Arona wore the hood of mourning, and was often seen going about her work weeping. Many felt sad for the girl who had had two suitors, and was bereaved of both in one day. However, their sympathies did not lie with Tarovo, but with the broken dead they had buried.


It was a week before Ucano returned, and he brought with him a strange man. He sounded the village stranger warning, and the men about came out from their fields to meet this outsider. His leather cape was regal, and there were feathers and shells hanging from his hood, indicating a position of importance in his clan.  Ucano spoke simply.

“Hear the words of one who has seen,” he declared. It was the ancient call to witness, and must be heeded. All the men gathered about soberly and stood in silence. The visitor looked from face to face, grim and strong, studying each as if testing the merits of the man behind it.

“Ucano has come to my village as a seeker. As such we have welcomed him, though these are not days for trusting strangers,” he spoke formally. “We of Ojeste have long known the dangers that can come from the sea.” A murmur of agreement came from the men about him. They, too, had known the storms and winds that the sea gods could hurl against their island.  None of their peoples ever went out on the sea because of its unpredictable nature. All fishing was done from the shore, though the young people could swim and dive.

The visitor waited for silence to settle anew. “Eight suns past my brother went out to seek the pine nuts. As he ascended the mountain, he saw a sight on the waters that amazed him. He ran back to get me and Father. Together we scaled the cliffs and looked out. Something like a woman’s grinding trough was coming across the waters, with white hides blowing capturing the wind, and tall wooden staves rising up to hold the hides. This trough was coming rapidly across the waters, heading right toward our bay.

“My father let out a mighty cry, and ran down the slope as if he were a goat with a drago spirit behind him. I was quite startled. I did not know what to think. He disappeared below, and before I knew it, our horn had been sounded, and all the men of the village were spilling out, shouting, with clubs and staffs. I also ran down, but my father told me to take all the women and children into the hills on trails that leave no feet, so I did so. We climbed for some hours, until we came to the caves of safety, and I hid the women and children there in silence, and went off to guard the approaches.

“No one came for some time. As the sun was setting, my father and some of the men returned. They told me of strange men in strange clothing coloured like flowers, with parts that clanged like our black obsidian knives and yet shone in the sun. They had come all the way to the beach in a smaller trough, and had stepped out on the land. My people had watched them from a safe place. The men had hiked off toward your hillside, so our men followed silently to see what they were about. In the second slope they surprised two men arguing, and attacked them. The two men stood together and tried to defend themselves, but they were badly outnumbered. One was slammed repeatedly in the face and upper body, and suddenly knocked off the cliff, where he fell lifelessly below. My father and his men swarmed down to their rescue, only to find themselves fighting for their lives, for another troop of these strangers had come up behind them, and set upon them with strange shiny weapons with which they could stab and beat a man at some distance from themselves, and could break a club as if it were kindling! Some of the men who attacked ours were dressed like us and looked a bit like us, though they spoke a language I did not recognize, and seemed to be in complete union with the colourful strangers. In the skirmish, some of our men fell, and others fled. They were not pursued.

“When my father looked back, these shiny strangers had lifted the second man who had been quarrelling, tying him to a shiny staff by his wrists and ankles, and hauling him rapidly off down the mountain with them. He was unconscious. The other strangers gathered up those of our four men they had wounded and forced them down the trail in front of them. My father and our clan followed silently, looking for a way to redeem our men and your man. At the beach there were now 3 troughs, and they loaded the men into them. My father charged, only to be repelled by a shower of sharpened sticks that pierced several of my people. They had to pull back, and watched in horror as the strangers swept away from the shore with our men, toward the great waiting trough out in the sea. I fear we shall never see any of these again,” he declared with deep sorrow.

“By the time my father had tended our injured, it was late, and someone went back up to see to the man who had fallen and died, but his body was gone. We figured that he belonged to other peoples, and that they had come to claim him, so we retired in peace to mourn our own losses. It was not until five nights past that young Ucano came to us to hear our tale. By then we had lost another man and were in the midst of the funeral. I had brought the women and children safely back, and we were all grieving our lost ones. Ucano had to wait for our time of grief to be complete before I could return with him to be a witness to you. May the spirits of the rocks stand by me in my testimony.”

The men of the village stared at him in shock. His story had been wild indeed. Who had ever heard of men travelling in troughs on the water? They glanced about uncomfortably. His calling upon the spirits was a solemn oath of trust, for no one would dare lie to the spirits of the rocks! They knew everything and could be very wicked!

Oro was the one who finally broke the silence. “It is well spoken. It is finished. Tarovo is not my son’s murderer. All blood is washed from his name. May his name be remembered by my people as one who fought to defend my son.”

There was a murmur of approval. Tears were slipping shamelessly down Ucano’s face. His father laid his hand upon the lad’s shoulder. “Come, boy, there is work to be done.” He nodded his thanks to the solemn visitor, who also nodded and quietly withdrew, his testimony being accepted. Within moments he was gone, and only the whisper of the wind moved where he had stood. Everyone turned in shock and sorrow to his own home, as the keening wail was heard once again, this time high up the slope at the goat enclosure.


© 2011 Kim Robinson

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Kim Robinson
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Added on August 28, 2011
Last Updated on August 28, 2011


Kim Robinson
Kim Robinson

Bend, OR

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