History Canary Islands – Traditional Games

Traditional Canarian Games

An article by Bernie Power with The Voice

Bernie Power

History Canary Islands – Traditional Games

The History of the Canary Islands is colourful and interesting, but there are also lots of day to day things which easily get forgotten, such as what people used to do to entertain themselves. So I am going to try and bring back some of the past and give you a peek into traditional Canarian life. Starting with sports and games.


windsurfers in the ocean

Canarian Sports and Games

There are lots of sporting events that take place over the world. Here in Fuerteventura we are lucky enough to host the annual World Kite Surfing and windsurfing championship, as well as many other organised events, such as various cycling contests, marathons, golfing competitions, fishing tournaments and Iron Man. But there are also many games and sports which don’t make it onto UK or Irish TV channels as they are local to the islands and are really only played here. So, I thought it would be a good idea to take a peek into the past and look at the things that used to entertain the people in days gone by, and explore the ones that are still as popular as ever.

History Canary Islands – Test of Skill

Aside from the usual eating, drinking, music and dancing, most Canarian pastimes were sport orientated and consisted of contests which tested the skills and talents that the local people learned in the fields, as farmers. Whenever an excuse to party occurred, whether it be a religious fiesta, the end of the harvest, a special family occasion or just a simple market day, it was seen as a day to quit work and spend the day having fun with friends.

Saltor De Pastor

As with most areas around the world, card games or dominos were very popular choices. But there was one particular game which really was a sight to see. It is called Saltor de Pastor, which means the Shepherds Pole Jump, and is still practised across the islands nowadays. This unusual sport involves the use of a long pole with a metal tip, called a ‘Lata’. The men use the pole to leap up and down the rocky terrain whist performing various moves. Each move would then be awarded with points and the best pole jumper, with the most points, would be the winner.


The shepherds used this skill for centuries to get around the very dangerous ground. It was an easy way to navigate the rocky terrain – as long as you were fit enough to do it. Even today, they hold local competitions and you will often still see the pole at Canarian festivals. It is usually incorporated into part of the traditional dress.

Lucha Canarias

The other main preoccupation was a form of wrestling which is only found in the Canaries and a few South American countries, such as Venezuela. It is known as Lucha Canaria (or Canarias) which actually means Canarian fighting / wrestling, and is a trial of strength and wits. The opponents grapple each other in a large ring made of sand and the aim is to throw your opponent out of the ring, or grapple and wrestle them unti they go over the outer ring line. The size of the opponents is not always important as this kind of wrestling also takes skill, but some of the wrestlers are huge! Also, you often see a lot of dirty tactics come into play, like pulling on each other shorts or using their legs to trip each other up, but really it is all a part of the game.

Still Popular:

You can still watch Canarian wrestling on television at the weekends, and there are teams of all ages, across all of the islands. Most villages will still have a sand pit in order to host the odd fight or two. Some are really big indoor affairs and others are just a small ring in the village square, showing that it is still a very popular sport across the Canaries today.

As you can see from the photos, this sport is very much a part of the local islanders heritage and even the smallest and youngest of competitors get involved. These are the Lucha Canaria champions of the future. Who knows… maybe now we have social media and other online outlets,  it will really catch on an become more widely recognised sport. Afterall, it is a test of strength and skill and is great fun to watch. The crowd really do get very passionate about their competitors and it is a welcome break from the hot Canarian sun.

Bola Canaria

Another use for the local sandpits is a ball game called Bola Canaria. It is a derivative of the French game of Boules and closely related to the Canarian Game known as Marro. The game begins with a stone being thrown into the sand. Each opponent then takes turns to thrown their heavy bowls as close to the stone as possible, by knocking the opposition out of the way. The game is usually played among many people, and often, as with all the above sports, is accompanied by booing and cheering from the on lookers. Competitions and championships are held in high regard across the islands and screaming encouragement and dissent is necessary at these events, as it adds to the fun and gets all the family and community involved.

Although these games seem like simple pleasures and the competitions were always looked forward to by all. However, it iw worth remembering that they were also a very welcome distraction from the hard daily toil of working on the land and the winners were awarded, not with high prize purses like the sportsmen and women of today, but instead simply with prestige and local fame.

I hope you enjoyed this look back into some of the history of the Canary Islands and welcome your comments below.

Thanks Bernie

With The Voice Fuerteventura Magazine


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