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Gran Canaria

Native Culture


It is known by its English name, knife, showing that its appearance could be related to the presence of the English in the Canary Islands.

The Canary Islands knife, a fundamental part of the household utensils of the rural dwellers of Gran Canaria, is exclusive to this island, as its production did not take hold in the rest of the islands. The craftsmen who make the knives are involved in the forging and smithy work, although some of them specialise in the making of the handle, leaving the blade for the smiths.

The Canary Island knife makers, unlike knife makers in other parts of Spain who provide society with all the cutting tools necessary in the kitchen or for work, only make one item, known as the Canary Islands knife. These days the knives are usually made for a clientele who use them for decoration, with new designs being produced such as letter-openers, earrings and pendants in order to increase the commercial offer.

The Canary Islands knife is one of the few items of craftwork which fills rural people with pride simply by possessing one. Ownership is maintained over time within the family, as it is passed on from father to son. It is an indispensable work tool in the countryside, as it is used by farmers to cut grass and sticks, for grafting trees and in all the tasks related to banana cropping; shepherds use it to cut agave leaves and as a scalpel when bleeding animals. Neither can it be forgotten that the knife has been used on many occasions as a weapon for defense, and that many men state the “going about without a knife is like going about naked”.

The craft of the knife maker is exclusively masculine. The blades are made by a smith, the handles are mounted by a knife maker and the traditional user was a man. Women never use or even own a Canary Islands knife, even though many of their domestic activities require cutting utensils. The knife, apart from its utilitarian value, acts as a symbol of the masculinity of the one who carries it.

The transmission of the craft is patrilineal and in all cases is strictly masculine. Sons of smiths are the ones who usually tend towards knife making. The techniques require some learning, and are usually very specific and laborious.

The working process is as follows:

The horn is cut into circles of different thickness and diameter, and these are then pierced in the centre to be set into the tang of the knife blade. Everything is held together at the two ends by metal tips. Incisions are made in the circles of horn from different angles, and these are filled with pieces of metal of different colours. The work is finished off by polishing the blade.

The working technique for marquetry, which consists of filling wooden objects with small pieces of precious materials to make geometric shapes and bright colours, is reminiscent of the technique for the making of the handles of the Canary Islands knives.

The main centres where the Canary Islands knives are made are in Guía, Gáldar and Telde.