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A Goat Story.
Whenever you decide to discover the beautiful spots on this island, whether it is on the shore or inland, you may have a reasonable chance to encounter free-walking goats, in herds or alone, searching for the scarce vegetation that represents their daily meal. You might then think of these creatures that they "just fill in the local picture" and – if you are lucky – you might be able to take some nice pictures of them for at home. (PIC) But do you realise that these animals were fundamental in the development of Fuerteventura and even to the development of mankind in general? No? Well let me tell you a bit "Goaty Stuff"...
Biology, History and Beliefs.
The furthest ancestor of the species "Goat", known so far, is regarded to be the Bezoar Goat which lives in the mountains and harsh areas of Crete, Middle-East and Persia (Iran). This would explain why they are such good climbers and do eat almost everything.
The French Zoologist Georges-Louis Buffon, who dedicated a lot of time to the study of goats in the 18th Century, was convinced that a goat was a less "noble" animal than a sheep. Like the mule is considered less noble than a horse.
"The goat produces milk like the sheep, it's fur is somewhat coarser; the leather from the goat's skin is of a better quality and the meat of a baby goat is very similar to that of a lamb. Goats – like donkeys or mules – do not require that much caring like sheep or horses. They are more adapted to harsh conditions and they practically do eat almost everything: bark, weeds, thorny bushes."
Nowadays, goats are not considered as "inferior" to sheep, but merely the sheep considered as a breed that has been further developed to suit man.
A Spanish variation of the goat species is the "Capra Ibex", an impressive creature with horns of about 1m length. Aelianus (175-235 AD) and Plinius (23-79 AD) describe this species as a wild form of the domestic goat which runs at a high speed, despite its set of impressive horns. More recently the Capra Ibex had to come up against decimation due to hunting, food competition and diseases spread out from livestock. Unfortunately, the last specimen of the Capra Ibex died in 2000.
The "Capra Hircus" is what we call the domestic goat. It was/is held by small farmers in arid areas and could be called "the cow of the poor". She really is a cornerstone of local agriculture in underdeveloped areas. Also therefore goats were dropped on inhabited islands to provide a source of energy and tools to those who survived a shipwreck. Besides milk and meat, a goat is a source for good leather for clothing, threads, footwear and a container for liquids. The bones and horns can be processed into tools, arms, cutlery and even jewellery and music instruments (the bagpipe finds its origin from a goat's skin). A consequence of her broad menu and great appetite is the devastation a goat can create to trees and forests. In areas where regeneration of vegetation is slow due to unfavourable climatic conditions, a couple of goat herds can turn fertile land into a desert. This is what most probably happened to Fuerteventura, once goats were introduced to the island, besides deforestation by man for construction and chalk burning.
The domestication of wild goats (Bezoar Goat) could have started some 13.000 years ago in the area of Mesopotamia (Syria) and Palestina, but surely before 10.000 years ago in what is called nowadays Iraq, as archaeological discoveries in the Near-Orient have proven. Goats were used as livestock and as gifts to the god(s).
Goats were ubiquitously represented in most ancient cultures through songs, drawings, paintings, literature and even religion because of their importance in daily survival. Almost every part of a goat can be used. You may call it the "supermarket of antiquity". Due to this exceptional property, men were soon attributing special importance to these animals: they received a special status and a symbolic meaning.
Beliefs were different from one area to the other and were passed on from one generation to the next and represented by symbols, ceremonies and religion.
Symbolic meaning of the goat.
Male: power of life, energy, creativity. Greek: positive and negative elements of masculine sexual drive.
Female: proliferation, fertility, abundance
Religion: In the Bible the goat is regularly mentioned, not only as a carrier of sins of mankind and sent to the desert to symbolically pay for their sins (3. Moses 16, 20-22), but also as a basic element in the daily life and search for nourishment, survival and gift and sacrifice to the gods.
In the German and the Dutch language, the word for Goat is "Bock" or "Bok". It resembles much the Slavic name for the "highest creature" and "provider of good things" which is "bog". In Russian "bog-at" means "rich" and "u-bog" means "poor".
In history, each area gave their own symbolic and religious meaning for the goat, the "cow of the poor" and last resort for survival:
Statues of Ishtar Lilith, a female Demon or Ghost of Winds, accompanied by goats, were used to worship in Mesopotamia, 2000 BC.
The goat – in the form of "Capricorn", is most probably one of the oldest constellations. The babylonic civilisation described it as "Goat-Fish". A possible explanation for this that around that time of the year one could successfully catch the "Goatfish" (Parupeneus forskalii). The Romans changed the name into "Capricornus", but the image is still showing one part of goat and one part of fish.
In ancient Egypt women who wanted to become pregnant worshipped the goat for its blessing. It was the symbol for fertility and reproductive power and much worshipped by women with a wish for descendants.
The ancient Egyptian city of MENDES, which is the word for "Pan" & "Goat" worshipped intensively their goats.
The goat in the Chinese zodiac stays for charming, kindness, but also for in search of help and assistance.
Goats were represented together with Dionysus and Pan and thus have been a symbol of reproductive power. Pan, represented with a goatee and hoofs, is the Greek god of ecstasy, hence the word "panic", which is an exaggerated form of acting.
The Greek word for goat is "tragos". The animal that provides nourishment for the entire family and that had to be sacrificed to the gods must have been a painful experience, hence the word tragedy. The god Zeus was nourished by the Nymph Amaltheia with goat milk. Out of gratitude he put the goat as a stellar sign (Capella, which means little goat) and the broken horn became the cornucopia, the symbol for abundance.
Goats were also used to document sexual behaviour and mysticism. The personality of Pan – the man-like creature with the face and the legs of a goat – is symbol of sexual drive. In Herculaneum, the village that has been devastated by the eruption of the volcano Vesuvius in 79 AC, a very explicit statute has been unearthed.
The Germanic god Thor, the symbol for reproductive power, was represented standing on a chariot, pulled by goats. Goats were an important part of the cult and myth of the Germanics.
In medieval times goats were symbols of the evil and witches were supposed have close alliances with goats as they ride them through the skies. It was also a symbol for their perceived obscene sexual behaviour. The devil was often pictured as a goat or a combination of a human body and a goat.
The goat, once pictured by the Greek as the carrier of Aphrodite Pandemos in what was called "Epitragia" ("the one standing on the goat" – symbol for "controlling all kinds of energy"), represented the magic symbol of fertility and female independence. This magic belief was very well introduced by the female population, but was steadily repressed and/or converted into a witch-culture during the Middle Ages by the then developing patriarchal structures. The new printing techniques of that time multiplied this repressive vision, often with lethal consequences for those independent women. The Sabbath celebration was not anymore regarded as a expression of a pagan matriarchic culture, but as an infamous expression of heresy and worship to the devil.
Unfortunately, in those medieval times and under the Catholic influence, the goat became the symbol for the devil, witchcraft and sexual aberration.
Art and Literature.
Erasmus Alber tells in 1550 a fairytale about a mama-goat who locks in her house her baby-goat with the warning not to open the door for anybody, whilst she goes searching for food. The brothers Jacob (1785-1863) & Wilhelm (1786-1859) Grimm have then developed this concept further into a world-famous drama with a happy-end (The wolf and the 7 baby-goats) in which the evil wolf managed to capture the 7 goats with a ruse, but where the smart mother goat successfully rescued them all.
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616) also wrote about goats in his world-famous "Don Quichote" in a gentle and respectful way. Especially the paragraph where the shepherd tries to capture with very gentle and child-friendly words a lost goat that initially didn't want to return to the stable (Part 50) is remarkable.
Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) describes in his novel "Robinson Crusoe" (PIC) the importance of goats on an abandoned island. Robinson, a while after he landed on the island and organised himself a bit and went out for hunting, encountered herds of wild goats which he first shot for food and then later successfully tried to capture to raise them for the time that he would run out of gun powder. Goats helped Robinson to survive and he eventually became good friends with some of them.
Victor Hugo (1802-1885) allows in his story "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" an important side role for a goat "Djali", owned by Esmeralda, the poor female dancer, a beggar and one of the protagonists. Here, the goat interferes at crucial moments to help its owner.
Goats are used as metaphors for human behaviour. Emotions and properties like love, caring, honesty, fear, inventivity, nourishing, but also trickiness are regularly described. Many fables, even ancient ones, show the goat to have behaviours like tricky, cunning, envy, smart, wisdom, stupid. (Phaedrus (15BC-50AC), Avianus (4th Cent BC), La Fontaine (1621-1695).
Some proverbs have been created around the symbol of the goat:
"La Cabra siempre tira al monte" – „Die Ziege zieht es immer auf dem Berg hinauf" – "The goat wil always be going for the hills": No se puede cambiar totalmente – Man kann nicht über seinen Schatten springen – You can't change completely.
To play the giddy goat – Ser una cabra loca – Die verrückte Ziege spielen.
Making capers – Hacer cabrioles – Kapriolen machen –
Caprice – Capricho – Kaprice
Goats have been pictured by the most famous artists and always in a respectful and/or humoristic way: Pablo Picasso, Lorrain, Phillip Roos, Jacob Hackert, William Turner, Camille Corot, Vincent van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Albrecht Dürer, Andrea Riccio. And last, but certainly not least, by the unknown artist who painted it in the Cave of Niaux (Fr), some 4.000 years ago...
Goats on Fuerteventura.
During archaeological excavations on Fuerteventura, some goat bones with an age of about 3.000 years have been discovered.
Gadifer de la Salle, one of the conquerors of Fuerteventura, wrote in 1403 that Fuerteventura was infested by goats. According to him, you could easily slaughter 30.000 goats without substantially affecting the livestock. On the other hand he stated that the island was covered with trees and bushes, which is a surprising contradiction. However, climatic conditions were - then and far before - significantly different than from today: more rain and permanent rivers, as one can see from the signs of erosion and learn from historic documents.
Every year, in Autumn, most of the free-running goats will be collected by the shepherds and their dogs in what is called "Apañada". Once collected, the goats will be marked, selected for farming, eventually castrated or slaughtered.
Types & Breeds
Fuerteventura counts for more than 30 types of goats.
Classes in Fuerteventura.
There are 3 classes of goats, according to the type of keeping:
Jairas: stay in the farm and generate a lot of milk,
Cabras de Gando: strive around in herds and will be collected every evening for the milking,
Cabras de Costa: freely running goats which aren't milked and will be collected during an "apañada" to – in majority – be slaughtered for meat as their meat has a good consistency.
The far most popular way of preparing goat is by using baby-goat meat, marinate it and make a succulent stew or by bake it very slowly with some herbs in an oven. If you decide to enjoy tasty goat in a restaurant, it is recommended to order these kind of dishes in advance.
For some recipes, please choose:
The local goat cheese really is a delicatessen and cannot be compared with any goat cheese from at home. There are several types of cheese, but most common are young (Tierno), semi-cured (Semi-Curado) and fully cured (Curado). Variations with the seasoning are: Gofio, Olive oil, Red pepper (Pimiento) and smoked (Ahumado). A must-try.
Dear Reader, I hope that I could convince you that those "simple" creatures truly are wonderful and that they merit to be looked at in a respectful way.
- Sources: "La Cabra siempre tira al Monte" by Murki Wehr (private edition), Wikipedia.