The arrival of the first settlers in the Canary Islands from North Africa has been dated to around the 1st century AD. Everything indicates that these societies remained relatively isolated until the Archipelago was “rediscovered” by Renaissance Europe. They were Berber peoples dedicated to herding, gathering and, to a lesser extent, agriculture. They were organised in tribes that were associated and linked to very specific territories. In the 15th century, there were four cantons on La Gomera: Ipalán, Agana, Orone and Mulagua. But the history of La Gomera does not end here….
Since the 14th century, the island has received sporadic visitors. Towards the middle of the 15th century, Hernán Peraza “El Viejo” founded San Sebastián; the Peraza family settled definitively on the island when the Crown of Castile granted the first lordship of the Canary Islands to Hernán Peraza “el Mozo” (1478). As a result of the mistreatment to which he subjected the natives, the Gomeran Rebellion took place in 1488. The Gomeran people executed the lord and unsuccessfully attempted an assault on the Count’s Fortress, Torre del Conde. Subsequently, the lady of the island, with the help of the governor of Gran Canaria, applied a harsh reprisal against the natives. This was the most important turning point in the island’s history; the seigneurial regime was established on the island and would last until the 19th century.
From the 16th century onwards, the cycle of monoculture crops for export began on the island, which normally ended up in European markets. Their boom or bust depended on international political and economic fluctuations, and the capital invested was always foreign. Thus, sugar, vines, silk, cochineal, tomatoes and bananas followed one after the other. In times of crisis, the island experienced periods of emigration, which were accentuated in the 19th and 20th centuries, with the expansion of polyculture crops for self-consumption – essential for the maintenance of family economies – as well as livestock farming. Cereals were always important, especially on the hills in the south of the island, from where they were exported to Tenerife.
It was not until the 17th century that La Gomera experienced massive land development, linked to the gradual arrival of settlers from other islands. The 18th century was a turbulent one for La Gomera, with an economic recovery towards the end of the century. The 19th century was marked by an economic improvement driven by the appearance of fish factories, which monopolised production in the archipelago and partially alleviated the island’s ailing economy. The island’s population increased, reaching its peak in 1950, with almost 30,000 inhabitants. Afterwards, emigration took its toll and depopulation reached 12,000 in the 1980s, and the Gomeran countryside was deeply affected.
The improvement of external communications, with the appearance of the first dock of San Sebastián and then the ferry (1974), meant a chain of important changes. In the last decade of the 20th century, the tourist industry took on special vigour and became the driving force of the island’s economy.