A working history of Gran Canaria’s women

The quiet, invisible work of women has played a fundamental role in the traditional culture of Gran Canaria; they worked without recognised rights and with multiple responsibilities and skills. Some of the jobs that they traditionally took care of are now included in a series of historical photos that the Cabildo de Gran Canaria invites you to contemplate on the occasion of International Women’s Day, celebrated this Wednesday, March the 8th.

A wide range of old images show the difficult but essential role that women occupied in the traditional culture of Gran Canaria, collected by FEDAC the Foundation for Ethnography and Development of Canarian Crafts, some of their images taken in the last 120 years have been selected and can be visited at the FEDAC website so that knowledge of the work that these women did does not fall into oblivion.

Washerwomen at the acequia in 1911 (community-operated watercourses used in Spain and former Spanish colonies), women collecting cochineal in 1928, water-colouring, potters, stewing pots and earthenware or grinding ochre for reddle are just some of the snapshots that can be contemplated in black and white & sepia among the collection.

In the context of a society that was mostly poor, women were mothers, spouses, housewives, colleagues, farm workers, artisans, and even workers in packing stores without ever receiving much in return. Higher forms of labour, and payment, were reserved by employers for the men.

Day-to-day life for most began before dawn, when women were expected to organize the house and then go to work in the fields, or in the yard to make pottery or embroidery with which to supplement the usually small family income.

collecting cochineal 1928
photo by Maisch, Teodoro

In other families, the women also made cheese or milled vegetables, potatoes and peas, among others, which she sold at the market or exchanged for goods needed in her home.

The development of tomato cultivation, especially in the southeast of Gran Canaria, led many women to ’emigrate’ to this latitude of the island and to occupy positions in packing factories or work in the ‘tomateros’, where they often went with their smallest children, who they left in tomato boxes while they worked.

The tomato industry and its work occupied a great part of their day, and it was work that so many children, teens and and young mothers lined up to do, for its meager salary and the offer of a humble room that would shelter them.

Women would often follow this hard work by continuing later in crafts, various trades and other industries, many times depending on their husbands, to whom they were dedicated, to support their families, and working well into the evenings before resting a few hours to start again a new day, identical to the last.

To The Women of Gran Canaria, we offer our gratitude and humble thanks.

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