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Heart to Heart

She can’t be more than eight or nine years old and no taller than a Hobbit. She has big brown eyes and a cheeky face. From her elevated vantage point above the heads of the crowds she has one hand on her hip while with the other she’s wagging a finger at the throng of T-shirt clad men who are heaving on ropes and pushing on poles, the sweat running into their eyes, as they raise an 800 kilo frame adorned with hearts made of fruit, flowers and boughs onto a fixed cross.

“Your rotten fruit stinks!” she shouts, now theatrically holding her nose for added effect “And so do you! Poooohh!” Her hand wafts in the general direction of the group to encompass the whole entity in her pronouncement.

 “And your pastries are rubbish!” she adds.

The girl standing next to her giggles behind her hand, in awe of her friend’s audacity.

The man at the top of the ladder that’s resting against the cross onto which the heart is being hoisted shouts “Arriba!” and the crowd take up the chant as the men make one last huge effort on the ropes and pole, finally manoeuvring the frame until its base slips onto the waiting bracket and is quickly bound with rope. A great cheer goes up from the team below the hearts.

The little girl with the big brown eyes looks crestfallen. She tuts and shakes her head: “Your fruit still smells bad, even up there!” she shouts. And the victorious team all laugh at her and congratulate each other as their two rival teams continue to sweat and strain in the heat, their hearts still short of the illusive bracket.

The fiesta of Los Corazones de Tejina (the hearts of Tejina) is one of the most deep-rooted festivals of the Canary Islands, recorded mention dating from as far back as 1800. The origins of the fiesta are bound to the seasonal celebration of the harvest. Offerings of fruit, flowers and boughs to the local saint are a common feature of fiestas in the Islands and date back to pre-Hispanic times when the Guanche wove boughs of laurel, palm leaves and aromatic herbs into arcs which were used to adorn the Tagoror (Holy Place) when a new Mencey (King) was crowned and for religious rituals.

But in Tejina, the arcs have evolved into something extraordinary.

Heart Making

A month before the fiesta, three local barrios (districts) of the town; El Pico, Calle Arriba and Calle Abajo, each set up a commission to organize the construction of their ‘hearts’, beginning with the collection of money from every household in the local area to help fund the fruit and flowers. Over the ensuing month, an appropriate branch is found in the woods above Tegueste from which to construct the frame that will bear the hearts, and work begins on baking the pastry tarts that will adorn the finished product.

The frame is constructed of wood and iron and boughs are knitted across it to form two hearts: one very large one and one smaller (chica) one above it. Both hearts are bound at the edges by the Spanish flag. Fruit is then sewn onto the boughs to form an outline of each heart and across its face to form a cross. Into each quarter of the hearts, pastry plates are sewn which depict symbols of religion, traditional costume, agriculture, animals, flora and folklore.

Finally, the entire structure is finished off with a magnificent display of fresh flowers at the top.

Pride and Prejudice

Back in Plaza de San Bartolomé, all three hearts are now safely hoisted onto their crosses and Spanish flags have been added, three on either side. As the gentle breeze flutters the flags on the hearts and the ones on the church tower, the scene is one of extraordinary beauty. The sun is shimmering on the fairytale spire of the church from which beads of coloured lights are strung down to the brightly coloured kiosks selling food, beer and a cornucopia of local produce, ornaments and trinkets. Centre stage, the hearts themselves are like characters in a Lewis Carroll adaptation; the scene is truly a Wonderland.

Around the base of each heart, animated conversations are taking place between the residents of each of the three barrios responsible for their construction. Observations are being made about the quality or otherwise of the workmanship of the pastries, the freshness of the flowers and the uniformity and positioning of the fruit. Voices are raised as the observations turn to insults, each one attracting a retort from the neighbouring barrio and a cheer and laughter from the crowd.

To the untrained eye, there are no discernable differences between the three masterpieces, indeed, to the trained eye there are none either. But this show of rivalry; the pride of each barrio in its own creation and the corresponding prejudice against the other two, are an integral part of the fiesta.

As the insults fly, a parranda, or local group of musicians, strikes up and takes up the gauntlet of badinage, encouraged and applauded by the crowd. Each barrio has its own parranda and they take it in turns to wander around the plaza singing songs of praise to their heart and lyrically destroying the other two, filling the plaza with laughter and song.

Heartbreaking

On the afternoon following the fiesta, the hearts are stripped of their fruit and pastries and, however bizarre the previous day’s activities and insults may have seemed, this is not the time for the faint hearted to be in Plaza de San Bartolomé.

Ladders are placed against each heart while at its base the crowds push and jostle for position. The threads that hold the fruit are cut and piece by piece the fruit is thrown to the crowd below, each of whom is desperate for a souvenir of the fiesta. It’s at this point that injuries can be sustained: an orange in the eye, a pear to the back of the head, an elbow in the ribs as everyone surges to catch the fruit as, once it hits the ground, tradition dictates it remain there.

Then the finale. The pastries, which are the real prize trophy of the day, are thrown, and those that survive the frantic hands grasping them from the air are given pride of place in a home and boasted about over the coming weeks.

Keeping Heart

The little girl who was earlier displaying such an aptitude for the traditional rivalry of the fiesta, is now dancing along behind the parranda from her barrio, sticking her tongue out at her friends from Calle Abajo who reciprocate with glee. Next Sunday she’ll have the chance to exchange insults with her peer group again as the junior version of Los Corazones de Tejina is staged in the plaza, thus ensuring that a fiesta that has already survived for over 200 years will continue to flourish in the 21st Century.

Heart Facts

The Fiesta of Los Corazones de Tejina usually takes place on the last Sunday in August in the town of Tejina in the valley above Bajamar on Tenerife’s northern coast.

  • 11.30 am – The hearts leave their barrio, accompanied by their parrandas, and are carried to Plaza de San Bartolomé in the centre of the town.
  • 12.00 midday - Offerings are made to San Bartolomé and the hearts are raised.
  • 21.30 – Poems and dedications are recited to the hearts in Plaza de San Bartolomé
Trading insults starts at an early age in Tejina
Raising the heart
A Tejina heart; good enough to eat!
A Lewis Carroll-type scene in Tejina's Plaza
With a song in your heart...

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