It is probable that La Oliva owes its name to the presence of wild olive trees (acebuches in Spanish) in its territory. This place, which has developed over a wide plain of fertile soils, was an important population centre for the majos, a native people predating the Hispanic period which started with the conquest of Fuerteventura in the year 1405.
The Conquest of Fuerteventura finished in 1405. Betancuria, a place hidden in a valley to prevent pirate attacks from the African continent, was chosen to be the capital and the island was governed from there. The conquest led by the Norman, Jean de Béthencourt, ended Fuerteventura’s prehistoric era and a new stage began which would have feudal traits. In 1476, the Señorío Territorial, or territorial lordship, of Fuerteventura was legally created, through which the Catholic Kings recognised the conqueror’s rule over the Island. The town of Betancuria, where the conquerors settled, became the seat of governmental authority through a Cabildo (as a single town council) subject to the Señores (Lords) as the owners of the island.
There is little information about population settlements on the rest of the island. According to ROLDAN VERDEJO, “The valleys with the best land were settled, Betancuria, Santa Inés, Río Palmas, Pájara, Antigua, Tuineje, Tetir and La Oliva, which are the most important centres and hence the oldest. People fled from the coast, from the less fertile or completely sterile and sandy lands, and especially from the eastern coast for fear of Berber incursions.”
Once the capital had been established, Pájara, to the south of Betancuria, and La Oliva, to the north, formed the original backbone of the island. An anonymous manuscript tells how the town of La Oliva was founded in 1500 by some individuals known as the Hernández brothers, residents of Betancuria, “Who built two little houses in this jurisdiction so as to be able to move to the area during sowing time. To that end they constructed the abovementioned houses and built a type of pond or pool for irrigating crops, in the place called Puerto Escondido. Other people followed in the footsteps of the Hérnandez brothers, and they began to build small, scattered houses, encouraged by the cereal farming.”
All of these new villages that sprang up were very far from the nerve centre of Betancuria, and hence in 1711 La Oliva’s Ayuda de Parroquia (a dependent church or chapel with a resident priest) was created so that its inhabitants could fulfil their religious obligations.
The description of the islands given by the engineer Torriani at the end of the 16th century includes a map of Fuerteventura showing La Oliva, the port of El Toston, and the Corralejo cove in the north. By the 17th century, El Roque, Los Lajares, Caldereta, Vallebrón, Tindaya, Villaverde, Mascona, Peñaerguida, etc., located inland and satellites of the central plain in which La Oliva is situated, were inhabited places where agriculture was also the main trade.
The lethargy that marked the period after the Conquest was broken in the 18th century when the Colonels moved their residence from Betancuria to La Oliva (1742). This was the time when the Señores experienced a decline in the power that they had held during both the Middle Ages, under the feudal system, and a large part of the Modern Age. The Crown began to join forces to counterbalance the power of the Señores. The Arias de Saavedra family, which had inherited the Señorío of Fuerteventura from generation to generation, did not live on the island as they had moved to Tenerife in the 17th century. With this as a background, the military power also held by the Señor of the island was gradually transferred to the Colonels. The privileged position of the Señores was not so important in military terms, given that they were gradually losing authority in this field. At the end of the 16th century, the arrival of the first Captain General in the Canary Islands meant that the defence of the island began to be taken over by the Crown, which appointed the sergeant majors. Later on, in 1708, the Regiment of the Militias was created, and the Colonel assumed important powers as the Gobernador de las Armas (Military Commander). These powers expanded to take in other socio-economic areas as a consequence of the repeated absences of the successive Señores who were living on other islands. The fragile economic situation of Fuerteventura’s citizens and protests about the lack of protection afforded by the Señor were taken advantage of by representatives of the Crown in the Canaries.
The Marquis of Vallehermoso tried to get concessions and demonstrations by Fuerteventura’s citizens in favour of the power of the Crown and against the Señor Territorial.
In the 18th century the Colonels not only held military power but they also obtained civil authority, appointing and dismissing officials of the Island Cabildo government and thus becoming the real owners of the land and holding the reins of economic power.
Appointment to the position of Colonel became hereditary and for life, and was assigned to a single family: the Sánchez-Dumpiérrez family, which first held the post, followed by the Cabrera-Bethencourts from 1742 to 1833, who moved to La Oliva, and finally the Manrique de Lara-Cabreras from 1834 to 1870, who maintained and extended the economic power of their predecessors. They were the most closed local endogamy of class and kinship.
During the 18th century and the first decades of the 19th century, under the Colonels La Oliva became in practical everyday terms the capital of the island, although the Cabildo remained, representing the “civil power and capital city” in Betancuria. At this time, large tracts of land were opened up and used to grow grain (wheat, barley and rye) for export, with a large number of medianeros (tenant farmers) and day labourers dependent on the Cabrera family and their administrators.
Tostón (El Cotillo) was the port of the northern part of the island. The engineer Claudio de L`isle died on the island during the construction of Tostón Tower, a fortification which dates back to 1743 and was given the name Nuestra Señora del Pilar y San Miguel.
The volcanic eruptions that occurred on the island of Lanzarote in the 17th century affected our municipality, as its population increased with the arrival of whole families in the northern part of Fuerteventura.
Economic, political and social circumstances in the 18th century saw the decline of the military authorities on Fuerteventura. New villages such as Puerto de Cabras, and those that were emerging due to economic prosperity such as Antigua, were populated by new inhabitants drawn by the barilla trade.
These events meant that La Oliva and the Colonels lost power, as the weight of the island shifted towards the coastal area and the best cove on the island, Puerto de Cabras, where traders, administrative personnel and representatives of the central authorities settled. They formed a new social class on Fuerteventura, one with a more bourgeois mindset.
The Cortes de Cádiz were very important for the Señorío islands. In 1811, all the lordships were abolished, though in fact they had already lost much authority and power to the State. In 1812, the Cortes carried out an administrative reform that granted the status of municipality to any parish with more than a thousand inhabitants. This regulation, which affected La Oliva, came into effect in Fuerteventura between 1833 and 1835.
Ideas for the journey
In the footsteps of legendAn excellent guidebook to help you explore the walking routes of La Oliva. Volcanoes, beaches, history and much more.
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