The Shepherd’s Leap
By Chadd and Jenny McGlone
Chapel Hill, NC, United States
Dedicated to former staff member Naomi Blum, so she will always have a Global Math Story to call her own.
Goat shepherds in the Canary Islands face a difficult challenge to do their job well. They have to keep up with agile goats grazing over rugged terrain. When hungry goats lose their way, shepherds must conquer 30-foot cliffs, hurdle groves of cacti, or vault deep pits to retrieve them. To keep the herd safe in an impassable landscape, shepherds developed a unique form of transport mostly known as the art of salto del pastor canario. In English this phrase is translated to “shepherd’s leap of the Canary Islanders.”
The topography of the Canary Islands is craggy and beautiful, formed by volcanic eruptions over millions of years. Despite their location 100 km off the northwestern coast of Africa, politically they belong to Spain as a result of colonization during the early 15th century. As a result, the two million island residents speak Spanish.
Guarding the Goats
Before tourism drove the islands’ economic growth, agriculture supplied a livelihood to its citizens. Along with sugar cane and bananas, goats provided a source of food and income. To keep up with their goats in times past, innovative shepherds employed a long wooden pole known as a lanza or garrote to navigate large boulders, cliff faces, and crevices. Think pole vaulting with a pole that can’t bend.
Leaping with Lanzas
Lanzas are wooden staffs ranging in length from six to 12 feet, depending on the height of its owner. The top end is wider than the bottom, which terminates in a sharp, metal-clad point. Shepherds use the pointed end as an anchor while leaping a chasm or obstacle. It also helps slow their descent when jumping off a rock overhang. The acrobatic moves were taught by one generation to the next.
With goat herding in decline as a career, the salto del pastor tradition lives on as a hobby and folk sport. Today, instructors teach students and tourists how to utilize their lanzas in clubs around the region. Each November, practitioners gather together for an annual cross-island encounter. If you happen to attend the event, you will witness female and male saltodores honor the artistry and daring of their ancestors.
Many thanks to Asoc Cultural Salto del Pastor Taborno and Salto del Pastor Canario New Zealand for their contributions to this story.
Have a change to suggest for this story? We’d love for you to submit it!
Photo Credit: Salto del Pastor Canario New Zealand
Photo Credit: Asoc Cultural Salto del Pastor Taborno
1. Assume a shepherd can manage up to 20 goats without any strays getting lost.
- How many goats can three shepherds manage?
- If you own 50 goats, how many different ways can you divide the goats among the three shepherds? For example, you could give 17 goats to Shepherd José, 17 goats to Shepherd Ramona, and 16 goats to Shepherd Pedro.
- If you want to split your herd between three shepherds, provide 10 total numbers of goats you need so that each shepherd gets the same number of goats.
2. Sometimes shepherds jump off of cliffs to keep up with the goats. If a shepherd’s lanza is 12 feet long, and the cliff is 20 feet high, how far will the shepherd drop before the lanza hits the ground? On earth, acceleration due to gravity is 32 feet per second squared. How fast will the shepherd be going when the lanza hits? Compare that speed with how fast she/he would be going after jumping off a 20-foot cliff without a staff.
3. Shepherds can hurdle large bushes and rocks with a lanza. If the lanza is 12 feet long, how far will the shepherd travel to get over an obstacle?
Social Justice Question
Given that few young people are choosing to herd goats in the Canary Islands, who has the responsibility to ensure that the salto del pastor tradition continues? What would you do, if you could do anything, to help keep this art alive?
- Videos of modern-day salto del pastor in New Zealand
- Website of the Asoc Cultural Salto del Pastor Taborno on Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands
- Interview in Spanish with a goat shepherd skilled in salto del pastor
- Fun facts about the Canary Islands
- Article detailing research into the indigenous inhabitants of the Canary Islands
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