Some time ago, I received publicity material for the Canary Islands’ edition of the board game, Monopoly. For those of you who are not familiar with the game, I can assure you that it is a very pleasant all-islands version of the popular board game, but relevant to the delights of the Canary Islands, rather than the smog and stresses of London, which most British players will be familiar with.
Have you ever played Monopoly? Some of you may well groan at the memory of bitter squabbles and arguments when losing, whilst for others it may bring happy memories of playing with family and friends, whilst setting you on a path to be a successful entrepreneur. I used to play it, but it was not a game that I was very keen on, or really understood. I do remember being unhappy unless I managed to get the little dog as a playing piece, as well as being teased, because I was never interested in buying the ‘posh’ London estates in Mayfair and Park Lane, because I much preferred the cosier properties in Old Kent Road. Needless to say, I never did become a successful businessman and much preferred the game of Scrabble instead.
Despite my lack of enthusiasm for the game, it has been remarkably successful over the years. For those who are more used to playing video games, I should explain that Monopoly is a game of chance; a board game whereby players roll two six-sided dice to move around the board, buying and selling properties. Players collect rent from their opponents, with the charming aim of trying to drive opponents into bankruptcy.
The game was invented by an American woman, an anti-monopolist called Elizabeth Magie, in 1903 as a way to demonstrate a capitalist economy. It was intended to demonstrate that an economy that rewards the creation of wealth is better than one in which monopolists operate under less constraints. There is also a more sinister underpinning to the game in that it is designed to promote the work of Henry George and his theories of taxation.
One story about the game that I particularly like, is that in 1941, the British Secret Service approached the British manufacturer of the game, John Waddington, to create a special edition for World War 2 prisoners captured by the Nazis. Compasses, maps, real money and other items that might come in useful for escaping were hidden inside these games. These ‘special editions’ were distributed to prisoners of war by British secret service agents disguised as charity workers.
In 1991, Hasbro bought Parker Brothers and its interests in Monopoly and happily went on to allow multiple licensing of the game across the world. As well as board games, a variety of spin offs appeared including a live TV game show, computer and video games, gambling versions for slot machines, on line versions, films, tournaments, and even a World championship event.
There are already a number of published local Spanish editions for Ibiza, Granada, the Basque Country and Cantabria, as well as special editions celebrating sports teams such as Barcelona Football Club or Real Madrid, among others. According to the company, this special edition was selected because of the Canary Islands’ “incredible natural environment, its enormous wealth and cultural variety and its international relevance at a tourist level”.
The Canary Islands edition of the game is published by a British company, Winning Moves, and is produced as a bilingual Spanish-English version. It has the support of three large companies that operate throughout the archipelago: Fred Olsen Express, Lopesan Group and Cajasiete. The game maintains the aesthetics and rules of the traditional game, so should be enjoyed by tourists and residents alike.
Over the years, the game has been vastly improved, but maybe the new Canary Islands’ edition could include the handsome Canary Mastiff dog as one of its playing pieces? Monopoly is still going from strength to strength. Anyone for a game?
© Barrie Mahoney
I remember once being told by an American professor, “History is never taught in American schools”. I was puzzled by the comment, since I have always believed that it is history that informs both our present and our future. There is much that we don’t understand about the United States; Brits are often puzzled by the phrase “our American cousins”, which is a meaningless phrase at the best of times, and particularly when it is over used by UK politicians busily looking for trade deals post Brexit. Although we speak the same language, cultural differences and values abound, and there are often stark differences, which may be difficult for Europeans to understand. Let me take one example, Thanksgiving, where the Spanish dimension seems to be mostly ignored in favour of a more comfortable version of history.
Very soon people all over the United States will celebrate what they believe to be the first ever Thanksgiving in 1621, gathering together with family and friends and celebrating with traditional turkey and pumpkin pie. I really don’t want to spoil this very special day, but it seems that the wrong date and event is being celebrated. It really is time that we had a close look at the facts, as they appear to many historians.
According to American tradition, and not necessarily historical fact, most American school pupils are taught that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 by English pilgrims who found refuge in America on the Mayflower. Archaeologists at Florida’s Museum of Natural History contradict this statement, and claim that the first Thanksgiving was actually celebrated in San Augustin, La Florida in 1565, which is 50 years earlier. It was the Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés and a motley collection of 800 soldiers, sailors and assorted settlers, which would have included many conscripts from the Canary Islands who were despatched to help populate the new Spanish colonies. It was they who celebrated the first Thanksgiving, and not English pilgrims in their wide-brimmed hats as often pictured. It was these new arrivals from Spain who celebrated the first Thanksgiving, which began with a special thanksgiving mass, before enjoying a shared feast with local Native Americans.
Forget traditional turkey and pumpkin pie, because that first Thanksgiving feast included salted pork and typical Spanish food, such as chickpeas and olives, washed down with red wine. It was unlikely that there would be any cranberries, although it is thought that typical Caribbean foods would have been enjoyed, which Menéndez would have thoughtfully collected during his visit to Puerto Rico, as well as a probable stopover in the Canary Islands, before arriving in La Florida.
According to historians, it is thought that the local Timucuan people would also have joined in with the celebrations, adding fresh fish, berries, beans and corn to the feast. The bank of the Matanzas River was the site of the first Spanish colony in the United States, which is where the first Thanksgiving feast took place.
So, why is it that this essential piece of American history appears to have been forgotten or massaged in a way that ignores the natives? Well, as usual, it is thought to be the fault of the British, because the history of the United States has been heavily Anglicised over the centuries, with America’s origins seen primarily as British. This is not the case, since the first colony in the New World was a melting pot that included cultural contributions and interactions with many groups of people, which was totally unlike any other British colony.
The real history of the first Thanksgiving is particularly important in the current political climate, since the Hispanic population in the United States is growing fast. The importance of the Spanish colony in La Florida to American history is rarely taught in schools, let alone understood by the wider population. The current community of St Augustine founded by Menédez de Avilés on September 8th 1565 has the honour to be the oldest European settlement that has been continually occupied in the country, which in 2015 celebrated its 450th anniversary.
I wish “our American cousins” a happy and peaceful thanksgiving, but urge them to revisit those history books and museum records; forgo turkey and pumpkin pie and instead enjoy tapas and a few glasses of fine Rioja instead. Salud!© Barrie Mahoney ￼