In a small town island which such a rugged contour as La Gomera, distances were measured in the past by the time and effort needed to cover the ground between two points, and not by the number of kilometres involved, which never was much. The movement from one side of a valley or 'barranco' to the other by descending one steep hillside, crossing the valley bottom and ascending the far side, could take a person on foot several hours, although the distance might be as little as a few hundred metres. In these surroundings, the Gomeran whistling language is a special method of communication, which permits simple messages to be passed from one place to another, as far as the sound carries.
This odd way of communication has pre-hispanic origins and is not a language in its own right in the technical sense of the word, rather a way of echoing the spoken word representing each syllable by means of whistles, aided by the placing of fingers in the mouth.
The characteristics of this type of communication consist of 6 sounds and in favourable climatic conditions it can be heard at a distance of 3,000 metres.
On the disappearance of the rural society which used this language and the introduction of modern methods of communication such as the telephone, the Gomeran 'silbo' is hardly used outside exhibitions and demonstrations. For this reason there are less and less people who can whistle.
At the present time the Island Government is actively promoting the study of El Silbo, and its study and practise now form part of the curriculum of pupils in both Primary School and the first years of Secondary School.