The next time you are lying in a hammock, tanning in the splendid sunshine, while enjoying your last bottle of cheap Spanish beer or smoking your last duty free cigarette, perhaps, you want to set aside a moment to think about Tenerife’s ancestors, the “Guanches, the first inhabitants of the Canary Islands, who first discovered this wonderful volcano paradise millions of years ago and who fought mercilessly to maintain them. Only then can one thank the Spanish conquistadors for conquering the islands and their subsequent descendants for turning them into some of the most popular tourist destinations on the planet and a place on earth where one can simply relax and unwind without a care in the world, while watching the sun set over the horizon. But before you do any of that, just take a short trip with me to where it all began for the Guanches.
The Guanches (native term Guanchinet literally meaning ‘native person of Tenerife’) were the aboriginal Berber inhabitants of the Canary Islands, who migrated to the archipelago some three thousand years ago. The name ‘Guanche’ applied to the indigenous populations of all seven Canary Islands, but the people who lived on Tenerife were the most important and powerful. At the time of the Guanche arrival (around 1000 BC) all the other islands of the Macaronesian region (Azores, Madeira, Cape Verde Islands and the Savage Islands) were all uninhabited by humans. The Guanches lived in relative isolation for almost two and a half thousand years, before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 14th century AD, although there are several records of various other visitors to the islands during this time.
A Mauritanian expedition to the Canary Islands in 50 BC apparently reported finding ‘ruins of large buildings’ but no inhabitants, possibly suggesting that the Guanches were not the only inhabitants of the time and the second half of the 8th century the islands may have been visited by the Portuguese, Genoese with the Castilian flag during their next 500 years, although records to suggest their arrival on the islands are conspicuous by their absence. However, there is a book that was written by an Arab geographer in the year 1150, about an expedition by a family of Andalusian sailors from Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, which tells of their arrival in the Canary Islands and their small integration into the Guanche population.
An excerpt from this (one-and-only) book reads: “After reaching a space of ‘sticky and malodorous waters’, the Mugharrarin (of the adventurer) moved backwards and first reached an uninhabited island (Madeira or El Hierro), where he found ‘an enormous quantity of sheep, whose flesh was bitter and inedible “and then” continued southwards’ and reached another island where they were soon surrounded by barks, and brought to ‘a village whose inhabitants were mostly fair-haired and long’. Among the villagers, one made him speak Arabic, and asked them where they came from. Then the king of the locality ordered them to take them back to the mainland, where they were surprised to be greeted by Berbers.”
Tenerife was originally segregated into ‘9’ kingdoms, each ruled by an independent king. However, the ‘Mencey’ was the lord of all the kingdoms. Like all ancient tribes of yesteryear, the Guanches were involved in slave ceremonies of sacrifice, both animal and human, as an offering to their various gods, such as Chaxiraxi the mother goddess, and Magec the Sun God. The Guanches also believed in demons, the main demon of Tenerife, being called ‘Guayota’, who supposedly lived on the summit of Teide. There were also demons, called ‘Tibicenas’, which took the form of hairy, black, wild dogs that supposedly lived in caves in the mountains, only to emerge after nightfall, where they could brutally attack both livestock and humans.
Mummification was practiced throughout the Canary Islands-especially in Tenerife, where corpses were embalmed, either in a resinous substance, or wrapped in goatskins or sheepskins, before being deposited in practically inaccessible caves, or the bodies were simply buried in the hills. Numerous mummies have been found in recent years, and many are displayed in the Museum of Nature and Man in Santa Cruz. Also, in 1933 the largest necropolis in the Canary Islands was discovered in Uchova (San Miguel de Abona, Tenerife), which had originally contained about ’60’ mummies, but unfortunately the cemetery had been completely looted some years earlier!
La Palma was the only island where the elderly were left to die on their own. After making a sad farewell to their family, the person in question are duly taken to the sepulchral cave, before being abandoned with nothing-more than a bowl of milk. How sad! In 1402 the Castilian conquest of the islands began with an attack on Fuerteventura and Lanzarote an easy conquest since most of its inhabitants were already suffering from hunger, and therefore had no choice but to surrender to the invaders. However, the other five islands defended their territories to the end. The BIMBACHE tribes of El Hierro were the first to fall, shortly after which La Gomera, Gran Canaria and La Palma were conquered. On May 31, 1494 the first battle of Acentajo (aptly nicknamed ‘La Masacre’) took place on the island of Tenerife, where the Guanches cleverly set up an ambush for the Castilians in one of the valleys, subsequently slaughtering eighty percent of their soldiers in a single blow.
However, six months later, on November 14, 1494, Alonso Fernandez de Lugo, the leader of the first expedition and one of the few survivors of the battle of Acentajo, returned with a vengeance, having been defeated first, by the Guanches in the battle of Aguere (also known as The War of San Cristobal de la Laguna) in less than 48 hours, won the second battle of Acentejo (this time in only 3” hours) on Christmas Day of the same year. And so ended the rule of the Guanches of the Canary Islands, but I hope that all vacationers, tourists, travelers, backpackers, expatriates and residents too, who have read this little summary, have the opportunity to appreciate, luckily, the provision of the countless delights that this wonderful island of Tenerife, along with its neighboring counterparts, of course, also have to offer.