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The Guanches: Original Settlers of the Canary Islands

The original settlers of the Canary Islands, known as the Guanches, are believed to have arrived from Africa in the first or second century BC. These early inhabitants lived in caves, which provided natural insulation against the heat of summer and the cold of winter. The Guanches were knowledgeable in geometric symbolism, and they practiced embalming and mummification, as well as cranial trepanning. For more on this fascinating history, see our blog about the mummies and pyramids.
Representation of Guanche How Did They Look

How Did the First People Arrive in Tenerife?

It remains a mystery how the first inhabitants of Tenerife made the journey from Africa. Some theories suggest they might have been stranded by pirates or exiled by their own people. There’s also a captivating hypothesis that the first settlers were originally Atlanteans and that the Canary Islands are remnants of the mythic Atlantis.
Illustration showing how the Guanches might have arrived in Tenerife

The Appearance and Culture of the Guanches

Research indicates that the Guanches were tall, typically between 175 and 188 cm, with bright rosy skin, blond hair, and blue eyes. Their outdoor lifestyle and cave dwellings made them physically strong. They were known for their bravery, intelligence, and friendly nature, with a love for singing, dancing, gambling, and contests. The Guanches also had a deep respect and love for their families.

Village of the Guanches family. Excursion to Guanches

The Battle Against the Spanish Conquest

The Spanish began their conquest of the Canary Islands in 1402. While most islands fell quickly, Tenerife resisted fiercely. Under the leadership of Becomo, the Guanches of Taoro, Tacoronte, Tegueste, Daute, and Icod fought bravely against the Spanish. The first Battle of Acentejo on May 31, 1494, saw the nearly naked Guanches defeating the armored Spanish troops. However, after suffering from smallpox and facing a more prepared Spanish force, Tenerife eventually fell in 1496. Many Guanches were enslaved or retreated into the mountains.

Historical battle scene of Guanches defending Tenerife against Spanish soldiers

Are There Any Guanches Left Today?

While many Guanches tribes remained neutral during the Spanish conquest and survived, over time, they intermingled with Spanish settlers. Today, the Guanche heritage is still present in the physical characteristics of some locals, though pure Guanche lineage is unlikely.

Artifacts related to the Guanche language and whistling language Silbo Gomero

Languages Spoken in the Past on the Canary Islands

The Guanches spoke their own language, Guanche, which became extinct after the Spanish invasion. However, the legendary whistling language, Silbo Gomero, created by the Guanches, still exists on La Gomera. During our La Gomera day trip, you’ll learn more about this unique language and see a demonstration. Today, Spanish is the main language in the Canary Islands, enriched by a mix of different cultural influences.

Residents of the Canary Islands Guanche

How Did the Different Areas of Tenerife Obtain Their Names?

The Guanche king Tinerfe had nine children, and after his death, his territories were divided among them, resulting in the nine regions of Tenerife we know today:

  • Taoro: Puerto de la Cruz, La Orotava, La Victoria, La Matanza, Los Realejos, Santa Ursula
  • Güimar: El Rosario, Candelaria, Arafo, Guimar
  • Abona: Fasnia, Arico, Granadilla, San Miguel de Abona, Arona
  • Anaga: Santa Cruz, San Cristobal de La Laguna
  • Tegueste: Coastline of La Laguna
  • Tacoronte: Tacoronte, El Sauzal
  • Icod: San Juan de la Rambla, La Guancha, Garachico, Icod de Los Vinos
  • Daute: El Tanque, Los Silos, Buenavista del Norte, Santiago del Teide
  • Adeje: Guia de Isora, Adeje, Vilaflor

Statues of Guanche kings in Candelaria, Tenerife, representing the ancient rulers of the Canary Islands

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