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History of Gran Canaria

The Canary Islands from Antiquity until now.

A few - it would appear very few - sea explorers reached the Canary Islands during ancient times. The islands lie in the Atlantic Ocean, into which very few sailors dared to venture. Furthermore, the ocean current called "Canaries Stream" flows in a south-westerly direction before veering to the west to sweep the unwary ocean vessel off to the Caribbean.

Centuries later, Europeans would make use of this current as a powerful aid in crossing the Ocean to reach America. (Christopher Columbus called in at Gran Canaria and La Gomera, and set sail from this island during his voyage of discovery in 1492. The Canaries were the last land sighted by the Spaniards before landing in the island of Guanahani -San Salvador- on October 12, 1492; and Canarian water and provisions supplied the "Pinta", the "Niña" and the "Santa María").

Those few Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans who reached the islands and managed to return home to tell their story, surrounded the Canaries in a mist of magic and legend. For centuries, even after the Spanish conquest, it was believed that the islands were the uppermost peaks of the lost continent of Atlantis of which Plato wrote.

Others identified them with the Elysian Fields, home to the blessed who knew no cold or pains. Similarly, the islands came to be identified with the Garden of Hesperydes, a paradise where golden apples grew under the guard of a gigantic flame-spewing monster (the Teide volcano?).

The Roman general Quintus Sertorius, whose ship was swept from Lusitania (Portugal) by a storm, speaks in the Its century BC of "some islands higher than Mount Atlas with a gentle climate". Plutarch called the Canaries "the Fortunate Islands", a nickname with they still bear and which has given rise to the term "Macaronesia" (the Happy Islands) to refer to the archipelagos of the Azores, Canaries, Madeira, and Cape Verde in the Atlantic.

Juba, king of Mauritania in Northern Africa and vassal of Rome in the Its century BC, sent an expedition out to explore the islands according to the writings of the famous naturalist Plinius.

The Guanches: The people from Tenerife.

Guanche was the name by which the natives of Tenerife called themselves. Guan Chenech meant "Man from Chenech", or man from Tenerife. With the passage of time, the term Guanche became identified with all the native peoples of the Canaries.

The first people living on the Canary Islands is veiled in mystery. The Guanches, had no recollection of the ways of the Sea; But at one time or other, they must have come across the Sea, if not to accept the theory, that they were descendants of survivors from the sunken Atlantis; a romantic but hardly scientific valid assertion.

The most recent investigations takes for granted, that there is a racial community between Guanches and Berbers, though there is doubt about when the Berbers came to the Islands. Berbers are not Arabic. They are Higher and fairer, and their past is for a great part veiled in mystery.

Kabyls have Berbic blood in them; Tuaregs are Berbers, and by the way the only people in the world, where it is the men and not the women, that are veiled – from that the name.

They brought with them wheat and barley. They came from North Africa, originating from the same stock as the Berbers of the Atlas mountains. Yet this simple affirmation has caused - and still causes - virtual rivers of ink to flow in polemical debate in which archaeology and ethnography become entangled in politics.

According to the tales of the European conquerors, the Guanches were a "highly beautiful white race, tall, muscular, and with a great many blondes amongst their numbers" Their great height must be understood in relation to the average height of Europeans at that time.

As for the presence of blondes, even today after many centuries of invasions and intermarriage, a heritage of blond hair and blue eyes is easily found among modern day Berbers of the Atlas region in Africa. There have of course been those who have tried to deny the Berber origins of the Guanches for political reasons, perhaps in order to avoid the possibility of potential territorial claims on the part of Morocco.

But this reasoning is totally illogical. The ancestors of the current Moroccan and Algerian Berbers who emigrated to the Canaries did so several centuries before the birth of Christ when neither Morocco nor Algeria nor their cultures yet existed.

The Guanches embalmed their dead after the same method, which was used by the Berbers, and maybe goes way back to the Egypt’s. Modern Carbon 14 investigations have shown, that the oldest found mummies originates from about 200 years after Christ, and that there are anthropological common features with the Berbers. Furthermore the now extincted Guanche Language had a lot of Berberian words in it.

This same base was common to all the islands, but each island had developed into its own microcosm to the point where even the language had differentiated into distinct dialects. The islands were cut off one from the other as the natives did not know the art of navigation. They fished only in coastal tidal pools.

This is one of the great enigmas of the Guanches. How was it possible for a race of people to reach the shores of these tiny islands by sea, live surrounded by ocean with - on several islands - enormous forests of tall trees for raw material and yet ignore the sea, living as it were with their back turned to it?

Several possible answers to this mystery have been offered. Perhaps the people of the Canaries were simple shepherds who had been transported to the islands by a sailing people and later forgotten and left to fate. Other explanations might be found in the extraordinary difficulty of navigating the oceans surrounding the Canaries due to the strong currents flowing to the West and the trade winds blowing as strongly almost year round.

The names of the different islands and of their inhabitants (for those that are known) are as follows:
Chenech, Chinech or Achinech. It would seem that the natives of La Palma, seeing the snow-covered peak of the Teide on the horizon, called that island Ten-er-efez, "White Mountain" (from Ten, teno, dun, duna= mountain, and er-efez= white). Achenech was inhabited by the Guan Chenech, the men from Chenech.

The Guanches lived in a typically class society with 3, maybe 4 different rankings. The tribal Chief was on Tenerife called Mencey's (translated by the conquistadores to kings), and The Priesthood guañamer;
Maxorata, inhabited by the Majoreros or Maxos.
Gran Canaria
Canaria, was inhabited by the Canarii or Canarios. On Gran Canaria existed a kind of double sovereignty with a king, guañarteme, his vassals, guavres and a high priest, a Fay can. Female prophets and oracle maker, often princesses, also had great power.

On Gran Canaria the all creator was called Alcorc. He was invisible, but could materialise in a rock, in a tree, and there as always some of his power in magic, in the sun.

La Palma
Benahoare, pronounced "Ben-Ajuar", and meaning "from the tribe of Ahoare" (tribe of the African Atlas). Island inhabited by the Auaritas.
La Gomera
Gomera, inhabited by the Gomeros.
El Hierro
Hero, inhabited by the Bimbaches. Aside the residents on El Hierro the Guanches believed in an mighty god, the all creator.

All the islands took their name from this one, because the Castilians started to call them 'Islands of Canaria', later 'Islas Canarias' (Canary Islands).

Gran Canaria is one of the Islands in the Canary group of Islands which consists of 13 Islands, of which only 7 is populated. With a surface of 1.562
km², Gran Canaria is the 3rd largest Island in the group, only surpassed by Tenerife and Fuerteventura.

All of Spain is divided in self-governing provinces, and the Canary Island is divided in two. An eastern province consisting of Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, and a western province consisting of Tenerife, La Gomera, El Hierro and La Palma.

Gran Canaria is headquarter for the Eastern province and Tenerife for the Western. (The small Islands around the big Islands is named: Alegranza, Graciosa, Montana Clara, Roque del Este, Roque del Oeste and Isla de Lobos). The Islands are situated a little north of the Tropic of Cancer, namely between 28" and 29" n.br. which is on line with the South of USA in west and Egypt in the East. The Canary Island has a total area of 7.447

From the Mainland Spain to Gran Canaria there are 1250 km., but from the Canarian East coast there are only 210 km. across the Atlantic Ocean to the African Continent. The mild Climate, that makes the quotation "The Islands of eternal spring" correct, even if it only goes for the southern coasts.

On the Northern coast it is often raining, and on the highest point of the Island, the temperature can be close to the freezing point at the same time there are 25 degrees on the south coast, a stretch of only 30 km. Just because of the big variations in the climate from north to south, Gran Canaria is often named as a mini-continent. Deciduous trees, cactus, tomatoes, papayas, pines coffee and bananas thrives fine in its own part of the Island.

To day the Canary Island has a population at about
1.968.280 Inhabitants, of which 802.247 lives on Gran Canaria
, mainly occupied in tourism. The production of tomatoes and bananas is still playing an important role for the economy of the Island.

When the European Medieval Civilisation reached the Canaries, the Stone Age peoples language differed on the different Islands, but when They came from the same tribe, the population from all the islands were rapid to understand each other, when they, on the Spaniards ships, was brought from one island to another. But it looks like there was a certain difference in The looks. At Tenerife, earlier writers described the residents as blond, blue eyed and tall people, while the Gran Canarians was more brownish.

There was quite big differences in the life of the Guanches from island to island, but it is wrong to believe, that they only lived in caves. Subterranean constructions, which have been part of the habitations, exists near Telde and other places. The scanty furniture consisted of stools or stone blocks used as stools. Of the Goats, and in some islands the Sheep’s coats, many necessities was produced, among others bags to contain the two most important things in the life of a Guanche; Water and Gofio. Weapon as we understand the word, the men didn’t understand to produce. They didn’t know how to use metal, and therefore was obliged to cut their weapons from stone and  obsidian, or process the bones of the animals to arrowheads a/m.

Bows and Arrows they first learned about, when strangers invaded their islands. They used shaped rocks as missiles, and their tabonas was a combination of a long arrow or a small lance, with an point of flint, bone or tree. The heavier long spears was called magados. Their shepherd’s crooks, añepaes, was used as weapon, and as a sign of dignity to the chieftains. They were much like crosiers.

The Guanche Was no noble savage, living under paradisal conditions. His food was very healthy and nutritious, and from the mummies it is known, that he reached a much higher average age than for instance his conquerors from Spain. The toasted corn, Gofio, which was grinded in a stone mill, was eaten as porridge or was baked to a kind of loaf. The Guanches was eating well and ample, no matter which place they had in society. On El Hierro, guatativos, enormous fiests, was held, and it wasn’t unusual that an adult man ate a roasted kid and 20 rabbits. Afterwards he ate a dish of Gofio bread with goat butter and furthermore palm honey.

The Guanches lived in a typically class society with 3, maybe 4 different rankings. The tribal Chief was on Tenerife called Mencey's (translated by the conquistadores to kings), and The Priesthood guañamer; On Gran Canaria existed a kind of double sovereignty with a king, Guanarteme, his vassals, guavres and a high priest, a Fay can. Female prophets and oracle maker, often princesses, also had great power. Aside the residents on El Hierro the Guanches believed in an mighty god, the all creator, which on Gran Canaria was called Alcorc. He was invisible, but could materialise in a rock, in a tree, and there as always some of his power in magec, in the sun.

In Some places there was a matriarchal ruling; it was women governing. There are writers who thinks, that polyandry existed on the islands, and that noble woman often had more than 1 husband. On Gran Canaria and possibly also on other islands was in force for the kings, that they had jus primæ noctis; that is, that the lord of the area had a sexual first right to all virgins, who wanted to get married. And he could delegate this right, to whom he wanted. Below the nobility ( on Tenerife – achimencey ) was the peasants ( achicaxna ) and the servants              ( cichiciquitzan ), who were counted no more than slaves.

But there was one more caste below them, these pariahs who were embalming the dead. On La Palma – the Island – a human being who felt death nearing, said farewell to his family, with the words: vako guare- "I want the death to come". Those closest to him followed him to the cave of death, where his bed was made, before a big stone was placed in front of the opening of the cave. About a week thereafter the cave was opened, and the body of the dead was given to the embalmer. On Gran Canaria it was the Fay can, who like the rest of the nobility had a long beard and a long hair, who made the initiation.

The probationer, who was permitted to let his hair grow, so it was well past his shoulders, stepped in front of the sábor´en ( the council ), and the Fay can asked in high voice, if any of those present had seen this young man sneak in between the goats of other people to steal an animal or to milk it, if anyone had seen him being improper towards a high-born lady … she was so respected, that it was considered a resentment to talk to her, or to get near her, when she was alone. If the assembly denied this, the Fay can cut off the hair of the young Esquire right below the ears and gave him a magado, a worriers lance. With this he should, in times of war, serve his master and king. And thereby he was admitted in the nobility. But could someone prove, that the probationer had addressed a high-born woman while she was alone, or was milking a goat which wasn’t his, all his hair was cut off and he had to live the rest of his life as a slave.

A low-caste woman could make a career for herself by marrying, because by marrying she received the same place in society as her husband. The ways of marriage was very different from island to island. Om Lanzarote the women often had 3 husbands and got the rank of the husband with the highest rank. It could cause some differences by the noble husband, because the one of the 3 who had enjoyed the matrimonial rights by the wife in common in a month, the next month had to serve as her valet – also the nobleman.

The 3rd month however he was left to himself. And no woman could marry unless she had been on a fattening diet. When arrangements about marriage had been made and a kind of betrothal had taken place, the young woman, in a whole month, went to bed and during that time let herself be waited on with all kinds of delicacies; goat fat mixed with honey, lamb in cream and delicious Gofio-cakes en crouted with dates, everything in the hope to become so fat and thereby so attractive as possible. It is estimated that new-married Guanche women weighed about 120 kilos.

The groom had a right to repudiate his wife to be, if he even after the fattening diet found her to skinny. Normally there was a prohibition against marriage between closely related, but chiefs and noble priests could obtain a exemption at the sábor'en and marry their sisters, as was usual in prehistoric Egypt. On the Gomera the Guanche men offered their wives to noble guests – but they kept an open eye on, which children was born as a result of these visits.

There was often war between the different small kingdoms ( or chieftain areas )on The Canary Islands. Only the people on El Hierro was thought to have lived peaceful lives because it was ruled by a king, that loved peace and hated bloodshed. On the second largest island in the group, Fuerteventura, there were two kingdoms Xandia towards south and Maxorata towards north who constantly was in war with each other, the one part build a wall across the island. Also Gran Canaria had two kingdoms who, however until the Spanish conquering, was gathered under one common king.

The reasons for war was often an argument about earth, or cattle who had strayed into the land of the other state. But relationship feuds, who could come from jealousy, or be so old rooted, that everybody had forgotten the originate cause, now and then brought along fights between the chief areas. The wars doesn’t seem to have demanded many deaths. As in fights, playing in peacetime often started with single combat. Two men from either side placed themselves in front of each other in about 50 meters distance, and each armed with about 20 round stones, placed on the earth before them.

One of them started the fight by taking a stone and throw it after his opponent. For him, he had to avoid being hit or catch the stone and throw it back against his opponent. There after the opponents moved closer to each other, and when there were 8 paces between them, the test really started. He, who without moving his left foot could avoid the stone or catch it and throw it back was the winner. It so happened that the chiefs ended the war by shouting Gama Gama, and if the people shouted the same, which means: " enough", one sat down in peace and negotiated the dispute.

One thing should be written with capital letters about the Guanches; they knew enough about sudden assaults and guerrilla wars, but they never tormented a defeated enemy. Torture was unknown to them, and when the inquisition came to the islands, the Guanches at first didn’t understand, that people could be so wretched in the name of religion. To them God was a very airy thing – plateistisk the religious historic would name it – a being which was everywhere in nature, and had to exterminate now and then, but to whom torture was an abomination.

The aboriginal population of the Canary Islands, the Guanches, had a special care for a type of demanding wrestling, where "fair play" was in the seat of honour. They called it "La Loch Canaria" and met regularly to tournaments in front of an enthusiastic public to national festivals, official gatherings and arrangements. Even to day you can see this Canarian fighting sport.

The central parts of the island are dominated by a big and very hilly mountain landscape, created by thousands of volcanic eruptions during 16 million years. The last eruption on the island was in the area Bandama, about 2000 years ago. On the north side of the island, exposed to the humidity of the trade winds, you experience vigorous canyons, in contrast to the bush steppes and half deserts of the south coast.

The most important source of income on Gran Canaria has varied through the years: After sugar production came wine growing, and then the natural colours from the Cochenille lice, then tomatoes, potatoes and bananas. For the time being the tourism is the most important followed by fishing which also gives with a big part of the income for the island. Because if there is something which has been good to the common mans living, not only on the Canary Islands, but also in Spain, and by that have made him self-conscious, it is tourism, which is the most important way of income in Spain.

And there is no country in the world, where this development as a whole hasn’t hurt the single citizen , in Spain and special on the  Canary Islands, where the residents are surrounded by thousands of tourists – and still have kept their origin, their honesty and their pride.

It doesn’t matter which government there is in Spain, the Canarian people and the tone they use among themselves much more democratic, then we find it even in Scandinavia. .

Important Years in the History of Gran Canaria:
2500 BC.: Earliest sign of people on the islands.
Ca. 1100 BC.: Cartago's and Phoenicians Discover the Canary Islands.
800 B.C.: The Canary Islands was discovered by Homer the Greek.
82 year BC.: The Romans surely sailed to the Canary Islands. It was them who named the Canary Islands (Dog Islands ) else they only called them "The Happy Islands".
23-79 AC.: Plinius den older Describes in his "Encyclopedia Naturalis Historia" a group of Islands. One of these islands he calls "Canaria".
999: Some Arabs came to the islands and built a peaceful colony.
11-1200: Arabian sailors arrives on the islands in the 11 hundreds.
1334: French ships visits the islands.
1340: Spanish and Portuguese ships are making the first slave cruises to the islands.
1344: Pope Clemens VI named the Spanish nobleman Luis de la Cerda a king of the Canary Islands.
1382: Spaniards settled peacefully on the Island, but there was a fight with the Guanches, where they murdered all the Spaniards.
1394-1460: Prince Henrik, the Portuguese sailor are making several expeditions to Gran Canaria, but without luck.
1478: One of queen Isabella of Spain's officers, Juan Rejón lands on the north coast of Gran Canaria the 24. July, with more then 600 men armed with guns. With this landing the city of Las Palmas was founded. They were met with strong resistance from the residents of the islands.
1479: Alcácovas-agreement decided, that Spain has a right to the Canary Islands where after they sent Juan Rejón, Pedro de Vera and Alonzo de Lugo to conquer them. The Guanches who where left behind didn’t want to end like slaves, or second class people, so they hurried to arrange marriage between their young girls and Spanish soldiers. By this move the Guanches got French blood in their veins.
1483: After long, hard fights Juan Rejón won over the islands guanartemer ( kings ) Thenesor Semidan in Gáldar og Doramas I Telde governing the two realms on Gran Canaria.
1492: Christopher Columbus stops on Gran Canaria and La Gomera in his way to America.
1493: Spaniards overcomes the Canarian resistance.
1522: The Frenchman Jean Fleury attacks Las Palmas. He is beaten.
1537: The king of Spain forbid slavery.
1599: Here the Dutchman van der Does succeeded in conquering Las Palmas who came to pay severe taxes.
1657: England tries in vane to conquer the islands.
1670: The Dutch fails in an attempt to conquer the Island.
1796: England attacked under command of Lord Horace Nelson the island Tenerife. By this famous battle he lost his right arm. Spain and France joined forces to prevent the English in conquering the islands.
1799: The German geographer and natural scientist Alexander von Humboldt lands on the island on his trip to South America.
1820: Las Palmas becomes the official capital of Gran Canaria.
1852: Queen Isabel II gives the Canary Islands status as a free trade area – and even to day they enjoy special trade arrangements inside the EU.
1888: Steam Post boats sails between the Islands.
1906: Alfonso XII is the first Spanish monarch to visit Gran Canaria.
1912: Self-government is introduced (Cabildo Insulares).
1927: The Canary Islands are divided in two provinces: Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Santa Cruz de Tenerife.
1930-31: The airport is built.
1935: Franco is appointed Chief of Staff, but when a peoples government is taking over power in Spain, he is made governor on the Canary Islands. Here is the preparations to the Spanish Civil War ( 1936-39 ) made.
1945: The private air travel is growing strongly and tourist money is background for the economical development on the Islands.
1950-1970: The tourism on the islands began. Tourism is to day the biggest trade on the islands.
1975: General Franco dies ob the 20. November, And the day after Juan Carlos is appointed king of Spain and a new chapter in Spain's History begins. Spain is developing to a modern democracy.
1982: The Canary Islands receives Self-government, controlled from Madrid.
1986: Spain joins the EU. The Canary Islands receive a special status.
1993: Dedication of the new Airport.
1997: New visiting record on the Canary Islands with 8 million tourists a year.
2000: The Canary Islands receives about 12 million tourists – 2 millions of these comes from the Spain mainland.
2002: The EURO is introduced as mean of payment on January the 1.
World Statesmen http://www.worldstatesmen.org
Christopher Columbus http://history-world.org

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