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.
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").
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.
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
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
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
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
Maxorata, inhabited by the Majoreros or
Canaria, was inhabited by the Canarii or
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.
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.
Benahoare, pronounced "Ben-Ajuar", and meaning "from
the tribe of Ahoare" (tribe of the African Atlas). Island inhabited by
Gomera, inhabited by the Gomeros.
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
Gran Canaria is the
largest Island in the group, only surpassed by Tenerife and
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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. .