We know about the native Gran
Canarian culture from written accounts, oral traditions, and more
and more archaeology. Many sites give evidence of an
agrarian culture with a religious system based on
Finds such as complex
burials and organized food storage and distribution systems reveal a
well-developed hierarchical society. As more study is made of the
island's archaeological remains, Gran Canarias past continues to unfold.
The origin of the first dwellers of the Canary Islands was in Northern
Africa and presents natural and various contrasts with the later level
of economic and social development.
During the 15th century the
Spanish Crown wrested control of the Canary Islands from the
Berber-speaking natives. Over the succeeding centuries the islands have
been Europeanised to such an extent that the average visitor might think
that all trace of the pre-Spanish culture had been lost long ago.
This, however, is far from being the case, as the Canary Islanders still
maintain many aspects of the native culture, particularly in the
countryside and in the smaller islands where the effects of the tourist
boom have been less felt. .
The original inhabitants of
Gran Canaria based their economy on agriculture more than on cattle,
harvesting, gathering of seafood or fishing.
Barley was the product par excellence in the diet of the first settlers
of the island, and with it they elaborated gofio (toasted and ground
cereal meal), with which they took wheat and beans. A distinct
characteristic that still remains in Gran Canaria are the silos, which
were places in caves where the original inhabitants kept their products.
Natives stayed mainly in big
settlements of semi-urban structure. The highest concentration of the
population was centred in Gáldar, Telde or Arguineguín.
Caves served as lodges, a tradition that still exists in Gran Canaria.
The other type of housing the natives used was excavated in the ground
-which had a round shape on the outside- and made of big blocks of dry
rock and a wooden cover.
Hierarchy was crucial in the
social structure of the native communities in Gran Canaria. Firstly,
there were the nobles, with hereditary titles and power of decision in
political administration and economy, on top of being the land and
cattle owners, and the villains, to whom the class directly above gave
plots of land and good cattle in exchange for their payment in kinds and
The Guanarteme, absolute leader of the native community, shared his
power with the Faycan, the figure second in importance in the native
community of Gran Canaria and on whom fell the weight of religious
rituals and services. Nevertheless, this figure was not exempt from
playing political, military or social roles.
Acorán was the supreme god of
the Grand Canaries, to whom the natives offered their sacrifices and
offerings. The Harimaguada was the feminine figure of nobility who was
preserved from her childhood to share the same labours as the Faycan.
Gran Canaria boasts the
greatest repository of native art and culture of all the islands in the
archipelago. Some of the most outstanding archaeological finds consist
of cave paintings, such as the ones in the painted cave ("Cueva Pintada")
of Gáldar, which is decorated with geometric motifs that are made up of
squares, triangles and circles, all painted in red, ochre and white.
had a great reputation as artisans, whose techniques and means reach our
days. Mud was one of their main raw materials. Apart from domestic
utensils and icons, such as the
the natives made
knives, woodwork or spinning became, with time, part of the long list of
handicrafts that are nowadays a legacy maintained or recovered by the
current population of Gran Canaria.
These motifs -which are similar to the ones that have been found on
ceramics and 'pintaderas' (clay seals)- are found throughout the arts
and crafts of Gran Canaria.
The island territory has a
wealth of stone quarries, which the people of Gran Canaria have used for
a host of applications, including the building of roads, bridges,
benches, mills, troughs and fountains.
The use of caves as dwellings
– and not only as a storehouse for agricultural tools or as a stable –
is still a constant in the Canary Islands, an aboriginal cultural
heritage that was well versed in the advantages of digging rooms in the
depths of the mountains when the surrounding environment was favourable.