There are not many relevant discoveries which could explain us the origin and lifestyle of Guanches, that are considered to be the Canarian aborigins which have lived on Canarian islands from approx 5th or 10th century BC until the arrival of Spanish conquerors in the 15 century (between 1402-1496). Nobody can exactly explain where from guanches came. I have read some articles on the internet, but they are all similar to each other. There are many assumptions and legends, but also many contradictions. I will bring up the most frequent ones:

  • Guanches may been Atlanteans who settled on the Canarian Islands after the cataclysm of Atlantis.
  • Canary Islands may be the peak of the former Atlantis that sank to the bottom of the sea after a huge cataclysm.
  • Guanches may have been Berbers or Cro Magnons (one part of them migrated to Canary islands) which are also connected to Atlanteans (madam Blavatski also connected Guanches with Atlanteas.
  • Guanches may have been prisoners from North Africa that former conquerors brought on board a ship and left them on the islands (archeologist never found the proof that guanches built ships or sails, but roman amphora was found in Tenerife)
  • Guanches may have been colonies of Phoenicians or Romans and Canary Islands may have been factories. (many punic archeological findings have been found on island).
  • Guanches may have been rebels of roman armies whit the tongues cut off
  • Guanches are linked with Vikings, Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians or Egyptians

Allegedly, some authors say that Guanches were tall, white, athletic and strong with light hair and eyes. It is not strange at all that they have been athletic. Just try to hike up on some of canarian barrancos (ravines) and you can be sure of, that in a month, your body will be firm and shaped. And try to do this every day for 20 years and you will find out why guanches were so physically developed.

Should be mentioned that they also developed many sports such as Canarian wrestling, stick fighting, stone throwing, jumping the pole, stones lifting and many different techniques were also involved in these mentioned sports. There are several reports and written notes about their strength and agility. In addition to that, they were also warriors which managed to resist other conquerors for 20 centuries. Just imagine how long is that. If you cannot, just try to remember when was the last time that your country was involved in a war. There are not so many proofs which could help us to re-create the whole picture of 1500 years of life that Guanches led almost on their own.

Many archaeological finds have been robbed. The leftovers are mainly preserved in museums in Tenerife and La Palma. At first, when you see their clothes, or their tools, you may think they were cave savages, but the true is they were quite civilized. They grew wheat and corn, lived in cities, had kings, priests and a noble caste, worshiped a female deity and ceremoniously embalmed their dead. They mainly lived in caves, but not all, some of them lived in houses with gardens.

When the chronicler Andres Bernaldez asked them in 1495 if they had any memories of their birth or who left them there, they told him that their ancestors (sixty of them) were taken there by a god who left and forgot them and told them that by living in the islands they would be taken to a higher level of conscience. There are many cultural and DNA similarities with North African tribes such are Berbers, but specific origin of the first settlers still remains a mystery.

At the beginning of the fifteenth century, the chaplains who came into the islands described Guanches as follows: “You can go anywhere in the world and nowhere will you find a more beautiful and better educated people than the ones you can find on these islands, and the men and women would have great minds if there was somebody to developed them.” It has been discovered that Guanches were tall, well developed and some of them had blue eyes. Skeletal research shows that men were between 170 cm and 185 cm, but the height depends on which island they lived. Long hair was permitted only to senior social classes, the majority had medium long hair. Social position was recognized by the haircut and beard, and also by the type and colour of dress.

In native Indian culture, the hair was very significant, especially long hair and they believed it was connected to secret knowledge of universe. The Guanches have been catalogued into two racial subgroups: the Cro-Magnoides, with a wider more robust face and shorter, and the Mediterranoides, longer faces and larger body size. Leonardo Torriani wrote in 1588 that everything related to Canary Island dress was so well made and artistically stitched, as only most skilful among them could produce. Both women and men wore a great variety of pretty embellishments such as necklaces made of clay beads, sea shells, stone or bone, as well as crowns or headdresses made from reeds, palms and flowers. They dressed in clothes, colored with herbal juices and flowers, called Tamarcos (long and short) which were made of animal skin.

The sophistication of the clothes of the Guanches is reflected in the descriptions given by those who were able to see them, such as Fray Alonso de Espinosa who wrote in 1954: “Their clothes were a dress made of hides like a nightgown without pleats and sewn with straps of the same leather, with great fineness and delicacy, so much so that I do not know any leather-dresser who tans the hides so well, or that can do such fine sewing, that almost no one can see, and this without needles but with fish bones or thorns from palms and other trees. In year 1402. the total Guanche population have reached approx 100 000 persons in all Canary Islands.

Guanche society was solid, stable and very active, and had a highly regulated social order; kings, nobles, notables, soldiers and villagers-all existed. They had craftsmen amongst them to build houses, carpenters, ropers who worked with grass and palm leaves and who prepared the hides for clothing. The laws were different on each island and, according to those early chroniclers, were extremely hard. The tagoror was something like public square where justice carried out, or meeting place for many purposes. Each island had several kingdoms and kings. The role of women in Guanche society was very important. When it comes to women, Guanches were liberal. Women could have as many husbands as she wanted, she could get divorce if she wanted to or never get married and become a nun. The law highly appreciated and protected women. In some islands, women were warriors, they fought with men.

During Spanish conquest, guanches women performed ritual suicides, they didn’t want to be slaves, they didn’t know what slavery was. The Guanches lived in villages scattered over the island. These villages consisted of houses, huts and excavated caves. The Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio raised the issue that still remained unresolved today, how it is possible that “cave people” were clearly superior people of culture that lived in houses with gardens that had many figs and palms, as well as cabbages and other vegetables. They worshiped sun and moon, but reportedly, also the statue of Christian virgin with naked child which was found on the island of Tenerife. They believed in one supreme God, a creator of all. They also believed in evil spirits that caused disease and other ills, and manifested themselves in the form of huge animals and in certain places causing great fear. These evils, in the form of monsters, lived in an underworld that communicated with the insular world through the mouths of the ravines and caves. Allegedly, the pyramids which have been founded on several places on Canary Islands, Guanches built.

One of the most striking rites of ancient Canary Islanders was the mummification of the corpses. It is interesting that ancient Egyptians and Incas also performed similar processes. The Guanches believed that a new life began after death. The mummies were found only in Tenerife and Gran Canaria. On other islands were found skeletons covered with soft tissue. There is possibility that there are more caves with mummies existing on the islands but haven’t been found yet.

The economy of Guanches consisted of: agriculture, animal husbandry, fishing and shell fishing, and collecting wild fruits and mineral and timber extraction. They also cure themselves with various of plants that grew on the island. They didn’t use currency, only At the end, there is also possibility that witnesses didn’t try to explain well the habits and customs of Guanches because the Guanches did not want to say anything to Spaniards at the time, they were afraid that would undermine their nation. This is one of the reasons why there are not many findings about them. Remember, all of this mentioned above are mainly presumptions based on archeological findings. What if those presumptions are wrong? Then we have to study Guanches from an entirely different angle. By changing the approach to the issue, we may find the real truth hiding behind our standard learnings and beliefs.

Bibliography: J.P.Camacho, Guanches-legend and reality, Editorial Weston S.L. 2012

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