Canarian aborigines or Guanches

Canarian aborigines or Guanches : They inhabited the Canary Islands before the Castilian conquest, which occurred between 1402 and 1496 .


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  • 1 The origins of the natural population
  • 2 His way of life
  • 3 Social life
  • 4 Your beliefs
  • 5 Gods and demons
  • 6 His churches
  • 7 The rites
  • 8 Source

The origins of the natural population

The true origin of the first settlers of the islands remains a mystery. Historians and onlookers of all times have turned to the Bible, ancient Roman writings and all kinds of legends to find a solution to this enigma. But neither hypothesis is totally convincing. Most archaeologists , however, are inclined that the first settlers of the islands arrived in the middle of the first millennium before our era, coming from nearby Africa .

His way of life

Archaeological studies, supported by chronicles, also indicate some basic data about the way of life of the Canarian aborigines (in general):

  • The inhabitants were arriving in several waves that did not affect each island equally; it is not known if they were brought or if they came by themselves. Motivation is also unknown.
  • The use of circular (Roman) mills suggests contacts with Rome or North African peoples from about the beginning of the Common Era. Roman amphorae from the s. III-IV EC in Lanzarote.
  • There was no common culture between islands (due to isolation, different origins or contacts of the different islanders or a little of everything).
  • They lived mainly from livestock, although, in some islands and times, agriculture wasalso practiced . They kept goats, pigs, and apparently sheep as well (although smooth-skinned and with hair only on the tail). They used dogs for herding. They knew barley and probably wheat (although it may have been introduced together with fig trees by the Majorcans in the 14th century). They used sticks or horns to dig the ground.
  • The rest of the natural resources were used as much as possible. This is how pine nuts, fern rhizomes, mocán fruits, bicacaros, blackberries, strawberry trees, barrilla and dates were collected to eat, especially in times of need. Seafood was collected from the sea and fish from the coast such as old women, sea bream, pejeperres, bocinegros and moray eels were caught. These could be fished with hooks, traps, nets or by forming closed pools with stones in which the fish are trapped at low tide. Certain vegetables were also used to make baskets and twine, and wood was collected for houses and burials.

Gran Canaria was the only island where agriculture was not a secondary activity, since granaries (the so-called monks) have been found. The chronicles also mention canalizations and irrigation practices.

Social life

Little is known about the social organization of the islands, as the only sources are the chronicles of the newcomers. Gran Canaria is one of the islands for which we have more data. It was divided into two territories, called kingdoms by the conquerors, with headquarters in Gáldar and Telde, respectively. These territories included mountain and coastal lands – very important for seasonal livestock. Each of them was ruled by a Guanarteme (ewad-n-artémin) who was of noble class. His power was justified by being a descendant of the mythical Attidamana. The highest religious chief was also a nobleman and apparently controlled the storage of grain. The nobility also had an assembly – the taste. In short, the nobles controlled the land and livestock while the rest of the population worked and depended on the former. Some sources state that in Gran Canaria polyandry (pairing of a woman with two or more men) was practiced, while others deny it. This practice could be explained (if it existed) by the practice, also mentioned in the sources, of female infanticide. Infanticide should have been used as a measure of population control in difficult times.

Their believes

The religion of the aborigines is another great unknown – what little is known (if it is correct) comes from the testimonies of visitors and European conquerors. Other complementary sources of knowledge are linguistic study, archaeological finds and comparison with the Berber peoples of North Africa. One of the best known aspects is his belief in the afterlife and the consequent concern for the correct burial of the dead. The corpses could be cremated or, on La Palma, Tenerife and Gran Canaria, mummified. The corpse was then deposited in a cave, natural or artificial, or in a burial mound (in the case of Gran Canaria).

Gods and demons

Pope Urban V declared in 1369 that they were worshipers of the sun and the moon . The Europeans later interpreted the aboriginal religion based on their own, naming a superior god named Acorán (in Gran Canaria), Achaman (in Tenerife), Abora (La Palma) or Eraoranzan (El Hierro). The study of these names indicates that the aborigines designated the sun as feminine and the moon as masculine, as in Berber cultures. Our star was thus seen as origin and giver of life. There is also some evidence that, in many ancient cultures, trees were worshiped: the garoe in El Hierro and, most likely, the pine in Teror, Gran Canaria. The aborigines also believed in evil beings that could appear, either in the form of woolly dogs that attacked people or their animals, or without a specific shape and associated with the cracks in the ground (in which the natives used to leave offerings).

Their churches

The natural places, especially the mountains, were those chosen for worship. We recognize sites of special significance by being accompanied by rock carvings or by carvings or constructions associated with offerings and sacrifices. The most famous of these in Gran Canaria is perhaps the Roque Bentaiga, with its bowl carved into the rock for making offerings of milk and butter. There are also indications that Mount Teide (with its impressive 3,715 m altitude) was worshiped, by itself or as a symbol, on the islands from which it is seen.


The faycán was the highest religious authority in Gran Canaria, acting as an intermediary between the people and the supernatural world. The situation was similar on the other islands. In Gran Canaria, moreover, the faycán seems to have been in charge of the granaries. Women (of noble class) seem to have played an important religious role. Thus the harimaguadas were in charge of certain rites and probably practiced divination.

One of the most important rituals was the request for rain. They used to be held high up, possibly facing the trade wind – the wind that brings the rain . Cattle were locked up and left without food. When hunger pressed, they began to bleat insistently. Then people would join him, clapping their hands and shouting. At least sometimes, this ceremony continued with a procession to the sea, the waters of which struck with branches – something like a predecessor of the lowering of the branch in Agaete.


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