History of Tenerife: The Guanches


When Spanish explorers - and, soon after, conquerors - set foot on the Canary Islands, they found that the islands were already inhabited by an indigenous civilization. Believed to be of north African Berber origin, the native population was - by European standards - a primitive society whose technology had yet to advance past stone age levels. Yet the Guanches, while living in caves and utilizing simple stone tools, had developed their own religion, art, language and a social structure of nobles and regular folk similar to the old European feudal systems.

The term "Guanche" technically refers to the native aboriginal people of Tenerife, although nowadays it is often a blanket term to describe the natives of all the Canary Islands. In Tenerife, the Guanche civilization was divided into nine small kingdoms, each led by a ruling "mencey." Many cities and regions in the island have conserved their original Guanche names - Abona, Taoro, Adeje, Anaga, Güímar, Teguete - and the name of the island itself, Tenerife, is derived from the great Guanche king Tinerfe.

The Guanches left behind much more than a few names. There are cave drawings, museums filled with clay pots and rock engravings, exceptional mummies and possibly the impressive Güímar pyramids- just to name a few. Today there are still families living in cave houses, although these days they are up to date and include all the modern amenities. The majority of traditional Canary Island sports also have their roots planted in Guanche history- Canarian wrestling, staff-fighting, the shepherd's leap, etc. - and enjoy a high degree of popularity. With the Spanish conquest and subsequent colonization of the island, Guanche culture integrated into Spanish culture and allowed for many such traditions to be passed down through the generations.