Tenerife: Guanchen – the natives of the island
Tenerife: The history of the Guanchen
Have you ever asked yourself when the first humans got to Tenerife?
No one knows for sure but they assume that the island got settled for the first time around 3000 to 2000 years before Christ.
Who were the first settler and where did they came from?
A question with many theories: Have they been ship-wrecked or escaped slaves? Have they been Africans or Europeans?
A certainly theories is that the natives are from 2 different types of humans. Once the smaller southern type with tanned-skin and once light-skinned, blond and tall type. So they assume that the natives came from Africa and Europe and settled on Tenerife. Due to archaeological excavations this theory seems to be true and it seems like the natives of Tenerife are originally from South-West-Europe.
Wherever this people came from, on Tenerife they found their paradise. They lived in harmony with the nature, they cultivate cereal and legumes and had animals. To keep the food fresh as long as possible and to hide it from the sun, the natives hoard the food in cold caves.
The name of the tribe: Guanchen
The Guanchen have not been savages. Even so they lived like in the stone-age they lived very organized. They formed tribes and lived together in settlements. As houses they used caves and cabins made of stone and roofs of straw. Many of the caves still exist e.g. in Las Vegas, El Desierto, Los Dagitos. Some of these historical living-caves got converted and extend into houses or apartments. One of the most popular excursion destinations is the cave-village Chinamada in the Anaga-mountains.
The Guanchen chose clan chiefs, counsellors and a king. The social system was good and justly. Who worked hard, helped the community and was well-esteemed had the chance to ascend to a higher rank.
The tools the Guanchen used were made of stone. The container were made of wood and also of clay. The Guanchen made their cloth and shoes out of tanned animal fur.
The whistling language of the natives - El Silbo
The Guanchen have been really innovative by creating things for the daily life. They have also been very inventive to create a way to communicate over long distances. Who lives on a mountainous island with many canyons learn fast how difficult it can be to communicate over long distances. The smart Guanchen evolved the famous whistle-language. Different whistle-sounds helped them to "talk" and to communicate. Even nowadays this whistle sounds get used. Maybe you already heart about the El Silbo. In the 1980s the whistle-language got listed in the list " a cultural assets - worthy of preservation" by UNESCO.
Unfortunately there is not much known about the actual, the spoken, language. Just a few words are still known and gets used today e.g. the word for grain/corn is afaro and the word gofio means roasted flour.
Now and then the people on Tenerife loved to celebrate. The Guanchen loved to sing and to dance. Due to the tribal knowledge they assume that not only the modern Tinerfeños but also the natives celebrated a yearly thanksgiving in summer. In our travel guide in the category customs and traditions you will find all Fiestas and Romerias on Tenerife. And maybe there is an interesting fiesta while you spend your holidays on Tenerife.
Dead and miserable
The happy life of the Guanchen had a sudden end in the 15th century. Conquerors like Jean de Béthencourt and Alonso Fernández de Lugo brought death and mischief to the island and its natives. The peaceful tribe got enslaved, kidnapped and killed - on behalf of the Spanish royal family.
The sad ending of a culture.
You want to see a native?
Impossible? No! The Guanchen did something you know from the Egyptians: they mummify the dead. Some mummies got sewn-into goat-fur others got embalmed and buried. In the Museo de la Naturaleza y el Hombre in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, you have the chance to look at some mummies in good preservation of the Guanchen.
Tenerife is not only a sunny holiday location but also an island full of history. Enjoy your holidays and is you want to you can visit on of the museums on Tenerife. Here you have a lot to discover.