History of the Guanches

The Canary Islands had been known for many centuries and have been visited by the Phoenicians, Romans, Carthaginians, and Egyptians and very much later by the Portuguese. The original inhabitants of Fuerteventura remained in between isolated from Europe and the rest of the world for almost 1500 years.

The term for the original settlers is Guanche. Evidence from archaeological findings indicates a close link with the Cro Magnons of N. Africa and more specific to the Berber and Libyan areas.

There was for example a Berber tribe called GHOMERA, who possibly named the isle of La GOMERA!! And the original name of La Palma was BENAHOARE, very similar to the Berber tribal name BENI HAOURAH.

They lived a very simple existence mainly concerned with daily survival and constantly under fear of attack by slavers who prowled the surrounding seas. The animals they kept like goats, sheep, pigs and dogs all played a major part in this survival. The goat, of which it is recorded were plentiful, supplied not only milk and cheese but meat and lard. The skins were utilized as clothing and even shoes .The shoes interestingly were called Mahos, prompting the name Majoreros, people with goat skin shoes. Fish would be trapped in palm nets and wild forms of barley, wheat and beans which could be baked and ground to make Gofio. The dried roots of ferns made into flour, dates and figs and molasses from the trees supplemented the diet.

However, they still had time to have some fun though and met in certain places, the area of Montaña Tindaya and the coastal town of El Roque, now known as El Cotillo. This coastal port was once the seat of the king of the Northern kingdom of Maxorata.

They possessed very simple weapons, had no metal available and could be then described as Neolithic cavemen type people. Occasionally they would venture South to the Kingdom of Jandia, separated by a low wall (La Pared), often to fight and to take women and livestock.

In the 1330s it is mentioned on Portuguese maps of the area as Forte Ventura, “Place of Strong Winds”, later a play on this name was ascribed to Jean de Bethencourt, Fuerte Ventura or “Place of Great Adventure”.

The situation of Europe at the time didn’t allow for preservation of indigenous people and the sudden arrival of soldiers bent on conquest and domination in search of wealth sometimes in the form of slaves ensured their demise. Almost overnight the original population were enslaved, diseased or murdered… And the way of life they had for more than 1500 years became a memory. Next time you find yourself in a desolate place you can imagine that once it may have been worked for generations by people such as these.

Michel Robeers