The Guanches, the first inhabitants of Tenerife

Like the rest of Canary islands, Tenerefe`s earliest settlers were North Africans of Berber origins, who lived on the island between 2500 and 1000 BCE. They were known as Guanches, a term that was also used to refer to the early inhabitants of Canary islands in general. Unlike other islands such as Gran Canaria, few traces of these settlers are to be found on Tenerife. Due to the lack of metal recources on the island they became entrapped in the Neolithic Age. Their only means of defence were spears and stones, making them easy prey for the Castilian troops with their rudimentary firearms. They lived in caves and rocky areas which they covered with leaves and branches. However, they were somewhat more advanced in terms of their religious practices, rituals and customs, and were known to have mummified their dead. They carried out a range of activities, including livestock farming, gathering, fishing and, albeit to a lesser extent, agriculture. At the head of their hierarchical society was the mecey (known as the guarnarteme on Gran Canaria) – the rule of each of nine clans that inhabited the island at the time of arrival of the invading Castilian troops. Many traditional regions and municipalities are named after the last menceyes: Abona, Adeje, Anaga, Guimar, Icod, Tacoronte, Taoro, Teguesteand Daute (the island`s north-western region). These rulers would meetat regular intervals. Forming an assembly known as the taboror. The Guanches were animists that workshipped gods of nature and the stars. The Teide was the object of particular devotion, and was the considered to be a sacred mountain. Various archaeological remains of this culture are scattered around the island, including petroglyphs and cave drawings with their fascinating spiral patterns.

Today this ancient culture is reflected in the island`s names, certain culinary traditions (including the consumption of nutritious gofio corn flour) and sports such as Canarian wrestling, based on the combatants skill, agility, nobility and above all the respect of the victor for the loser, or the traditional country game that was popular in La Esperanza, reminiscent of fencing but which was played with wooden sticks instead of swords, The island`s of swords. The island`s traditional dances also reflect those of these ancient settlers, where dancers would face one another and jump up and down, moving backwards and forwords on rows. One such example is the Ribbon Dance that is popular in the Guerra Valley and Guimar. Numerous legends speak of the nobility and courage of the Guanches and their love for their land. One such story of Beneharo, the last mencey of Anaga who witnessed the destruction of this people by the Castilian troops on Bailadero Pass. Hopelessly comered and driven into a frenzy, he threw himself off the Bailadero Cliffs, crying out in desperation to the Guanche gods. The look of madness in his eyes would be forever engraved on the minds of the conquering forces who went to their deaths with this indelible halo of tragedy.

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