Origin of the People
The origins of the initial inhabitants of Lanzarote and the rest of the Canary Islands, the Guanches, remains something of a mystery. Some historians believe the Guanches, a cave-dwelling Cromagnon race, were of Egyptian origin because of the similarity in their methods of mummifying corpses. Others favour the more romantic view that the Guanches were indigenous, the remnant race of the lost continent of Atlantis.
Yet others believe a Scandinavian or Carthaginian origin, due to the seafaring nature of those people. No charter flights existed in those days so the original inhabitants must have come by sea, although there is scant evidence on how they actually arrived at the islands. Theres certainly a striking similarity between the physical characteristics of many modern Canarians and their possible distant cousins of yesteryear, the Vikings.
Many Lanzaroteans are tall, fair-haired and blue-eyed, looking nothing like their short, dark fellow countrymen on mainland Spain (locally known as La Peninsula). But racial mixing since the Spanish Conquest of the islands has provided a rich paella of peoples now living in the all of the seven Canary Islands.
What seems most likely of all the emerging theories is that the Guanches came originally from north Africa, from the Berber people who may well have had Scandinavian ancestry. But more of the Guanches later. At this stage, suffice it to say that well before Spains domination of the Canaries, there was already a strong connection between the Fortunate Islands and Europe. Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome also bear witness to sea voyages from the Mediterranean to these islands...
If the prehistoric origins of the canary islands is a mystery, it also the case of their original inhabitants the Guanches. Guanche is the name given to the people (and their language) that lived in the islands before the Spanish conquest. Each island had its own tribe of Guanches that spoke slightly diferent dialects. Guanche for some writers was just a name for the original inhabitants of Tenerife. But today it is widely accepted that the aborigines had a common origin. The term Guanche is now used to refer to the people that inhabited all of the canary islands. Although the origins are still disconcerting to the ethnologists and historians, the theory most widely accepted confirms that the Guanches were a cromagnon race that lived in caves and probably came from North Africa.
Never the less, the descendants of these people from northern Africa of which it is believed the Guanche descended from is still a mystery (Even so there is a similarity between the languages of the Berber nomads of north Africa and the nearly extinguished language of the Guanches).
The Guanche were tall, well developed and many had blue eyes. Skeletal investigations show that the men measured between 1.75 meters and 1.82 meters. The men of Fuerteventura the sister island were the tallest of all with a mean height of 1.82 meters. Skeletons preserved in the municipal museum of Santa Cruz de Tenerife show that the Guanches had very large and thick bones indicating that they possessed great strength. The chronologists of the first conquest of the islands , father Pedro Bontier and Juan le Verreir, wrote at the beginning of the fifteenth century:
“You could journey all over the world and would not find such beautiful and fortunate people than these islanders, both men and women, that would have such splendid minds if only someone would educate them”.
The Guanches had an extraordinary agility and ability to jump dangerous ravines or any sort of sport practiced in the islands. Even with the lack of modern arms, the Guanches held out in long battles against the well equipped Spanish Conquerors, who took nearly a century to dominate the resistance.
Walking through the villages of Lanzarote, you realize the tallness of many of the islanders en comparison with their mainland compatriots. These are the descendants of the Guanches, Evidently mixed with the Spanish people during the centuries, though maintaining some of their forefathers characteristics.
The physical characteristics and many traditions of the Guanches have survived the Spanish conquest and the pass of time. The Gofio for example was the alimentary base for the Canarians. Its a type of flour of toasted sweet corn, wheat or barley which the Guanches used by adding water or goats milk. Many families of Lanzarote still eat Gofio, some for breakfast and others for super instead of bread. But it is specially preferred by the elders of Lanzarote that praise its healthy and energetic qualities.
The “Lucha Canaria” is a wrestling sport practised by the the Guanches and particularly in Tenerife. Today the wrestling still attracts the youngsters and older canarians that say it is “the most noble of sports”.
Although some traditions have disappeared. The marriages and divorces were allowed with much freedom in the Guanche age.
Divorces and second relations did not create any disputes. There are records of some Guanche women marrying up to three husbands, that played the part of husbands or slaves periodically.
They lived in natural caves, many of which can still be seen in Lanzarote. They spent the winter by the shore and in the summer further inland in the mountains.
They mummified the bodies like the ancient Egyptians and Peruvians, a fact that brought about the idea of a common background for the different ethnic groups, often mentioned by the fans of the theory of Atlantis. Unfortunately there is little known about the legal or social system of the Guanches, apart from the existence of a feudal noble class.
The Guanches did a lot of basket work from cane and palm throngs, and although not knowing about the potters wheel had their own primitive form of pottery that is still practised. With pass of time most of the Guanche life style has been lost. With the same speed of imposition of the conquerors language in all of the canary islands.
The Guanche Language has bee very difficult to study. Like Latin, Guanche is a dead language. But unlike the ancient Roman language no one can speak or write Guanche.
The linguists don't have a clear idea about the structure of the language, based on the studies of rare inscriptions and a small number of word generally names of places , that have been transmitted over the centuries.
A Canarian linguist, Fransisco Artiles, made a systematic study by acting as a goat shepherd. He lived with the shepherds working with them and studying their vocabulary.
The shepherds still controll their herds with what Mr. Artiles call Guanchisms, words that are inherited from the original language. These remains of the Guanche language are used daily by the goats shepherds of Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and the other islands.
Words like 'mastuca', 'firanca', 'puipana', and 'ambrasaca' are references to the different goat skins. A 'tofio' is a recipient used to milk the goats. Mr Artiles has compiled a dictionary called 'Teberite' ( a name given to the cut in the goats ear to determine its owner) that has more than 12,000 words that have come from the original Guanche language. Most of these 'Guanchisms' refer to names of places like Teguise, Timanfaya, _Tahiche and Tinajo.
A lot of the words start with the letter T as it refers the the word 'the'.
The comparative studies with the Berber language have show an impressive similarity with the Guanche language. Such studies have reinforced the idea that the original inhabitants of the islands came from north Africa.
The nearly constant winds that blow from that area could have made navigation to the islands relatively easy. Never the less the proof is scarce.