(Note: all Guanche words and names follow the rules of Spanish pronounciation)
Present-day Canarians maintain
Guanche ceremonies: the adoration of the image of Our Lady of Candelaria -Candlemas- by
the natives. They identified her with their female goddess and called her Achmayex
Achguayaxerax Achoron Achaman, "the Mother of the Holder of Heavens and
Although the Catholic Church commemorates Candlemas on 2nd February, it is on 15 August in the town of Candelaria that cultural traditions of Guanches and Spanish conquistadors become once again intermingled. It is the Spanish holiday of Our Lady, and it was the Guanche Festival of Beñasmen, the harvest. The day before, trucks and buses arrive to the town of Candelaria decorated with flowers and palm branches. People spend the night in the open air, dances and songs resounding everywhere. Our Lady's image is carried in procession among flocks and herds of goats whose shepherds are dressed in goat and sheep skins... It is another typical example, full of symbolism, of the presence of Guanche roots in the present-day Canarian culture and society.
As it has been said, Tenerife was the last island to be conquered by the Castilians. Almost a century passed between the occupation of Lanzarote (1402) and Fernández de Lugo's landing in Tenerife, in May 1494.
Alonso Fernández de Lugo arrives from Gran Canaria and lands at Añaza
Beach, in the boundary between the Menceydoms of Anaga and Güimar. He arrives with
Spanish troops, but also with a considerable number of natives of Gran Canaria who have
been christianized. Their island has been part of the Kingdom of Castile for the last 20
The 3 May 1494 a solemn mass is said at the beach, and the "Adelantado" (official title of Fernández de Lugo), putting in a wooden cross, founds the Royal Camp of Santa Cruz de Tenerife -Holy Cross of Tenerife. It is the city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, which was the capital town of the Canary Islands along the 19th century, and which is now -more than 200,000 pop.- the seat of the Islands' Parliament.
(Painting by Manuel González Méndez, Plenary Session Room, Parliament of the Canary Islands)
Prior to the landing, the Spaniards had established an agreement with four of the
nine Menceys of the island: Güimar, Anaga, Abona and Adeje. These four
"kingdoms" let them do, possibly because they have been indoctrinated by Spanish
missionaries since long time ago.
However, the Great Mencey of Taoro and Island's Main King, Bencomo, refuses to accept the occupation and , allied with the kingdoms of Daute, Icod, Tacoronte and Tegueste, faces the invaders. Together they form a power to be reckoned with; they are the richest and most populated parts of Tenerife.
Alonso Fernández de Lugo penetrate into the island, crosses Aguere Valley and arrives at the North shore. Nowhere does he find enemies. The population has "vanished". Therefore he proceeds unsuspectingly his way to Taoro, the rich heartland of resistance.
The Spaniards get into the ravine of Acentejo ("Pouring waters")
and there they meet disaster. Guanches atack them from the slopes. They use stones and
spears against the Spanish arquebuses and bombards, and they fight naked while the
conquistadors wear armours and shields. However, the Spaniards suffer a terrible defeat.
Four of each five soldiers are dead. Some time later a town will be founded in this place,
"La Matanza de Acentejo" -the Slaughter of Acentejo. Fernández de Lugo,
surviving by miracle, retreats harassed by the Guanches and is forced to reembark and sail
back to Gran Canaria. The Guanches have won. For the moment.
Alonso Fernández de Lugo has to sell all his properties in order to organize a new expedition. In 1496 he lands again in Añaza, where he rebuilds the destroyed fort of Santa Cruz. More cautious after the experience, he advances gradually and he builds another fort in the way to the interior of the island: the fort of Gracia (Grace). A little above Guanches and Castilians meet in the plain of Aguere. At the place where the University of La Laguna raises now takes place a battle where the Guanches are decimated. Their mistake has been to fight in the plain, where the cavalry -terrible and unknown for them-, distroyed them. Even Mencey Bencomo and Sigoñe -Military Chief- Tinguaro are dead.
The Spaniards advance along the North shore and the Guanches face them again in Acentejo,
near the place of the Slaughter. This time -thanks to past experience- the Spaniards win,
and they founded there the town of "La Victoria de Acentejo" -The Victory of
And so arrive the conquistadors at the rich Arautava Valley (La
Orotava), heartland of Taoro and the real hardcore of resistance. Bencomo's son, Bentor,
has been proclamed Mencey. But the situation among the Guanches is catastrophic. An
epidemic, called by the Spaniards "Guanche Drowsiness", breaks out and decimates
the population killing them by hundreds in a few weeks. It was probably a sickness against
which the immunitary system of the Guanches was unprepared, for the illness didn't affect
In the place now known as the town of Los Realejos (Little "Reales" or military camps) takes place the surrender of the Guanches and the annexation of Tenerife to the Crown of Castile. The three-times repeated protocolary proclamation, "Tenerife for their Highnesses the Catholic Queen and King doña Isabel and don Fernando" marked the historic moment. However, some sources of resistance still remained. Skirmishes will continue now and then during several years. Mencey Bentor withdraw to the cliffs of Tigaiga, at the foot of Teide volcano and above his former kingdom of Taoro. He threw himself from the HEIGHTs, full of sorrow for the loss of Freedom and Guañac, Country.
La Plaza de España - Spain Square -, Santa Cruz de Tenerife. The clock in the tower at the Cabildo Insular (Island Government) gives the official time in the Canary Islands. When it strikes the hours, it plays a Guanche dance, the tajaraste...
Guanche rebels were enslaved and many were sold on European auction blocks. But many of them, after having been baptized, appealed to the Crown. In many cases they were freed and allowed to return to the islands against the opinion expressed by colonists. The latter tried constantly to convince the Crown about the danger of the Guanches, always fearing a revolt. Many Guanches refused to live in the towns and villages which were built all over the island and prefered to stay as free shepherds in the mountains following their traditional ways of life. They were called "rebellious Guanches" (Guanches alzados).
The conquistadors distributed land and founded towns and villages. Some estates were
given to Guanche aristocrats of the tribes which had been friendly to the Spaniards. The
natives of Gran Canaria and other islands who helped to the conquest also received
Alonso Fernández de Lugo's crown jewel was the town of San Cristóbal de La Laguna, built in delightful Aguere Valley. The seat of the Island's Cabildo (Council) was established in the brand-new capital, and in time also the first Islands' university and Tenerife's cathedral and bishop palace.
Most Guanches were baptized. They took christian names and the family names of their conquistadors godfathers and godmothers. Those baptisms en masse made disappear -literally overnight- Guanche names among the island's population. Just a few Guanche family names are still present centuries later. They are some of the direct descendants of the Great Mencey of Taoro, Bencomo.
At the contrary, names of places, towns, valleys, rocks and mountains are still mostly of Guanche origin: Teide, Ucanca, Tejina, Tegueste, Tacoronte, Orotava, Chimiche, Arico, Adeje, Isora, Arona...
Guanche culture "disappeared" quickly. Language was lost in just a
century. Just a few words of the daily life were maintained.
This is logic if we remember that the clash was between an European culture of the Renaissance and a neolithic culture. Nor the European historic or moral values of the time, neither the Guanche means for cultural transmission allowed the cultural survival. Population became mixed after a short period of time, with a large influx of European immigrants from several countries. 16th century, the century of the colonization of the Canaries, is the time of the Great Spanish World Empire. Flemish, Germans, Italians and Portuguese changed of countries, but not of sovereign, when they established themselves in Tenerife.
Anyway, the Guanche culture and the biologic heredity are still present in today's
Canarian society. It is a cultural and people melting pot, not just Spanish and Guanche,
but also with important influences from Portugal, Flanders, Ireland, etc... Historians and
anthropologists have prooved the survival of the Guanches in many rites and ceremonies,
customs, believes, superstitions and folklore of all kind of the present Canarian society.
An European society... in which the heart of the ancient Guanches is still beating.
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