The Guanches and Barranco de Badajoz
It is now considered almost certain that the original inhabitants of the islands were Berbers from North Africa, who according to the oldest dating evidence from fragments of Libyan-Berber script, arrived somewhere between the 1st and 5th centuries BC. Archaeological evidence has already told us much about this primitive race: they made simple tools from wood, eg. walking sticks, shepherd’s crooks and javelins, many of which have been found and preserved. They also made pottery.
Research has shown that pots and amphorae were made by adding strips of clay which they built up in layers to the required shape and size, a technique still widely used throughout North Africa.
These Guanches or Aborigines lived in natural caves, volcanic tunnels and lava tubes. Some also built houses with wooden ceilings, earth and slabs. They farmed goats and sheep and grew wheat, barley, beans, lentils, peas and figs. Of course, fishing and shellfish farming was also a vital part of their diet. They also hunted giant rats, lizards and birds such as pigeons.
Each tribe was ruled by a mencey or King and Tenerife was divided up into 9 territories: Abona, Adeje, Anaga, Daute, Icod, Guímar, Tacoronte, Taoro and Tegueste. Each territory had its own mencey.
This all changed during the C15 when the Spanish Conquest and colonization of the islands began. Following the discovery of America in 1492, the Canary Islands were of huge geographic value, mainly because of the exploitation taking place on the African continent, ie, gold, silver and slaves. Another great influence which launched the expeditions to the Canaries was the Roman Catholic Church and its “sacred evangelising mission” whose purpose was to convert as many heathens as possible to Christianity. This fuelled and encouraged risky ventures into unknown lands in search of wealth and glory. The conquest of the islands began in 1402 in Lanzarote and didn’t end until 1496, Tenerife being the last island to fall. Thereafter, a conflict of interests followed between the 2 super-powers at the time, Castile and Portugal. This didn’t end until 1494 when Pope Alexander VI through the Treaty of Tordesillas whereby the Spanish Crown kept the Canaries and Portugal kept the Cape Verde islands.
Recently, I had the opportunity to see and experience Guanche history first hand; firstly when I visited the Archaeological Museum in Puerto de la Cruz. Whilst this is quite a small museum, it holds the best display on the island of Guanche pottery and a replica of a mummy that was buried in a cave. The exhibits are very well presented and well worth a visit.
The second occasion was a few weeks ago when Andy Tenerife Walker from Tenerife Guided Walks organised another outstanding walk on behalf of En Pie, the Canarian Foundation for Mental Health. This took place on 24th April 2016 at the Barranco de Badajoz above Güímar. Like all barranco walks, the views are stunning and this one was no exception. We ascended for 1 ½ hours until we reached as far as we could go and on the way we passed several caves, at least 2 of which have been excavated. One of these caves is quite famous locally as it resembles a face and appears to have a huge mouth and 2 small eyes. This particular cave was approximately 50m above where we were standing and was used to store cheese and other provisions. It was amazing that it was so high off the ground which just goes to show that even the Guanches had security measures in place to protect their valuables!
The return journey down the barranco took about an hour until we reached the cars. We had a quick refreshing drink to quench our thirst in the local bar where the proprietor told us that there was a famous tale in the village that about 200 years ago a young girl about 9 years of age went missing in the barranco only to be found about 50 years later not having aged 1 year. Folklore I am sure, but it goes to show that you only have to get out into Tenerife’s great outdoors to discover its hidden beauty and history which is all around us – it’s just waiting to be explored.
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By Lynne Scaife