Unravel the Fascinating Tapestry of Gran Canaria’s History: From Ancient Secrets to Modern Marvels! Explore the Enchanting Past of this Island Paradise
Gran Canaria, the southernmost island (after El Hierro) of the Canary Archipelago, 60 km from Tenerife and about 200 km from Africa, with its 1,500 km² of ravines, pine and palm trees, beaches and warm waters, offers natural and cultural treasures accumulated over fifteen million years that make this volcanic island an exotic microcontinent.
It is located between the parallels 27º44′ and 28º11′ north of the equator and the meridians 15º22′ and 15º50′ west of Greenwich.
It is located in the province of Las Palmas and is made up of twenty-one municipalities: Las Palmas, Telde and San Bartolomé de Tirajana, are the most populated areas. The appearance of the island of Gran Canaria could be described as a circle whose perfection is broken in its northern part.
Located practically in the middle of the archipelago, between Tenerife and Fuerteventura, it forms a cone, also almost perfect, whose apex rises to the Pico de Las Nieves (1,949 meters). Basaltic lavas form the terrain, later added by other types of materials, on which different conglomerates are superimposed, as in the case of Roque Nublo (1,813 meters).
The history of Gran Canaria begins with the roar of the sea in the Tertiary period.
It was Pliny, some two thousand years ago, who announced to the world the existence of giant dogs on the island, based on the descriptions made by many navigators. Baptized in the Roman language as “canis”, from this would come the name of the Canary Islands, and due to the size of the dogs, the epithet of Gran (…) would arise.
Before the arrival of the Spaniards, Gran Canaria was inhabited by aborigines who called the island “Tamarán”.
It seems that the culture of Gran Canaria was more complex than that developed in other islands.
During the first millennium BC, the island began to receive its first visitors (Chromañoids and Mediterraneans), probably from North Africa. They brought livestock and seeds.
The result of the different currents (Berbers, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines and Arabs) are the aborigines, found in the s. XIV by the Europeans.
The generic name “canarii” was applied only to the inhabitants of Gran Canaria, although later that of “guanche” was generalized to all the islands.
The ancient canaries, the chromañoids, had broad cheekbones and an average height of 1.65 m. The Mediterraneans were taller, with a long face: one of the mummies kept in the Museo Canario measures 1.84 m.
In the case of Gran Canaria, it seems that the economy was based on agriculture. Barley, yams and dried figs, together with hunting and fishing, were the basic elements of their subsistence. From the forests they obtained palm honey (palm groves were abundant).
Gran Canaria was very populated and went through periods of overpopulation. The Canarii lived in natural or artificial caves (they dug the volcanic tuff). Many caves were difficult to access, so they built stairs or platforms (which can be seen in the Barranco de Guayadeque). They lived in common areas where they administered justice or buried their dead (necropolis). They also used shelters and huts with wooden roofs covered with plant materials.
They did not know gold, silver and metals. Many of their tools were made of various volcanic rocks. The tips of their spears and many tools were made of polished stone. They had axes (jadeite or basalt), picks for digging caves, etc. From the bones (from the activity of the cattle) came awls and straighteners.
The grains to make gofio were ground with stone mills (four quarries were located in Las Palmas, Telde, Agaete and Tirajana).
They covered the skin with vegetable and animal materials, sewn with bone needles and goat nerve or intestine thread. According to historians of the 16th and 17th centuries, they were covered or semi-covered with leather or skins (ram and sheep). Underneath, they wore a kind of majados reed dresses (mats) and, more rarely, palms. From their shoulders they hung the “tehuetes” or bags in which they kept things.
They did not sell or buy, they exchanged things (barter) and it seems that they did not enslave.
Administratively, the island was divided into two guanartematos (kingdoms): Telde and Gáldar. The Teldean guanarteme was militarily more powerful.
Society was articulated in a pyramid based on the guanarteme, or cacique, elected by a type of noble, among whom the faycán, or religious leader, was the most influential figure. Behind him were the captains or guayres. The herds belonged to the upper hierarchies, although they were cared for by other dependent groups.
It was in the square or tagoror that decisions about laws were made. The woman enjoyed great respect in the Guanche culture and she could have several husbands.
As for religion, it is likely that they practiced astral cults (sun or alcorán) and others related to fertility. There are many sacred mountains such as Tirma or Humiaga (Four Gates): sanctuaries where high class virgins were educated. They had idols like that of Tara (fertility) and zoomorphic sculptures.
They believed in the afterlife, that’s why they mummified, but only the most important figures. The body must not have been spoiled: it seems that the intestines were removed and the interior was smeared with goat’s butter and fragrant plants. Then the body was washed with salt water and an ointment containing butter, resin, aromatic herbs and pumice stone was applied. This process was repeated several times, which stiffened the deceased. Later they covered him with sewn skins and took him to a more or less inaccessible cave. Next to the mummy, they placed bowls of milk, honey, weapons, etc.
They also knew the therapeutic properties of some plants, such as the “sangre del drago”. With the well-known “pintaderas” (seals with geometric motifs) they pressed the clay to mark or indicate possession.
As for writing, “petroglyphs” with alphabetic signs have been found, for example in the Barranco de Balos.
The native language was lost forever two generations after the conquest. About three thousand words have been collected.
From the pre-Hispanic aboriginal culture, the Museo Canario de Las Palmas keeps valuable documents.
Since the beginning of the fourteenth century, the islands were frequently visited and plundered by Mallorcans, Catalans, Genoese, Portuguese and by the Castilians. They looked for materials for the manufacture of dyes, such as “orchilla” (red), goat and slave skins…, which they later sold in Lower Andalusia or North Africa.
In the S. The Castilian conquest of the Canary Islands began in the fifteenth century, which lasted the whole century, due mainly to the strong resistance of its inhabitants.
Some islands, such as Gran Canaria, had not yet been conquered and were exchanged or sold by their lords.
The occupation of Gran Canaria was begun by Juan Rejón in 1478 and ended by Pedro de Vera, who, after overcoming the resistance of the Guanche population in 1483, placed the conquered island in the hands of the Catholic Monarchs some five hundred years ago.
By and large, the conquest liquidated the previous social structure, that of the old Canaries.
Gradually, the lands were distributed and the institutions of the Crown of Castile were organized. The main figure was the Adelantado. In the Cabildo, presided over by the governor, justice is administered until in the first quarter of s. XVI the Hearing is created.