Guanches were a cultural group which lived in the Canary Islands before the Spanish Conquest.
On most islands, Guanche had an elective government. Gran Canaria was the only exception with a hereditary matrileneal autocracy. Only the political system on Tenerife is known in detail today. The island was divided into nine kingdoms, known as menceyatos. All land belonged to the appropriate king, or Mencey, and was leased to their subjects.
Major language groups and dialects
Each island had its dialect of the Guanche language. After the Spanish Conquest, the language became extinct. Additionally, on Gomera, El Hierro, Tenerife and Gran Canaria there was a whistle form of the language called Silbo. Later some of the inhabitants adopted a Spanish version of Silbo.
Culture and cultural heritage
Magic was a very important part of Guanche culture, but it was rare. They believed that it was caused long ago by a plague which killed nearly all magic-users on the islands. All magic-users in Guanche communities were treated with respect and had religious roles. Only a magic-user could become a priest. The most important duty of the priests was to guard and upkeep the magical sources which allowed lush vegetation to be present on the Islands. Without them, many islands would change into a normal climate of this region, which is quite harsh.
Guanches had a polytheistic religion with each island having a seperate supreme deity. There was Achaman in Tenerife, Acoran in Gran Canaria, Eraoranhan in El Hierro, Abora in La Palma and Orahan on La Gomera.
- Chaxiraxi, Sun Mother
- Chijoraji, son of Chaxiraxi
- Magec, god of Sun and the Light
- Achuguayo, god of the moon
- Achuhucanac, rain god
- Guayota, the main evil deity
Birth & Baptismal Rites
There were no ceremonies in the moment of birth or right after it. The first ceremony was held when the child reached 3 or 4 years of age. Its parents took it to the local priest for a ritual which checked if the child had magic. The priest stimulated different emotions in the child to see if there is a magical reaction. It was repeated 6 times, once for each of the basic emotions, or until a magical reaction was seen. If the child had magic it stayed with its parents until it was 10 years old. Then it moved into the custody of the priest and its education began.
Coming of Age Rites
There were two types of the coming of age rites. Magic-users, after being discovered at a young age were, taught by the village priest how to use magic and prepared for the job of a priest. Usually, one priest had one or two students. When a student reached adulthood he took part in an ascension ritual. The priest and his student had to travel to the king's residence and go to the High Priest. During the ritual, a connection between the student and the magical source was made. From that moment he was a priest and his magic helped to keep the source alive.
People who weren't magic-users had a different coming of age rite. It was the same for boys and girls. It was a ritual dance during the summer solstice. Guanches believed that on that day they were created by the gods.
Funerary and Memorial customs
Most Guanches buried the dead in caves. In some regions of the archipelago, mummification was practised. It was reserved for the upper class of society. In some cases, rulers and priests were buried under a tumulus.
In most regions, the elderly were left to die alone on their own. They were carried to a cave and given only a bowl of milk.
Common Myths and Legends
The most important legend of Guanche culture is a plague that broke out long ago, shortly after their ancestors' arrival on the islands. The plague killed almost all magic-users. So few of them survived that being able to use magic was treated as a miracle.
Not many historical figures from the Guanches are known today. A few of them are Tinerfe the Great, Bencomo, Teguise and Dacil.
Women had almost the same rights as men. The only differences were that women couldn't be rulers and soldiers. If a woman was a magic user the path of a priestess was open for her.
From a man, it was expected to keep his family safe. He wasn't obliged to provide food for them, because taking care of the fields and herds was a woman's job. If the man wasn't a soldier, he was a craftsman.