Since I have some friends who do not understand Swedish, I have written a short summary of the book ”Kanarieöarnas gåtfulla historia” in English. The title is ”The enigmatic history of the Canary Islands”. Please write to me if you want to know anything more.
Why enigmatic history? a friend of mine wondered. The Canary Islands were formed just like anything else? Yes, they were, or … There is another story:
One of Socrates’ dialogues is about Atlantis, which you have probably heard of. Atlantis was a big continent, as big as Asia and Europe together. There lived people, big as giants, who were called ”Atlants”. They were broad and strong, and their kingdom was rich and beautiful. They were also brave. Once upon a time, they set about invading the kingdom of the Greeks. But then the gods punished them for being reckless, and their land fell into the sea. Only the highest points stacked out of the water. It became the sunken Atlantis. It may happen that the points over water are the Canary Islands.
The ancient Greeks had a lot of fantasy – they told about islands that were paradise on earth. There ran water, there was a sumptuous vegetation, and no dangerous animals threatened visitors. The greeks called the islands Macaron Nesoi – the blissful islands, and they meant that these islands were the Elysean fields, where warriors received reward after their death. This may have been the Canary Islands. In any case, the islands were called ”The Blissful” until the 1500s.
There were people on the islands, which ones? How did they get there? There are many speculations and hypotheses around these people.
Let’s go to the time around the Roman Emperor Caesar, that is, just before Christ’s birth. He extended the Roman empire around the entire Mediterranean, also on the south side, where he formed Roman colonies. There lived people whom the Romans called ”Berbs” – in Latin this means ”foreign”. These people called themselves ”imazighen” which in their language means ”the free people”. The imazighen protested against the Romans several times, and the Romans grew increasingly tired of the protests. Roman soldiers gathered the rebels together with women and children, sheep and goats, grains and some household appliances, and shipped them far away, so far that they could not return. For safety reasons, the Romans cut off their tongues in order that they should not tell anyone else what they had experienced. They were taken to the Canary Islands, the Romans left them on the first coast they met and sailed away. There the berbs/imazighen stood on the coast with bleeding mouths. Nothing left but trying to survive. It is said that they developed a language to talk to each other. Without tongues they whistled. The whistle language is still surviving on La Gomera under the name of ”El Silbo”.
The deported people survived thanks to the generous nature and their own perseverance. They found caves to live in and fed on fish, fruit and big lizards, before the fields gave any harvest. Eventually they gave names to their islands. Some are touching: Majorata and Gomera. Those names mean ”Home” and ”Gomer’s Home”. Other names indicate how the islands looked or were experienced, for instance Ti-te-roy gata (for Lanzarote), meaning ”the Red Mountains”. To another island they gave the name ”Tener- ife” – which means the clear mountain. Another name for this island was ”Achineche”, meaning the ”area that sounds” The inhabitants there came to be called guanche, which means ”son of Achineche”. Those living on other islands were called ”Majos” (from home) or ”Bimbaches” (sons of sons of Guanches), Gomerii (of Ghumer) or Canarii.
Canarii – Canary – Whence does this word come? There have been many hypotheses, the strongest one, that is probably false, that the word derives from the Latin word for dog: ”canis”.
You can read about this in the book, where you can also learn a little about how the original people lived, what they believed in, and what laws they followed. An extensive glossary makes you familiar with the culture and language of the islands.
In the 15th century, the Blessed Islands were rediscovered and intruders came to seek out these paradise islands. The intruders who came to Tenerife fought with the original guanches for almost a hundred years. Then it is to be remembered that the Guanches had nothing else to defend themselves with than stones and sticks, while the intruders already had firearms. When the island’s most important leader, Tinguaro, was killed, the guanches proclaimed an ”endecha” (mourning song) that has been written down:
Tanaya Guyaovh Archimencey mahaya dir sanido sahry chunca pelut.
Dead is our great father and left us guanches orphans.
In 1496 Tenerife was defeated and after that nobody was allowed to speak anything else than Spanish. In our time, most permanent inhabitants of the Canary islands still have genetic traces of the berbs from North Africa. It may be interesting to note that these genetic traces mainly come from the maternal side. The women were left at the isands, whereas the men were shipped away and used as slaves.