Confined Quiz (I): The oldest recorded name of Teguise village (Lanzarote)

Teguise – Lanzarote: Plaza de la Constitución (source: PROYECTO TARHA)

Inspired by the current situation of confinement due to the pandemic caused by the COVID-19 virus, and under the heading Confined Quiz, we begin a new series of short posts with which we intend to clarify certain aspects of the history of the Canary Islands; in particular, those not well known or, on the contrary, widely disseminated but fundamentally erroneous ideas. We will present each topic with a small test under which you might want to find the correct answer -or more correct, should be the case- with the relevant documentary justification. Without further ado, let’s begin:




This place-name appears for the first time in the chronicle Le Canarien (chap. XII in both manuscripts; we quote here codex B):

Bertin ainssi accompagné c’en ala à ung certain vilage nommé la Grant Aldée, ou il trouva aucuns des grans canares;

Thus accompanied Bertin went to one town called the Great Village, where he found some of the principal Canarians;

This denomination remained throughout the 15th century and possibly in the early 16th while the town was the capital of the Seigneury of the Canary Islands, as evidenced by public documentation; in this case, an executive letter in the lawsuit between the consort lord Diego de Herrera and the deputy governor of Lanzarote Maciot de Béthencourt:

[…] how on Wednesday 28th March in the year of our Lord 1453 being inside the main houses of the Seigneury in the said isle of Lanzarote, in the Great Village in the said isle, […][1]This translation by PROYECTO TARHA

However, the now widely known as La Villa was renamed Teguise in the 16th century, and this is how engineer Leonardo Torriani mentioned it in 1590:


Leonardo Torriani writes on Teguise (source: Universidade de Coimbra, catalogue number Ms.314, fol. 12v)

Is Teguise the indigenous —maho— name of this town? It could be, but for now there is no evidence that completely clears the mistery. As it can be read in the above folio, Torriani himself argues that the place name derives from a supposed leader named Teguse who ruled the island along with another one called Bristol by the time of Jehan IV de Béthencourt, but it seems to be a mistake, since Le Canarien chronicle just mentions one single chieftain -Guadarfia- whose leadership was temporarily usurped by another aspirant  –Asche–. On the other hand, in Fuerteventura sources do confirm the presence of two land chiefs: Guise and Ayose.

Another hypothesis, held by Enlightenment canary historian José de Viera y Clavijo without any documentary support, is that Teguise was the name of Maciot de Béthencourt’s maho wife (Noticias de la historia general de las Islas Canarias, volume I, book V, chap. V) :

[Guadarfia] had a young and beautiful daughter; thus it is known that princess Teguise surrendered [to Maciot de Béthencourt]. The first fruit of this union (which was later legitimated) was the foundation, or the growth of a town, which today is the Capital Villa of that island. There was almost in the center of it a certain large village, which the natives called Acatife, […] Maciot in consideration of the princess gave the Village the name of Teguise […][2]This translation by PROYECTO TARHA

In Viera y Clavijo’s quote, a mistake long-spread as certainty appears for the first time stating that the indigenous name of the village was Acatife. To understand the nature of this confusion, we must go to the source in which the alleged toponym appears: chapter XXXI in Le Canarien’s manuscript B:

Quant Asche vit son point pour faire prendre le roy, il manda à Gadifer qu’il venyt et que le roy estoit en ung de ces hostieulx en ung vilage prés Lacatif, et avoit chinquante de ces gens avecquez luy.

Since the second manuscript -G- was not recovered until many years after the publication of the first one, it was easy to miss the erratum. But this last codex makes it clear in chapter XXVII, in a passage analogous to the previous one, the true place name hidden behind the mysterious Lacatif:

Quant Affche vit son point pour faire prendre le roy, il manda à Gadifer qu’il veinst et que le roy estoit à un de ses hostelz en un village prés de l’Aracif et avoit quarante de ses gens avecques lui.

That is:

When Affche felt it was the time to seize the king, he sent word to Gadifer to come and that the king was inside one of his houses in a village near the Reef and he was bringing with him forty of his men.[3]This translation by PROYECTO TARHA

Therefore, the alleged indigenous Acatife is actually Arrecifethe Reef–, the current capital of Lanzarote, which was already the main port of the island at that time.

Antonio M. López Alonso



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