Frequently Asked Questions

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The Canary Islands

  1. What are the Canary Islands?
    • The Canary Islands are an oceanic archipelago off Africa’s northwest coast that were conquered in the 15th century by the Crown of Castile. Currently they belong to Spain, as heir to this kingdom nation, under the administrative name of Autonomous Community of the Canaries, divided into two provinces: Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas, being also one of the outermost regions of the European Union. The archipelago is made ​​up of seven major islands, all inhabited (La Palma, El Hierro, La Gomera, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote), a smaller island inhabited (La Graciosa) and several islets .

The Canarian indigenes and the Conquest

  1. Who inhabited the Canary Islands at the beginning of the European conquest?
    • The seven major islands were inhabited by North African –mostly Berber– peoples who likely arrived at the Archipelago, according to the archaeological datings, in one or more waves, in some imprecise moments of History delimited by the 10th BCE and the 5th CE centuries.
  2. Is it true that the European conquest of the Archipelago lasted almost a century?
    • In absolute terms, yes. The Lords’ Conquest, undertaken by French and Castilian noblemen, and the Royal Conquest, an initiative of the Catholic Monarchs, taken together, covered the 1402-1496 range (94 years). However, this war of conquest was a process discontinuous in time due to both the indigenous resistance as political and logistical troubles.
  3. Were the indigenes exterminated as a result of the European conquest?
    • Not indeed. Although the war of conquest decimated the indigenous population and most of the survivors were deported and / or enslaved bound for Europe, a fraction of the native population remained in the Canaries, especially women –existing documentary evidence of marriages between them and the European settlers– and men belonging to the privileged classes of the indigenous society. These facts have been endorsed in recent times by genetic studies.
  4. If the indigenes were not all exterminated, why there is no indigenous family names in the current population?
    • On the contrary, family names in the current population indicating indigenous descent do exist, although they are not true indigenous names or, to be, have been castilianized –for example, Oramas, Guanche–. The main reason for this shortage is that those who survived were baptized with Christian names and only a privileged few were allowed to adopt a surname that respected their original native anthroponym or title, although castilianized –for example, Fernando Guanarteme, Pedro Maninidra--. In some cases, the surname received was either an ethnonym or –as it was the case in Europe–the toponym of the place where the person was born or came from —Juan de Telde, Antón Guanche–. Women who married European men adopted their husbands’ patronymics –for example, Tenesoya Vidina, christened Luisa de Guanarteme, who married Maciot de Betancor, was renamed Luisa de Betancor–.


  1. Guanches, Canarian indigenes or Canarian aborigines?
    • RAE’s Spanish Language Dictionary states that Guanche are the individuals and the people who inhabited the Canary Islands at the time of their conquest. However, this definition has been subject of discussion in recent times among experts. Specifically, Guanche is often argued as an ethnonym for the ancient inhabitants of Tenerife solely while Canarian would be an equivalent for Gran Canaria that was widespread used to name both the ancient and modern inhabitants of the whole Archipelago as it survives nowadays.
    • On the other hand, some experts argue the appropriateness of the indigenous vs. aborigine terms, as the former refers to people inhabiting a territory but having an external ancestral origin –as is the case of the Canarian natives, whose ancestors came from the North of the African continent–, while the latter indicates the ancestral belonging to the same territory that it is being inhabited –for example, Australian aborigines–. In PROYECTO TARHA we will be using either ancient Canarians or Canarian indigenes/natives unless the context suggests otherwise.
  2. Prehispanic or precolonial?
    • The term prehispanic is often used to refer to the indigenous world before the end of the conquest undertaken by the Crown of Castile. However, this is inaccurate for several reasons, including:
      1. The conquest of the Archipelago was not due only to Hispanic people but also French, Portuguese and Genoese, among others, and was carried out progressively in the 1402-1496 period.
      2. Cultural and material exchanges between medieval Canaries and Europeans do not start at the end of the conquest but from the first known contact between these two cultures in the mid-fourteenth century.
      3. After the conquest, the indigenous culture was not totally and immediately replaced by the Hispanic culture.
    • For these reasons, and following the advice of some experts, we believe that the term precolonial best fits a definition of the character of the indigenous world before the effective conquest of each island.
  3. Prehistoric, neolithic?
    • These are two terms commonly and loosely used to describe the old Canarian indigenous society. First, one of the fundamental requirements to classify a society as prehistorical is the absence of written records generated by it. However, it is widely known the existence of archaeological sites in the Canary Islands containing, among others, clear examples of that kind of writing commonly called Libyan Berber, although modern attempts at interpretation are still far from providing a conclusive result.
    • Nor is it correct to qualify the old Canarian society as neolithic, even under a loose sense of the word, because although its members had a number of resources and techniques for making stone, bone and wood tools at their disposal, it is known they also knew and made use of metal objects (blades, coins, tools, etc.), which they acquired, either by war or trade, from foreign people arrived to the Archipelago. It is even possible that the first settlers arrived to the Canaries knew and used the expertise needed to build this type of objects in their place or places of continental origin, but may them forgotten this know-how over time at the Islands lacking for ores.
  4. Berbers or Imazighen?
    • The use of the word Berber as a sort of European replacement for the ethnonym Amazigh (plural, Imazighen) is often rejected arguing its disdainful nature –its etymology ultimately derives from the Greek word bárbaros, “foreigner”, as for the ancient Hellenes the sound all other people emitted when talking could be reduced to the onomatopoeia “bar, bar”-. From our point of view in PROYECTO TARHA, it is obvious nowadays the loss of such a contemptuous character, at least in the current historiographical context, plus the word Berber provides a better understanding for people not acquainted with these topics. However, we will favor as far as possible the use of the African ethnonym or some of its hispanicizations proposed by experts.


  1. How I can get some of the works referred to in the posts?
    • If some particular work is public and freely available in digital format, just click on the corresponding link located under the heading References or Bibliography on each post.
  2. Some of the text lines in the posts feature superscript numbers as if they were referring to footnotes. However, there are no footnotes in posts. Why?
    • They are footnote numbers indeed. Just hover your mouse pointer over them and the corresponding footnote will appear automagically.


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