The question that everyone is interested in is who were the original inhabitants of Tenerife. The answer is easy – the Guanche. The word comes from Guanchinet, or Guan = person and C hinet means Tenerife.
Historical studies say they had a slightly tinted skin, blue eyes and blonde hair which makes them sound as though they were descendants of the Vikings, but most sources speak of them as descendants of Berber tribes from North Africa who allegedly made the crossing to Tenerife more than 4,000 years ago.
Initially, the Guanche were hunters and fishermen, but after about 2000 years they started to focus on agriculture. They gathered together in small areas that provided shelter and they used wood, stones and earth to build their homes. Archaeological research has shown that different groups on the different islands, each had their own way of life and their own customs.
The Guanche lived peacefully among themselves and every island had its own kingdom or menceyato.
Tenerife was ruled by King Tinerfe and when he died his sons each received a parcel of land to serve as Mencey. This created nine ‘menceynatos’ or mini-states but like many families when someone dies there are those who feel they should have received more. The brothers began fighting and the Lucha Canaria arose. Not real fights, but wrestling matches for which the winner was entitled to claim a piece of land.
The first territories to be given names were Abona, Adeje, Anaga, Daute, Güimar, Icod, Tacoronte, Taoro and Tegueste. The kings were assisted by a council of older men, the ‘tagoror’. The population was divided into three classes: the ‘achimency’ were the direct descendants of the mencey, the ‘cichiciquitzo’ was the lower nobility and the ‘achicaxna’ were the farmers.
Until the 15th century, they were completely protected from external influences then the archipelago was taken island by island by the Spanish Conquistadores. For two years, only Tenerife remained stubbornly opposed to the Spanish invaders until Alonso Fernández de Lugo broke the last resistance near La Victoria in 1496.
The Mencey were:
Acaymo of Tacoronte was the ruler of the region, in the north of Tenerife, which covers what are now the municipalities of Tacoronte, La Matanza de Acentejo and El Sauzal. According to history, Acaymo had been at war with Mencey Bencomo, but they made peace shortly before the arrival of the conquistadors.
Adjona of Abona this region was vast. It spanned the municipalities that are now Fasnia, Arico, Granadilla de Abona, San Miguel and Vilaflor. Adjona was one of the Menceys who made a pact with Alonso Fernández de Lugo when he first arrived on the island.
Añaterve of Güímar was the first ruler to reach an agreement with the conquerors through the Governor of Gran Canaria, Pedro de Vera. His land covered what are now the municipalities of El Rosario, Candelaria, Arafo and Güímar, as well as part of Santa Cruz and La Laguna.
Bencomo of Taoro Bencomo ruled what is now La Orotava, La Victoria de Acentejo, Santa Úrsula, Puerto de la Cruz, Los Realejos and San Juan de la Rambla. He took the lead in resisting the invaders which earned him the name of Great King. He died at the Battle of La Laguna fighting Alonso Fernández de Lugo’s troops. His son, Bentor, succeeded him as Mencey and the tragic story that ensued illustrates the fate that the conquest entailed for the Guanche people. Foreseeing his defeat by the Spaniards after the battle of La Victoria de Acentejo, he leapt to his death from the edge of the Barranco Tigaiga, in Los Realejos. In contrast, one of Bencomo’s daughters, Princess Dácil, fell in love with the Spanish Captain Fernán García del Castillo when her father found out he sentenced his daughter to be killed by immurement Dácil avoid this and eventually she married the Captain and was christened Mencías del Castillo.
Beneharo of Anaga this Mencey reached a pact with Alonso Fernández de Lugo and remained impartial during the years of the conquest. His lands covered much of the Anaga mountain range.
Pelicar of Icod his land covered the current municipalities of La Guancha, Icod de los Vinos and El Tanque, as well as part of Garachico. His men were part of the resistance until they surrendered in 1496 after the battle of La Victoria de Acentejo.
Pelinor of Adeje He also struck an agreement with Alonso Fernández de Lugo at the beginning of the conquest, which led him to be rewarded later with land in Masca and Santiago del Teide. His region is now Adeje, Guía de Isora, Santiago del Teide and part of Arona.
Romen of Daute The territory of Daute in the 15th century comprised the municipalities of Buenavista del Norte, Los Silos and part of Garachico. Romen was among the Menceys who fought off the invader’s forces during the conquest.
Tegueste of Tegueste This area covered the current Tegueste and much of San Cristóbal de La Laguna. The Mencey who gave the area its name fiercely resisted the Castilian invasion and was involved in the Battle of La Laguna.
Due to their isolation, the Guanches were extremely sensitive to the germs and bacteria brought by the invaders and died in large numbers. The survivors were employed on sugar plantations or were sold as slaves in Seville and Valencia.
The giant bronze statues of all Menceys are neatly in a row near the cathedral of Candelaria. They form, a symbolic separation between the Atlantic Ocean and the island.