Discovering The Guanches in Tenerife

Anyone who’s carried out any research into Tenerife’s past will know that the island was once inhabited by a mysterious and primitive race called the Guanches. It’s generally accepted that these people originally came from north Africa and were possibly Berbers although a more romantic version is that they were descended from Atlas himself, explaining why they were a tall, muscular and beautiful race.

Following the conquest of Tenerife in 1496 the Guanches were, like many conquered indigenous races at that time, more or less decimated and their existence on Tenerife gradually dwindled away until they simply ceased to exist. Ironically in recent years, the Guanches have been elevated to superstar status with fiestas built around their deeds and traditions. Re-enactments of Guanche historical events are good fun to witness but I’m not sure that the not-exactly-basketball-player-sized Canarios really pull off the whole tall and muscular proud race bit successfully.

For a more striking interpretation of the stature of Tenerife’s original inhabitants it’s a much better idea to seek out some of the proud statues of Guanche kings (menceys), princesses and warriors that can be found defiantly protecting their lands around Tenerife.


The Menceys of Candelaria
It’s mencey jackpot time in Candelaria; you get all nine of the main ones along the seafront beside the Basilica. Standing proud and occasionally menacing looking are Acaymo from Tacoronte; Adjona from Abona; local boy Anaterve from Güímar; top dog Bencomo from Taoro (Orotava), Beneharo from Anaga; Pelicar from Icod; Pelinor from Adeje; Romen from Daute (Isla Baja) and Tegueste from Tegueste.

There are two sets of mencey statues in Candelaria, but these are the more sophisticated versions. There used to be another Guanche statue at the Güímar Pyramids up the hill but he tasted defeat for the second time at the hands of tropical storm Delta a few years ago.

Adeje’s Guanche
Adeje’s mencey sits quietly at the entrance to the old town of Adeje, overlooking the new and shiny expanse of Costa Adeje’s resorts on the coast below him. He’s the perfect symbol to signify the division between the old and the new. I think he’s got a look of bemusement as he contemplates the lands where his goats once roamed.

Santiago del Teide
Heading away from the coast and the Guanches start to become more defiant. Alonso Diaz, the Spanish name given to the son of Adeje’s Pelinor,  took on the governor of the island over the matter of 200 stolen goats in Santiago del Teide. It took him years (this is Tenerife) but he got his goats back.

El Lance in Los Realejos
Mencey Bentor rails at the gods for no doubt allowing the conquistadors to ruin his island…before jumping to his death rather than be taken captive. Now he’s more likely to be cursing the sculptor for leaving him with a rather impressive appendage that has little old Canario women sniggering like schoolgirls when they see it.

Princesa Dacíl
Guanche princesses were said to be beautiful and there are tales of them enchanting the hearts of conquistador captains – Vi..la…flor. Surprising then that sculptures of these beauties are scarce. You’d expect something Amazonian but the Princesa Dacíl in La Orotava is more Cinderella than Xena. There’s definitely a need for a big and beautiful Guanche girl to balance things out.

La Matanza’s Head Honcho
One of my favourites, Tinguaro is the achimencey who gave the conquistadors a right old kicking on the hills of Acentejo. This guy doesn’t even need clothes to go into battle, just a spear and his conch (careful how you say that). Unlike El Lance, the sculptor has at least given him a bit of cloth for the sake of decency…even if it’s not entirely effective.

Missing from the set, because I don’t have a photo of him, is the Bencomo statue outside of the Museum of Science and the Cosmos in La Laguna. Also missing from the set but for different reasons are the cheesy Guanche mannequins at the cable car on the slopes of Mount Teide.

5 Comments

    • Thanks Matthew. There are some quite strikingly tall women around for sure (maybe they’re the ones with Guanche heritage) and they’d definitely add more authenticity to some of the re-enactments. But generally speaking, here on Tenerife, and in the hills especially, the term hobbit-sized often springs to mind 🙂

  1. Greetings. I visited Tenerife in 2003 with 54 other relatives from Puerto Rico. The greatest of trips. Met by Alcaldes everywhere. I am Delgado of 1855 ancestry lineage in San Miguel de Abona. MtDNA shows direct link to one of nine Menceys of Tenerife with start of Delgado line when he changed his name to Diego de Adeje Delgado. I think that is rather cool. Viva Canarias! Oh, I am the Secretary of a descendants organization: Facebook search is…. circulodeamistadcanariadepr

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