The Berbers & the Guanches on Tenerife

The sun didn’t so much gently kiss my face as ravage it like an over zealous lover and my thigh muscles were bitching at me for neglecting them for weeks before masochistically subjecting them to a 600 metre ascent. But I was hardly aware of either as we emerged between two rugged peaks to be faced with a vista of the mythical Atlas Mountains in Morocco.

My breath had been already taken by the climb, so instead I settled for being overwhelmed by actually being in a location where Greek heroes had fantastical adventures and a Titan supported the universe on his shoulders.

I sucked the scenery deep into my lungs, enjoying the sense of tranquillity in these high mountains and then started focussing on aspects of the long, deep valley that lay between us and our Berber village destination at Tacchedirt at the top of the valley.

There was something familiar about the scene. Where the upper mountains were desert dry and sandstone coloured, the area near the valley floor was lush and green; narrow agricultural terraces snaked up the hillside. They were exactly like the ones found here on Tenerife in places like the Anaga Mountains. It made me think of the Guanche.

By now it’s generally accepted that the Guanche were descended from the Berbers, but reading this claim  and actually being in Berber lands where similarities were piling up with every step are two very different things. The connection suddenly seemed more real.

As we explored the valley we passed herds of goats and sheep; the Berbers being livestock farmers like the Guanches. The mountain slopes were scarred by a bewildering network of tracks that linked villages and highlighted popular goat routes – again similar to parts of Tenerife.

As we reached the village and night fell we stood transfixed as way, way up on what seemed like vertical slopes, herd after herd of goats were driven from the mountain tops back to the village just before darkness engulfed the valley. This driving of goats to and from high pastures was also done by the Guanches.

Of course it’s easy to make the pieces fit the jigsaw when you want to and make a connection between the two peoples that may or may not have actually existed. But there was one final little piece provided by our Moroccan house manager back in our Riad in Marrakech a few days later.

We were talking about our experiences in the Atlas Mountains and amongst the Berbers when he threw in this little gem.

“When it’s time for me to marry, I’m going into the Atlas Mountains to find a Berber girl…they are the most beautiful women in Morocco.”

He didn’t know Tenerife and had never heard of the Guanches, but yet he went on to describe exactly the physical characteristics that I’d read in countless descriptions of the tall, fair skinned and beautiful Guanches that once drove their livestock across Tenerife.

It might be romantic folly and the effects of high altitude walking, but watching the hundreds of goats and their drivers descend from the Atlas Mountains was like experiencing the Guanches come back to life.

Berber = Guanche…I’m a confirmed believer now.

Pictures: Middle – Berber Terraces in Atlas Mountains; Bottom – Terraces in Anaga Mountains, Tenerife

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