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First of all, the original inhabitants of Gran Canaria are not really "Guanches", as that was the name for the original inhabitants of the island of Tenerife. Europeans, who landed on Tenerife in the 15th century, found tan-skinned, powerfully built people, blue or grey eyed, with blond hair flowing to their waists. These rangy islanders became known as Guanches with the name being derived from "guan" (man) and "che" (white mountain), a reference to the snowcapped volcano of Mount Teide which dominates the island.
The Guanches have intrigued anthropologists because blond natives are a rarity. Some claim they are related to the Berbers of neighbouring Morocco, who share the same physical characteristics when unmixed with the Arab majority. Isolated in their islands, the Guanches gene pool remained undiluted until the arrival of the Europeans.
Others link them to the Cro-Magnon types who inhabited Portugal around 8000 B.C. A few propose that the Canaries are the lofty volcanic peaks of mythical sunken Atlantis and that the Guanches are their descendants. Another theory has them descended from Viking raiding parties.
Yet a further theory is that the earliest were actually of the Canarii tribe, probably related to the Berbers, from whence the islands took their name. Another is that they were the Tamaran of the aboriginal (indigenous) Berber tribe, again of North Africa, (which gave Gran Canaria its ancient name), who arrived in the islands around 2,500 years ago and who were of the Cro-Magnon race, short and well built with large heads. With the passage of time and the arrival of more Berbers, or Guanches, they gradually evolved into the taller, fair skinned people more associated with Europeans. The North Africans at that time were lighter in complexion than their other Arab cousins.
The Guanches led a primitive existence consisting of simple farming, hunting and gathering, but amidst nature's grandeur. Their ancestors apparently came by sea with domesticated animals, goats, pigs and dogs. They drank milk, used butter and savoured some fruits. Their staple was toasted barley or gofio, a brown dish still served. The Guanches detested the sea and never sailed it, leading some to think they were brought on ships by early seafaring peoples. As shepherds and farmers and later fishermen, the means of their arrival on the island however remains uncertain. Their women made pottery and decorated it with vegetable dyes. Implements were fashioned of wood, stone and bone; jewellery from shells and beads; and tunics and vests from goatskin leather or plaited rushes. After the capture of the island in the late 1400's by the Spanish and the founding of Las Palmas, it is reported that the name was changed to Gran Canaria, reflecting the esteem in which the Canarii were held in their battle to resist the Conquistadors' invasion.
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