The Tragedy of the Giants of the Canary Islands

Located off the northwest coast of Africa, the Canary Islands are a stopover for many sailors before crossing the Atlantic Ocean .

Isolated from continental civilizations, this small island group has developed its own unique culture, and the Guanches once made a strong mark here. Who are they and are they really huge as archaeologists reveal?

The Tragedy of the Giants of the Canary Islands
The painting depicts the Guanches with a semi-nomadic lifestyle on the Canary Islands.

Both Pliny the Elder (23 AD – 79 AD) and Strabo (63 BC – 23 AD), two famous Roman and Greek philosophers, mention the group of islands that are now believed to be the Canary Islands , but provides very little detail about the society there, not even telling what the population was. The Arab geographer, Muhammad al-Idrisi, in 1150, wrote of his encounter with a tall race of “fawn-haired” in a location that approximates present-day Canary. And all the evidence of the Guanches is just that…

The Guanches were the first known inhabitants of the Canary Islands. It is believed that they arrived here in the first millennium BC.

But when archaeologists uncover evidence of this culture, the first thing that strikes them is not the artifacts or ruins, but the physique of the natives.

The Guanches were very large at the time, especially as the height of the male members of the race was usually between 1.75m and 1.90m. Some people have blue eyes, blond hair along with rosy skin, showing health and agility.

The Guanches lasted for a long time until the 15th century, only to decline after the final battles against the Spanish conquest of the archipelago in 1496.

These tall, isolated inhabitants of the Atlantic are thought to be related to the legendary continent of Atlantis , though much of it is conjecture based on a few similarities.

In fact, the Guanches are also related to the Egyptians . They speak a variety of languages that evolved from the ancient Egyptians , which may partly explain the similarity in techniques between the Guanches and the Egyptians regarding the mummification process .

However, the exact origin of this light-skinned race is still considered the subject of debate among historians and archaeologists. Some researchers believe that they arrived in the Canary Islands by sea from North Africa and were closely related to the Berner tribes, who occupied the North African continent for hundreds of years.

Given the Canary’s proximity to Morrocco, it is possible that the Berbers landed on the islands around 100 AD. In 2017, the first genome-wide data of the Guanches confirmed their North African origin hypothesis and are most genetically similar to the ancient Berber peoples .

The Guanches are semi-nomadic and often live in caves carved into the mountains. Food scarcity forced them to live frugally, eating mainly wild fruits and fish. On a very special occasion, they will grill meat.

It is this simple lifestyle that has enabled them to survive and thrive in these challenging conditions. We have no records of the Guanches themselves, other than what can be found in the arid land of the Canary.

The Tragedy of the Giants of the Canary Islands
Statues of the two Guanches on the island of Fuerteventura, Canary Islands.

The peaceful life of the Guanches was turned upside down in 1402 with the arrival of the Spaniards. In the century that followed, members of the race fought bravely against the invaders to protect their lands, but were ultimately defeated.

Their unique culture and way of life was destroyed by the Spaniards, many members of the race perished from diseases brought by the invaders.

Some were enslaved and brought to Spain. The members of the remaining race eventually had to follow the lifestyle of the new rulers, gradually integrating with the Spanish people.

After colonizing the islands, the Spaniards provided evidence of the religion of the Guanches. They are polytheistic and accept the existence of a superior force (whose names vary from island to island) and the presence of demons .

The gods and goddesses worshiped by the people are not the same between the islands. Each place created different ceramic statues to represent their gods.

The people have a unique belief system about religion and spirituality. They believe in the afterlife and the existence of spirits. They have a complex concept of the invisible world, including their own ideas of heaven and hell.

Although most of their traces have been lost over time, people of the Guanches race are still remembered for their bravery in battle, their striking red or blonde hair, and their height. The end of the race is considered one of the most tragic events in human history.