Why Do Some Canarios Want to Pretend They’re Guanche?

Posted: October 25, 2010 in Life, politics, Spain, Tenerife
Tags: , , , ,

There were a couple of marches in Santa Cruz and La Laguna over the weekend by fringe political groups claiming to be Guanche and calling for independence for the Canary Islands. Reading about them wound me up a bit.

Having been on a number of protest marches at various points in my life, I’m certainly not against them. And coming from a small Scottish island I’m no stranger to the feeling of being oppressed by a larger nation. But what was going on in the metropolis just seemed a bit of nonsense that had more in common with Citizen Smith than serious politics.

First of all what’s all this guff about being Guanche? I’d love to meet someone who is actually descended from the Guanche, but think that’s unlikely as the descendants of the people on the march were probably partly responsible for wiping them out. I made a comment as such on Facebook and the author of the article about the protest marches replied that they meant that they were Guanche in spirit. I still don’t buy it; surely that would be like the citizens of the good old US of A saying that they were all Native American Indians in spirit…how we would guffaw if they claimed that one.

I like the fact that there was a mysterious primitive people populating Tenerife before the conquest changed the island’s destiny, but elevating them to mythical status is romaticised fancy (not that I’m necessarily against that either).

There were a couple of comments by the marchers that I felt were worth addressing and would be appreciative if anyone could answer them. One quote from the People’s Movement said that “the islands were in a perpetual state of economically underdevelopment,’ complaining that the decline in agriculture in recent decades had left the islands dependant on expensive food imports.

Who’s fault is that? Who is actually managing Tenerife’s economy? Spain…or Canarian born and bred politicians? And who was it who embraced tourism, one of the major factors probably leading to the decline of agriculture? Who is it that continues to sanction more new buildings to eat up the coastline? It’s not me and as far as I know, It’s not the Spanish government.

Another said  “The economy is very bad now. Spain owes much money to the world banks, but we don’t want to pay for it.”

There’s no arguing about  Spains’ problems, but every week I read about money coming from Spain to fund various projects designed to improve Tenerife. I take it those who want independence would send that back? They might not want to pay for Spain, but they have been happy to take Spanish money.

A reality check is required.

And this is the real problem I have. It all feels terribly insular. The fingers that are being pointed are being pointed outwards. Everybody else is to blame and yet from an outsider’s perspective I see home grown policies, ineptitude and accusations of corruption that has me seriously worried that without some objective and informed control Tenerife could destroy all the good things it possesses.

Quoting the spirit of the Guanche seems to me to be further evidence of a desire, subconscious or otherwise, to become even more insular and that’s a route that takes you backward, but maybe that’s what they want.

The thing that really escapes me is this. There is no question that being Canarian is unique; it’s something to be celebrated and shouted about…but why try to fabricate a Guanche heritage when the one they should be shouting about is far more impressive? I just don’t get it.

Five centuries ago following the conquest, visionaries, farmers, artists, explorers and entrepreneurs from Spain, Portugal, Britain, Ireland, Italy etc. settled on Tenerife and built wonderful towns and cities with radical layouts that influenced the New World. They created seats of learning and flourished at the crossroads of the old world and the new.

Like America, it was a blend of nationalities that made up the pioneers that created a society which surprised visitors with its levels of sophistication and inventiveness. It was an open society which benefited from the contributions of forward looking minds from a number of countries. Every so often you come across reminders of this like the statue in Santa Cruz which boasts the classic name, José Murphy.

If I was a born and bred Canarian, that’s what I would be allying myself with. I would be proudly saying I was Canario, a unique creature fashioned from the best of Europe with a dash of South American spice. What I certainly wouldn’t be saying was that I was a fur wearing primitive…unless in my heart what I really wanted was a return to a simple life of growing crops and having no money, whilst keeping the outside world at arms length.

  1. Phil Crean says:

    Well said. A few years ago I photographed a so called Guanche wedding, really just an excuse to dress in very colourful goatskins, and walk barefoot in an old era near Guaza mountain. Definitely more carnaval than political!

  2. islandmomma says:

    I SO agree with you. Just about every thought you write here has gone through my mind – especially the comparison to the US. wish I could have seen that march!

  3. dragojac says:

    Thanks you two.

    I had concerns that some might view this as anti-Guanche or even anti-Canario. Of course it’s neither, but there is a lot of nonsense going on.

    With elections coming up next year I think it’s time for residents, Canario and non-Canario to start to question suspect politics.

    Guanche wedding – brilliant…definitely more carnaval.

  4. islandmomma says:

    I know you’re only anti-stupidity, and, as always, what you write is well-thought out and articulated, but you know better than I do that you will also attract idiots who are anti-Canarian. So much going on in island and national politics just now. Going to be an interesting time ahead!

    • dragojac says:

      Hopefully social media will have some sort of impact this time around. In the past all most people have had access to, especially English language speakers, are reprints of press releases that get published without question and amount to little more than propoganda. Social Networking means we can now say ‘hold on a minute, that just doesn’t make sense’.

      Unfortunately there are still some EL sites on Tenerife that don’t allow comments and so we can’t question what they publish.

  5. Chacho says:

    While there are no pure-blooded “Guanches” left, there are still many Canarians with noticeable Berber features. It’s part of our heritage, but I do think it’s absurd to deny our European heritage and cling to the past. We speak Spanish (Canarian style) in the islands and we have Spanish names for the simple reason that we are Spanish. It’s the “independentists” that like to wave the MPAIAC flag and claim to be Guanches, even though they are most likely descended from European settlers.

    • dragojac says:

      Thanks Chacho. It’s good to have the views of someone from the Islands. Everything you say seems absolutely logical to me. Interesting about Canarians with Berber features. After living here for a few years I started to notice different recurring characteristics amongst some people. There’s one look especially that always has me wondering if there was some Guanche blood in there. I wonder if there’s anyone who knows for certain they have a Guanche bloodline?

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