Fuerteventura First Settlers

Museum reconstruction of Guanches in Tenerife

The Canary Islands are a melting pot of nationalities, languages, cultures and customs, and so is Fuerteventura. So who were the original people that settled here and where did they come from?

An Article By Bernie Power with The Voice Fuerteventura

Bernie Power

There is a certain mystery as to the origins of the peoples found on the islands by the last conquerors. The general consensus is that many people knew of these islands throughout antiquity and at some point, all the merchant adventurers visited, including the Carthaginians, Phoenicians, Greeks and the Romans.

We know from ancient texts and remains that the romans spent quite a bit of time here, as a Roman camp, which dates from the 2nd century A.D. was uncovered on the island of Los Lobos, just off our northern coast.  

The Guanches 

Archaeological evidence regarding the original settlers is quite scarce as grave sites were usually caves, and many of them were destroyed by the settlers looking for non-existent treasure! But we do know that the term used to describe the people that were originally living here “Guanche” was the name given to the natives of the island of Tenerife. It translates to ‘man of the white mountain’ presumably in reference to the snow-capped mountain of Teide. However, it soon became the term used to describe people from across all of the islands and not just Tenerife.

Museum reconstruction of Guanches in Tenerife

The Guanches called the Canary Islands home for almost 2000 years and although they all originated from the same part of Africa, they became socially very different on each island. They rarely contacted each other and lived in constant fear of attack from outside.

The Language

The Berber tribes that lived in Northern Africa were not Arab and by tracing the writings from the early historians of the 15th century  (when the Europeans arrived) we can identify many of the words used in the Canarian language today, right back to these original tribes. Over the centuries people arrived by various means, escaping slaves, outcasts and even shipwreck survivors who became marooned here with no means of escape. They had no written language at that time and when questioned, they had a guttural accent that was hard to translate, so the Europeans recorded the sound as a ‘T’, which is why we have so many place names, that begin with the letter T, including; Tindaya, Tefia, Tetir, Time, Triquivijate, Tuineje, Teserague, Tarajal, Tesjuate, Tiscamanita, Tamasite, Toto, and so on. 


The island of Fuerteventura was also known by many names over the centuries, given to her by various sea faring visitors. But it was the Normans who first settled here and they knew it as ‘Erbania’. ‘Arbani’ is a Berber word, which means ‘wall’ and at that time, there was a stone wall ( some of which is still visible today) separating the north and south of the island, located near the village of ‘La Pared’ which is also the Spanish word for wall. 

Remains of the original Majo wall – La Pared

At that time, the island was split into two kingdoms. The larger, northern part was called Maxorata and the smaller, southern part, Jandia. Each kingdom was ruled by a separate king and they were often at war with each other; usually fighting over the very limited resources that the island had to offer. You can see the statues of the two kings, Guise and Ayose, on the way to the old capital, Betancuria, in the mountains. 

Guise and Ayose

The Majos or Mahos

They had no metal at all, they had no skills with boats and were constantly attacked by slavers. They did, however, prove themselves to be fierce warriors. The ‘Mahos’ as they were called, lived in the areas on the island that were best supplied by nature and had water and fertile soil. Typically these sites, would be sites that the Europeans would also take as locations for their new settlements.

Over time, The Mahos were all dispersed, killed in battle or sold as slaves and the language would also disappear along with them, hiding their true origins from us. However, they did leave a few clues in the language, along with fragments of their civilisation, that are only now being studied. The aboriginal site of La Atalayita, just outside Pozo Negro, is currently been renovated and restored, so soon we will all be able to wander around one of their actual villages and understand a little bit more about the Mahos and who they were and how they really lived all those centuries ago. 

La Atalayita Museum