Pirates And Privateers

The occupation of the island can be traced back around 2300 years, to the Berber folk who came from North Africa. They had to get here somehow and yet there is no evidence at all of them ever building boats?

An Article by Bernie Power with The Voice Fuerteventura

Bernie Power

At that time, all the other islands in the Canaries were populated, yet the people that settled on Fuerteventura had no contact with any of them, even the tribes on Lanzarote. During the fifteen centuries before the Europeans arrived, they would have seen many ships pass by.

The Romans, for example, used the isle of Lobos as a factory to collect and process mollusc shells to make the “royal” purple dye.  Evidence of this has recently been excavated and a dock area, factory and settlement uncovered. While all this was going on, the local people would have watched and likely been afraid, as their capture would have meant a lifetime of enslavement. 

Slavery In The Canary Islands

The Carthaginians and Phoenicians would have plied their trade in our waters along the coast of Africa, to trade in gold, spices, Ivory and slaves. Trading post were set up in Senegal, Gambia and Guinea and right down the Ivory coast. Through the centuries, many nations have used the same routes and although they would have passed our shores, they would not have seen any sign of life or boats along the coast, so they would simply have sailed on by.

The reason the islanders remained inland was because there was very little fresh water in the coastal areas. Instead they lived in the central and more fertile part of the island. They were wise to avoid the coast, as later the seas became heavy with sea-faring robbers, who travelled from their native lands. 

Evidence of slave trading can be found on the islands and slave graves and related archeology show just how prevalent it once was. There is even evidence to show the kinds of shackles that were used to control the slaves and some of the crops on which they worked, many of ended up in the slave plantations in the Caribbean and further afield.

Vega Del Rio Palmas – Inland Fuerteventura

Corsairs And Privateers

The Corsairs were Arab pirates. They ravished the whole of the Western Mediterranean and the trade routes of Africa and were successful for hundreds of years. They famously attacked Fuerteventura in 1593 and totally destroyed Betancuria and kidnapped all the inhabitants for ransom. They plagued the whole area until the late 1800s until eventually they were paid off and then annihilated by the Americans who had had enough of being ransomed and raped. 

There are stories of boats pulling in at various places around the island, one of which is Ajuy. It is believed that the caves that spread around the shore were used to store plundered goods and provide respite to the pirates during their raiding missions.


The Portuguese arrived almost immediately after the conquest and began trading from The Canaries to The Azores and Madera, where they built ports and set up trading posts. They built a fort in Lanzarote in 1340 and had a farm to supply their ships. They stayed for thirty years and when Fuerteventura was attacked in 1402, the locals were able to help the conquerors, as they knew well the outcome of resistance. When South America was discovered, they also began a trade route with Brazil. The ships that travelled these routes were heavily laden with expensive cargoes and were a magnet to all would-be attackers. The British, French, Dutch and the Arab Corsairs all ploughed these waves regularly. Did they stop on this desert island to bury their booty? Were they ever shipwrecked here? 


During the war with Spain in 1739, British ships were allowed to attack Spanish outposts and they did, as there were great prizes to be won. Unfortunately, one such crew of scurvy Knaves, must have gotten lost and decided to attack Gran Tarajal. Imagine their shock when they realised that the people were poorer than they were and there was no gold to plunder. They sacked the church and found a few silver cups, but were quickly set upon by the locals armed with farm tools and sticks who managed to chase them back to their ships and kidnap those who did not escape.

However, a few weeks later, they returned and this time the locals were better prepared as they also had the weapons that they captured from the British during the first skirmish. The locals slaughtered every last man in what became known as the Battle of Llano Florido, or now more popularly called The battle of Tamasite or The War of Jenkins Ear. This battle is still celebrated every year with a re-enactment on the beach. 


With all this excitement, it is easy to see why there is no surviving evidence of ships or boat building here in Fuerteventura. They never went fishing, even though the sea is full of fish. They never built boats, although back then the island was covered with trees for wood and they never ventured out to sea. They must have just looked out over the horizon and watched the ships sailing by, wondering is today that they will stop, and secretly hoping that they wouldn’t!