The earliest known human settlement in the islands date to around 200 BC, by people known as the Guanches. They had little technology, even by Stone Age comparison and dressed in animal hides and lived in caves on the island. According to legend, many islands in the chain, among them Tenerife, were believed to be the uppermost peaks of Atlantis, which catastrophically sank under the ocean leaving only the highest mountains above sea level.
Territorial organization before the conquest (The Guanches)
About one hundred years before the conquest, the title of mencey was given to the monarch or king of the Guanches of Tenerife, who governed a menceyato or kingdom. This role was later referred to as a “captainship” by the conquerors. Tinerfe el Grande, son of the mencey Sunta governed the island from Adeje in the south. However, upon his death, his nine children rebelled and argued bitterly about how to divide the island. Two independent achimenceyatos were created on the island, and the island was divided into 9 menceyatos, with the menceyes within them forming what would be similar to municipalities today. The menceyatos and their menceyes (ordered by the descendants of Tinerfe who ruled them) were the following:
- Taoro. Menceyes: Bentinerfe, Inmobach, Bencomo and Bentor. Today it includes Puerto de la Cruz, La Orotava, La Victoria de Acentejo, La Matanza de Acentejo, Los Realejos and Santa Úrsula.
- Güímar. Menceyes: Acaymo, Añaterve y Guetón. Today this territory is made up of El Rosario, Candelaria, Arafo and Güímar
- Abona. Menceyes: Atguaxoña and Adxoña (Adjona). Today it includes Fasnia, Arico, Granadilla de Abona, San Miguel de Abona and Arona.
- Anaga. Menceyes: Beneharo and Beneharo II. Today this territory spans the municipalities of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and San Cristóbal de La Laguna.
- Tegueste. Menceyes: Tegueste, Tegueste II y Teguaco. Today this territory is made up of Tegueste, part of the coastal zone of La Laguna.
- Tacoronte: Menceyes: Rumén and Acaymo. Today this territory is made up of Tacoronte and El Sauzal
- Icode. Menceyes: Chincanayro and Pelicar. Today this territory is made up of San Juan de la Rambla, La Guancha, Garachico and Icod de los Vinos.
- Daute. Menceyes: Cocanaymo and Romén. Today this territory is occupied by El Tanque, Los Silos, Buenavista del Norte and Santiago del Teide.
- Adeje. Menceyes. Atbitocazpe, Pelinor, and Ichasagua. It included what today are the municipalities of Guía de Isora, Adeje and Vilaflor
There was also the achimenceyato of Punta del Hidalgo, governed by Aguahuco, a “poor noble” who was an illegitimate son of Tinerfe and Zebenzui.
In December of 1493, Alonso Fernández de Lugo obtained from the king the confirmation of the right to lead a conquest of the island of Tenerife. In April 1494, and coming from Gran Canaria, the conqueror landed on the coast of present day Santa Cruz de Tenerife and disembarked with troops who amounted to about 2,000 men on foot and 200 on horseback.After taking the fort, the army prepared to move inland, later capturing the native kings of Tenerife and presenting them to Ferdinand and Isabella.
It is notable that the menceyes of Tenerife adopted differing responses to the conquest. They divided themselves into the side of peace (Spanish: bando de paz) and the side of war (Spanish: bando de guerra), with the first including the menceyatos of Anaga, Güímar, Abona and Adeje, and the second group with the Tegueste, Tacoronte, Taoro, Icoden and Daute. The opposing group tenaciously fought the conquerors delaying the conquest of the island for two years. Though the Spanish forces under the Adelantado (“military governor”) de Lugo, suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Guanches in the First Battle of Acentejo in 1494, the Guanches, eventually overcome by superior technology and surrendered to the Crown of Castile on 25 December 1494.
As in the rest of the islands, many of the natives were enslaved, especially those belonging to the group of war, while a good part of the native population succumbed to imported diseases such as influenza and probably smallpox, infectious diseases to which the society, due to its isolation, lacked resistance. After the conquest, and especially in the following century, there was a mass movement of colonization and repopulation with the arrival of immigrants from the diverse territories of the growing Spanish Empire (Portugal, Flanders, Italy, Germany).
Tenerife’s forests were gradually reduced by population growth and the need to clear land for agriculture for local consumption and for export. This was the case with the introduction of sugar cane at the beginning of the 16th century while in the following centuries, the island’s economy centred on the use of other crops such as wine grapes and plantains.
Slavery and plantations
As on the other islands of the same group, much of the native population of Tenerife was enslaved or succumbed to diseases at the same time as immigrants from various places in Europe associated with the Spanish Empire (Portugal, Flanders, Italy, Germany) settled on the island. Native pine forests on the island were cleared to make way for the cultivation of sugarcane in the 1520s; in succeeding centuries, the island’s economy was centered around the cultivation of other commodities such as wine and cochineal for making dyes, as well as bananas.
Emigration to the Americas
Tenerife, as is with the other islands, has maintained a close relationship with Latin America. From the start of the colonization of the New World, many expeditions stopped at the island on their way to the Americas, and added to their crews with many tinerfeños who formed an integral part of the conquest expeditions or simply left in search of better prospects. It is also important to note the exchange in plant and animal species that made those voyages.
After a century and a half of relative growth, based on the grape growing sector, there was an extended emigration of families especially to Venezuela and Cuba. Also by these times there was a new interest on the part of the Crown of populating those empty zones in the Americas to pre-empt the occupation by foreign forces as had happened with the English in Jamaica or the French in theGuianas or western Hispaniola, so Canary islanders including many tinerfeños left for the New