Los Canarios exhibition brochure

The Canary Islands have been known since Ancient Times thanks to the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians and the Romans. These latter traded with the indigenous peoples and (re) named the islands of Nivaria (Tenerife), Canaria (Gran Canaria), Pluvialia (Lanzarote), Ombrion (La Palma), Planasia (Fuerteventura), Lunonia (El Hierro) and Capraria (La Gomera). In 77-79 AD Pliny the Elder mentions the Canary Islands in his Naturalis Historia Encyclopedia. In the Middle Ages Arab navigators visited the archipelago, and followed the Genoese, Spanish and Portuguese. The rediscovery of the Canary Islands is attributed to the Genoese Malocello Lanzerotto in the fourteenth century. There was an intensification of interest towards these islands and their strategic position which culminated, five hundred years ago, with the conquest by the indomitable Spaniards and the brutal subjugation of indigenous peoples. Who we call Guanches had lived since their arrival from North Africa, about 2,500 years ago, on their isolated islands with different names for each group of people. (Maxos for the inhabitants of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, Canarii in Gran Canaria, Bimbaches in El Hierro, La Palma and its Auaritas and Gomeros in La Gomera). A mysterious and fascinating population decimated, it seems, from 80,000 people to a few thousand due to war, disease, and slavery, with many seeking refuge in the mountains, taking with them their intriguing culture. The striking phonetic language based on the whistle developed (or maybe just expanded and adapted from a primitive way of communicating reported from North Africa) in La Gomera, the most rugged of the islands. The same origin for the technique in which pastors jump ditches in chasing herds using a pole. To unravel the mystery of the origin of the Guanches the most modern techniques of DNA analysis are used. The haplogroup (group of mutations of DNA bases) U6 present in their mitochondrial DNA reveal that the distant origin of this group of people goes back to the most impressive movement of modern humans after the migration from Africa about 35,000 years ago, with a then partial return to Africa. The more specific U6b1 reveals a monophyletic clade of the Canary Islands, which is a unique offspring derived from populations, probably of Berber origin, being displaced on the islands about 2,500 years ago and remaining relatively isolated, except for interracial exchanges in modern times. A true melting pot in the middle of which the photographer Francesca Phillips attempts to locate in this show the faces and expressions that speak of this identity historically not clearly defined. Not as in the movie “Written in the Wind”, also presented in the exhibition, where we hear the echo of a surprising linguistic invention called “El Silbo Gomero”, which still survives, of people communicating in Spanish through a whistling language.

Cristian Stanescu

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