Canary Islands

Named not after the little yellow birds but after the huge dogs that inhabited the islands (Canis in Latin means dog), the Canary Islands, an archipelago of seven volcanic islands, lie off the northwest coast of Africa, approximately 60 miles from Morocco. Like other island groups in the Atlantic, the Canary Islands served as the backdrop for early European attempts at colonization. Unlike the Azores and Madeira, however, the Canaries were inhabited when Europeans rediscovered them in the fourteenth century. The patterns established by Castilians and others in dealing with Canary Islanders would shape colonization in the Caribbean and elsewhere in the Americas. The Canary Islands were known to the ancient Romans and Phoenicians. The islands also may have been known as the Fortunate Isles by later Europeans, although that term also could describe any number of real or imaginary islands. The Canaries were rediscovered by sailors from Genoa, Catalan, and Mallorca in the first half of the 1300s and then explored and colonized by French, Portuguese, and Castilian forces throughout the fifteenth century. At the time of rediscovery, the islands were already inhabited by people similar, ethnically, to the Berbers who had migrated from North Africa, bringing their domesticated goats, sheep, pigs, and dogs, along with the staples of wheat and barley. Over several centuries, the people known as Guanches had developed hierarchical societies with distinct ceramic traditions, religious beliefs, and worldviews. On the largest island, Gran Canaria, Guanche society was particularly complex, and chiefs maintained power by distributing food stored in communal silos. During the early stages of Europe’s expansion sometimes referred to as the Age of Discovery Mallorcans and Catalans began to Christianize and trade with inhabitants of the Canary Islands. In 1402, Enrique III of Castile granted Jean de Btancourt, a Norman lord, permission to conquer the islands. Within a few years, the Norman venture had succeeded in taking control of the smallest, most sparsely populated, and least productive of the Canaries. By the 1430s, Spanish slave raiders and gold seekers also had come into contact with the Guanches. After Castile and Aragon were joined by the marriage of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1469, Spain sent better equipped and organized forces to try to take the larger Canary Islands, with the goal of enslaving the Guanches and forcing them to labor on profitable sugar plantations. The Spanish suffered heavy losses during their campaigns against the islanders, but, by 1496, they had succeeded in conquering Tenerife, the last of the Canaries to fall. The tactics and strategies employed by Guanches and Spaniards shared many characteristics with those used in the conquest and exploration of the Americas. Tribal societies tried to avoid pitched battles and attempted to wear down Spanish forces instead. The Spanish relied on the advantage of swords, crossbows, and horses whenever they could. They also identified the tribal divisions between native communities at an early date and exploited these to their benefit. Many Guanches died as a result of conflict with the Spanish, and those who survived were forced to serve their conquerors as slaves. After the conquest of the Canary Islands was complete, Genoese and Spanish merchants set up sugar plantations. Sugar was a driving force behind the colonization of many of the Atlantic islands, especially those with a tropical or semitropical climate. As new, more profitable sugar operations popped up in the Caribbean, the Canaries became marginal to Spanish colonization. One lasting effect of the conquest of the Canaries was that, after attempting a mercantile approach to colonization, the Spanish turned to the full settlement model. In the future, they would conquer areas as completely as possible and then send settlers in an effort to recreate Spanish institutions. The Canary Islands remain a possession of Spain, but they maintain their own parliaments and regional governments. The islands’ ideal climate led to their emergence as a popular tourist destination in the twentieth century. Matthew Jennings See also: Atlantic Ocean; Columbus, Christopher; Exploration; Slave Trade; Sugar. Bibliography Aznar Vallejo, Eduardo. “The Conquests of the Canary Islands.” In Implicit Understandings: Observing, Reporting, and Reflecting on the Encounters Between Europeans and Other Peoples in the Early Modern Era, edited by Stuart B. Schwartz. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Fernndez-Armesto, Felipe. Before Columbus: Exploration and Colonization from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, 1229 1492. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987. Kicza, John E. “Patterns in Early Spanish Overseas Expansion.” William and Mary Quarterly 49:2 (April 1992): 229 253. Canary Island holidays Save on cheap Canary Islands Holidays … holidaymapq

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