The language of Canaries (Tamazight Culture)

The history of the Canarian ancient populations is still full of mystery and hidden parts. In this article, I’d like to examine more in depth the language and alphabet that they were using daily, because it’s one of the most important discovery of the modern age. Recently the Govern of the Island of Gran Canaria dedicates a lot of attention to these “new” cultures and their study. There’s a great example of these discoveries in the museum Cueva Pintada of Galdar.

The alphabet comes from the Phoenician culture: as well known, the Phoenician were great dealers and opened a lot of new ways of commerce in the Mediterranean Sea, as well as… the language that allows the business to happens! The alphabet “tifinagh” was practically the “english” of that epoca! Until now they were found more than 1200 letters, referring to names of people, places and entire populations, the older from 138 b.C.


It’s very important to notice how – and how much – the course of history and the other conquerers changed these alphabet to the current one. From the “tifinagh” letters (that were dominating the North Africa until that moment) the alphabet was increased of the vocals, thanks to the Greeks and Romans, at the point that in certain islands (Fuerteventura, Lanzarote) this language was called “tifinagh-latino”. Nowadays it’s written only by some tuareg populations in the town called Kel Tamasheq, to preserve the tradition and the history of the locals.

We know lots of this history, and the imazighen culture, especially because of the Association of Tamazight Culture based in Vegueta, Las Palmas, that dedicates its efforts to release and explore this half-unknown culture. Their library is tiny but full of books, it opens to the public every day from 5pm to 8pm, Monday to Friday (view on Google Maps). Here, for example, you can find the references and the history of prince Juba II, born in Numidia (actual Algeria) and son of Juba I, who was killed in the battles against the Roman Empire in 45 b.C.

Julius Caesar decided to bring the child to Rome at the age of five, and he was educated in languages (Punic, Greek and Latin) and history. The contribution that Juba II gave to history is incalculable, he wrote books and scientific treatises over pretty every subject: History of Theatre, History of Rome, On Paintings, On the Animals and its physiology, On the Assyrians, On Libya… His books are nowadays in the hands of the archaeologist that are still studying this unknown part of history of the humanity. What is certain is that Juba II took part in an expedition in the Canary Islands around the year Zero, to collect informations about its plants, flowers and ethnography. In particular, in the book On Libya he wrote (one of the first in the history!) about the Middle Atlas, a part of the Atlas mountain range in Morocco, a vast region with more than 100.000 km2, and about the tribes that were living that area, into them… canarii!

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Back to the language… as always happens in the history, the new conquers and the next invaders changed a lot the traditions on the islands, that suffered both Arabian and Spanish influences. The Canary Islands were the destination of many different waves of immigrants coming from the North-East of Africa: they were always cases of “forced immigration” because of the expansion wars by the Empire in other eras.

In the decade of 1940s, the imazighen populations started to recognize the necessity of a renovation on their language, culture and the same identity. Twenty years later, the writer Mouloud Mammeri published “Tajerrunt”, the first example of written grammar in tamazight language. During the 1970s he wrote, with some of his students, a whole modern lexical book on tamazight language, adding neologisms and making the same language more modern.

So, where can you see this culture now? But everywhere, just hidden! The same names of the places have these origins, as well as towns, plants and even people’s names on the Islands… it’s into the same identity of the local people, that were always considered as “border citizens”. The Association of Tamazight Culture tries every day to develop and spread the voice on this theme, because Canary Islands aren’t only… the tropical beaches of Europe!


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