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Canarian people

Canarian people · Canarios
Total population
Canary Islander
1,547,611 [1]
73.7% of the total Canary Islands population
Canarian people abroad
66,985 [2]
Regions with significant populations
 Spain Total unknown
Venezuela 42,671 [2][4]
 Cuba 40,602[5]
Argentina 2,390[2]
 United Kingdom 2,114[6]
 Mexico 1,600
 Germany 1,471[6]
 Uruguay 628[6]
 Brazil 620[6]
 Puerto Rico Total unknown[6]
 Dominican Republic Total unknown
Canarian Spanish
Roman Catholic
Related ethnic groups
Spanish peoples · Portuguese peoples · Berber people · Cubans · Puerto Rican people · Venezuelan people
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The Canarians are an ethnic group living in the archipelago of the Canary Islands (an autonomous community of Spain), near the coast of Western Africa. The distinctive variety of the Spanish language spoken in the region is known habla canaria (Canary speech) or the (dialecto) canario (Canarian dialect).


  • History 1
  • Ancestry 2
    • Population genetics 2.1
    • Ancient Canarians 2.2
  • Demographics 3
    • Religion 3.1
  • Canarians abroad: the Isleño community 4
    • Los Isleños 4.1
  • Notable Canarians 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7


The original inhabitants of the Canary Islands are commonly known as Guanches (although this term stricto sensu only refers to the original inhabitants of Tenerife). They are believed to be Berbers in origin or a related group.

The islands were conquered by mostly Andalusians and some Castilians at the beginning of the 15th century. In 1402, they began to subdue and suppress the native Guanche population. The Guanches were initially enslaved and gradually absorbed by the Spanish colonizers.

After subsequent settlement by Spaniards and other European peoples, mainly Portuguese, the remaining Guanches were gradually diluted by the settlers and their culture largely vanished. Alonso Fernández de Lugo, conqueror of Tenerife and La Palma, oversaw extensive immigration to these islands during a short period from the late 1490s to the 1520s from mainland Europe, and immigrants included Galicians, Castilians, Portuguese, Italians, Catalans, Basques, and Flemings. At subsequent judicial enquiries, Fernández de Lugo was accused of favoring Genoese and Portuguese immigrants over Castilians.[7]

Modern-day Canarian culture is Spanish with some Guanche roots. Some of the Canarian traditional sports such as lucha canaria (Canarian fight), juego del palo (stick game) or salto del pastor (shepherd's jump), among others, have their roots in Guanche culture. Additionally, other traditions include Canarian pottery, words of Guanche origin in the Canarian speech and the rural consumption of guarapo gomero and gofio.

The strong influence of Latin America in Canarian culture is due to the constant emigration and return over the centuries of Canarians to that continent, chiefly to Cuba, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Nuevo León in north-eastern Mexico.[8]


Canarian children playing with a piñata.

The inhabitants of the Canary Islands hold a gene pool that is mostly of Berber and Iberian extract. Guanche genetic markers have also been found recently in Puerto Rico and, at low frequencies, in peninsular Spain, probably as a result of slavery and/or later emigration from the Canary Islands.[9]

Population genetics

The most frequent (maternal-descent) mtDNA haplogroup in Canary Islands is H (37.6 %), followed by U6 (14.0 %), T (12.7 %), not-U6 U (10.3 %) and J (7.0 %). Two haplogroups, H and U6 alone account for more than 50% of the individuals. Significant frequencies of sub-Saharan L haplogroups (6.6%) is also consistent with the historical records on introduction of sub-Saharan slave labour in Canary Islands. However, some Sub-Saharan lineages are also found in North African populations, and as a result, some of these L lineages could have been introduced to the Islands from North Africa.[10][11] A 2009 study of DNA extracted from the remains of aboriginal inhabitants found that 7 % of lineages were haplogroup L, what leaves open the possibility that these L lineages were part of the founding population of the Canary Islands.[12]

A 2003 genetics research article by Nicole Maca-Meyer et al. published in the European Journal of Human Genetics compared aboriginal Guanche mtDNA (collected from Canarian archaeological sites) to that of today's Canarians and concluded that "despite the continuous changes suffered by the population (Spanish colonization, slave trade), aboriginal mtDNA lineages constitute a considerable proportion [42–73%] of the Canarian gene pool".

Although the Berbers are the most probable ancestors of the Guanches, it is deduced that important human movements (e.g., the Islamic-Arabic conquest of the Berbers) have reshaped Northwest Africa after the migratory wave to the Canary Islands and the "results support, from a maternal perspective, the supposition that since the end of the 16th century, at least, two-thirds of the Canarian population had an indigenous substrate, as was previously inferred from historical and anthropological data."[13] mtDNA haplogroup U subclade U6b1 is Canarian-specific[14] and is the most common mtDNA haplogroup found in aboriginal Guanche archaeological burial sites.[13]

Y-DNA, or Y-chromosomal, (direct paternal) lineages were not analysed in this study; however, an earlier study giving the aboriginal y-DNA contribution at 6% was cited by Maca-Meyer et al., but the results were criticized as possibly flawed due to the widespread phylogeography of y-DNA haplogroup E1b1b1b, which may skew determination of the aboriginality versus coloniality of contemporary y-DNA lineages in the Canaries. Regardless, Maca-Meyer et al. state that historical evidence does support the explanation of "strong sexual a result of a strong bias favoring matings between European males and aboriginal females, and to the important aboriginal male mortality during the Conquest."[15] The genetics thus suggests that native men were sharply reduced in numbers due to the war, large numbers of Spanish men stayed in the islands and married the local women, the Canarians adopted Spanish names, language, and religion, and in this way, the Canarians were Hispanicized.

Indeed, according to a recent study by Fregel et al. 2009, in spite of the geographic nearness between the Canary Islands and Morocco, the genetic heritage of the Canary islands male lineages, is mainly from European origin. Indeed, nearly 67% of the haplogroups resulting from are Euro–Eurasian (R1a (2.76 %), R1b (50.62 %), J (14 %), I (9.66 %) and G (3.99 %)). Unsurprisingly the Spanish conquest brought the genetic base of the current male population of the Canary Islands. Nevertheless, the second most important haplogroup origin is Northern Africa. E1b1b (14 % including 8.30 % of the typical berber haplogroup E-M81), E1b1a and E1a (1.50 %), and T (3 %) haplogroups are present at a rate of 33 %. Even if a part of these "eastern" haplogroups were introduced by the Spanish (they are well represented in Spain), we can suppose that a good portion of this rate was already there at the time of the conquest.[16][17] According to the same study, the presence of autochthonous North African E-M81 lineages, and also other relatively abundant markers (E-M78 and J-M267) from the same region in the indigenous Guanche population, "strongly points to that area [North Africa] as the most probable origin of the Guanche ancestors". In this study, Fregel et al. estimated that, based on Y-chromosome and mtDNA haplogroup frequencies, the relative female and male indigenous Guanche contributions to the present-day Canary Islands populations were respectively of 41.8 % and 16.1 %.[16]

An autosomal study in 2011 found an average Northwest African influence of about 17 % in Canary Islanders with a wide interindividual variation ranging from 0 % to 96 %. According to the authors, the substantial Northwest African ancestry found for Canary Islanders supports that, despite the aggressive conquest by the Spanish in the 15th century and the subsequent immigration, genetic footprints of the first settlers of the Canary Islands persist in the current inhabitants. Paralleling mtDNA findings, the largest average Northwest African contribution was found for the samples from La Gomera.[18]

Island N Average NW African ancestry
La Gomera 7 42.50 %
Fuerteventura 10 21.60 %
La Palma 7 21.00 %
El Hierro 7 19.80 %
Lanzarote 13 16.40 %
Tenerife 30 14.30 %
Gran Canaria 30 12.40 %
Total Canary Islanders 104 17.40 %
Island/NW African mtDna N % U6 %L Total Study
La Gomera 46 50.01 % 10.86 % 60.87 % Fregel 2009[19]
El Hierro 32 21.88 % 12.49 % 34.37 % Fregel 2009
Lanzarote 49 20.40 % 8.16 % 28.56 % Fregel 2009
Gran Canaria 80 11.25 % 10 % 21.25 % Fregel 2009
Tenerife 174 12.09 % 7.45 % 19.54 % Fregel 2009
La Palma 68 17.65 % 1.47 % 19.12 % Fregel 2009
Fuerteventura 42 16.66 % 2.38 % 19.04 % Fregel 2009

Ancient Canarians

The Guanches are related to the indigenous Berbers of neighboring Morocco. Guanche language is firmly in the Afro-Asiatic family of languages, and is a dialect of the Berber subfamily therein.

They were left isolated on the islands, until the Spanish arrived in the 15th century, allowing no contact and mixing with other ethnic groups.

Canary Islanders may descend from the Guanches as much as the Spanish.


The Canarian population includes long-tenured and new waves of Spanish immigrants, including Galicians, Castilians, Catalans, Basques and Asturians of Spain; and Portuguese, Italians, the Dutch people or Flemings, and French people. As of 2008, the total Canarian population is 2,075,968. Over 1,541,381 people are native Canarian-born, and another 178,613 people from the Spanish mainland with a total 1,792,121 Spanish population. Most of the 283,847 foreign-born citizens are Europeans with 155,415, such as Germans (39,505), British (37,937) and Italians (24,177). There are 86,287 from the Americas, with Colombians (21,798), Venezuelans (11,958), Cubans (11,098) and Argentines (10,159) being the most numerous.[21]


The overwhelming majority of native Canarians are Roman Catholic with various smaller foreign born populations of other Christian beliefs such as Protestants from northern Europe and Africans following Islam.

Canarians abroad: the Isleño community

Historically, the Canary Islands have served as a hub between Spain and the Americas, and therefore large groups of Canary islanders have emigrated and settled all over the New World as early as the 15th century, mainly in, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Uruguay.

Los Isleños

Isleño settlements in Louisiana

The Canarians were known as Isleños ("islanders") to peninsular Spanish, and they also went by that name during emigration to the Americas. In the United States, they settled in two places: Louisiana and Texas, both then parts of the Spanish Empire, with Louisiana being the premier settlement. When the Isleños in the United States are referred to, it usually applies to the Canarian descendants in Louisiana. There were four places in southeast Louisiana settled by Isleños, with the main settlement being St. Bernard Parish.

The Isleños still speak the Canarian dialect of Spanish. Their Spanish has some borrowed words from neighboring cultures. The Isleños are proud of their heritage and have annual festivals in Louisiana to celebrate their culture. There is a museum as well as an exclusive Isleño cemetery and a church in St. Bernard Parish. The Isleños have dominated the fishing and farming industries, especially sugarcane.

In Texas, in earlier times, there was a small community of Isleños who settled in San Antonio in 1731, one hundred years before the first English-speaking immigrants arrived in the region.

In Latin America, Canarian emigration to Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico has been ongoing for centuries as well. Canarian people greatly influenced the Cuban culture, even those typical Cuban industries such as tobacco and sugar have the signature of Canarian people. In Puerto Rico, whole villages were founded by Canarian settlers. In addition, several towns across the Northeastern Mexican state of Nuevo León were founded by Canarian settlers. The most recognized Canarian settlement took place in 1604, led by Canarian settler Bernabé de las Casas, in the Salinas Valley region of the former New Kingdom of León. This was a crucial event for the subsequent expansion of Canarian settlements in Texas.

Notable Canarians

José Manuel Soria Lopez, politician, Minister of Tourism and Sport

See also


  1. ^ a b Total population by region.
  2. ^ a b c How many Canarians in other countries.
  3. ^ a b Native and foreign residents in Canary Islands (Spanish) 2009
  4. ^ Canarians in Venezuela
  7. ^ History of La Palma
  8. ^
  9. ^ Maca-Meyer N, Villar J, Pérez-Méndez L, Cabrera de León A, Flores C (November 2004). "A tale of aborigines, conquerors and slaves: Alu insertion polymorphisms and the peopling of Canary Islands". Annals of Human Genetics 68 (Pt 6): 600–5.  
  10. ^ Rando JC, Cabrera VM, Larruga JM, et al. (September 1999). "Phylogeographic patterns of mtDNA reflecting the colonization of the Canary Islands". Annals of Human Genetics 63 (Pt 5): 413–28.  
  11. ^ Brehm A, Pereira L, Kivisild T, Amorim A (December 2003). "Mitochondrial portraits of the Madeira and Açores archipelagos witness different genetic pools of its settlers". Human Genetics 114 (1): 77–86.  
  12. ^ Fregel R, Pestano J, Arnay M, Cabrera VM, Larruga JM, González AM (October 2009). "The maternal aborigine colonization of La Palma (Canary Islands)". European Journal of Human Genetics 17 (10): 1314–24.  
  13. ^ a b Maca-Meyer N, Arnay M, Rando JC, et al. (February 2004). "Ancient mtDNA analysis and the origin of the Guanches". European Journal of Human Genetics 12 (2): 155–62.  
  14. ^ Pereira, L; MacAulay, V; Prata, M.J; Amorim, A (2003). "Phylogeny of the mtDNA haplogroup U6. Analysis of the sequences observed in North Africa and Iberia". International Congress Series 1239: 491–3.  
  15. ^ Maca-Meyer, Nicole; Arnay, Matilde; Rando, Juan Carlos; Flores, Carlos; González, Ana M; Cabrera, Vicente M; Larruga, José M (2003). "Ancient mtDNA analysis and the origin of the Guanches". European Journal of Human Genetics 12 (2): 155–62.  
  16. ^ a b Fregel, Rosa; Gomes, Verónica; Gusmão, Leonor; González, Ana M; Cabrera, Vicente M; Amorim, António; Larruga, Jose M (2009). "Demographic history of Canary Islands male gene-pool: Replacement of native lineages by European". BMC Evolutionary Biology 9: 181.  
  17. ^ Zurita AI, Hernandez A, Sanchez JJ, Cuellas JA (March 2005). "Y-chromosome STR haplotypes in the Canary Islands population (Spain)". Forensic Science International 148 (2–3): 233–8.  
  18. ^ Pino-Yanes, María; Corrales, Almudena; Basaldúa, Santiago; Hernández, Alexis; Guerra, Luisa; Villar, Jesús; Flores, Carlos (2011). O'Rourke, Dennis, ed. "North African Influences and Potential Bias in Case-Control Association Studies in the Spanish Population". PLoS ONE 6 (3): e18389.  
  19. ^ Fregel, Rosa; Pestano, Jose; Arnay, Matilde; Cabrera, Vicente M; Larruga, Jose M; González, Ana M (2009). "The maternal aborigine colonization of La Palma (Canary Islands)". European Journal of Human Genetics 17 (10): 1314–24.  
  20. ^ Official census statistics of the Canary Islands population
  21. ^ Native and foreign residents in Canary Islands (Spanish)
  22. ^
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