When I was in college, I used to meet a lot of people from a lot of different countries. It helped that I was part of the Languages, Literatures and Linguistics department at Indiana State University. I met a few people from Honduras there as well as when I used to tutor in ESL in various places. And oh, what I wouldn’t give to be there right now, where it’s warm and fresh fruit is always in season, instead of here in Indiana, where we’re bracing for wind chills below zero and fruit is expensive now because it’s out of season. Those things make me sad.
The name Honduras means “depths,” which may be stemmed from many sources. Some historians believe it may have been based on a statement from Christopher Columbus, or it may have referred to the Bay of Trujillo. Before 1580, Honduras only referred to the eastern part of this area whereas Higueras (“fig trees”) referred to the western portions.
The country of Honduras is located in the middle of Central America, surrounded by Guatemala to the west, El Salvador to the southwest, and Nicaragua to the east. It has a very long coast on the Caribbean side (700 km/435 mi) and a very short coast on the Gulf of Fonseca (153 km/95 mi), which opens to the Pacific Ocean. Because of its tropical climate, Honduras has a wide variety of flora and fauna. They’re quite known for the number of native plants, including 630 varieties of orchid along with over 700 types of birds, and over 50 types of bats. Honduras’ rain forests and cloud forests keep ecotourists arriving year after year. The Mosquito Coast, named after the Miskito Indians who first lived there, spreads along the Caribbean coast and extends through most of the Nicaraguan coast. There are still many areas of the Mosquito Coast that are scarcely populated and contain untouched rainforests.
Before Columbus arrived in this region of the world, the Mayan civilization extended through what is now known as Honduras. On his fourth and final trip to this area, Columbus landed in the Bay Islands and near where the city of Trujillo currently lies. Hernán Cortés later came in from Mexico to conquer these lands as well; however, much of the Miskito Kingdom did not fall to the Spaniards at that time. The Spanish counted Honduras as a province of Guatemala, and eventually moved the capital from Trujillo to Comayagua to its current-day capital of Tegucigalpa. They set up silver mines, basically using the native peoples to work the mines in exchange for protection from other warring tribes along with other promises (this legal system was called encomienda). But as disease spread, the Spanish brought in slaves from Africa to pick up the “slack” from the dying native population they were more or less responsible for. Honduras did eventually gain its independence from Spain in 1821, but it was difficult for them to find their place. It was part of the First Mexican Empire, then it was part of the United Provinces of Central America before settling on becoming the Republic of Honduras. There have been many skirmishes and rebellions throughout the early years in Honduras’ history. The fruit companies, and more specifically the sale of bananas, carved out a significant corner of Honduras’ economy, thus leading to the term Banana Republic (given by no less than the US author O. Henry). The downside was that although these were very large companies and had a lot of influence on several governments, they were tax exempt, and therefore didn’t contribute very much to the economies at all. In 1969, Honduras and El Salvador became engaged in border tensions that escalated during elimination matches ahead of the World Cup. This became known as the Soccer War. The US has had a military presence in Honduras many times in the early part of the 20th Century as well as on and off again during the 1970s and 1980s in an effort to keep peace in Central America among other reasons. Honduras has also been ravaged by hurricanes and flooding many times, causing millions of dollars in damage and taking years to rebuild its infrastructure.
The capital city is Tegucigalpa, or commonly referred to as Tegus by the locals. Lying in the interior of the country, yet not far from the Pacific side, this capital city has about 1.3 million people in its metro area. The origin of the name Tegucigalpa is disputed, although many historians and anthropologists believe it is derived from a Nahuatl word. The government of the newly founded country decided to alternate the capital city between Tegucigalpa and nearby Comayagüela, although eventually the capital included both cities, each city holding different functions of the government.
Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Central and South America with a high unemployment and underemployment rate and a high poverty rate. Although they do have a substantial mining industry, mostly in silver, gold, zinc, and lead, the country is still highly indebted to foreign aid. There seems to be a lot of debate over whether government-owned or private-owned utilities and subsidies are better and how much actually goes back into the economy. Honduras’ infrastructure is one area that varies widely on where it is. Urban areas generally seem to have better roads, cleaner water, and better functioning sanitation systems. The rural areas can be far less sophisticated in what is provided. In 2003 a new law was passed that essentially took the burden of handling water and sanitation off of the federal government and placed it in the hands of regional and local officials. Many towns banded together to improve their own conditions. I would be interested to see if conditions increased for the better.
While officially Honduras often considers itself a majority Catholic nation, studies have found that the number of Protestants of many denominations is gaining popularity. Many people often attend more than one church, which may be skewing the numbers. Honduras also has significant followings of Buddhism, Bahá’í, Rastafari, Islam, and Judaism.
The official language of Honduras is Spanish, although there are several other languages that carry a recognized regional language status: Garifuna, Miskito, Bay Islands Creole English (also referred to as Caracol), Samu, Pech, Jicaque, and Ch’orti’ (a Mayan language).
For a country that lies along the infamous Ring of Fire, and unlike other nearby countries, Honduras does not contain any active volcanoes. But it does have the oldest clock in the Americas, located in the city of Comayagua, which is still actively keeping time. Thought to have been built during the latter part of the 1300s, this clock still apparently does keep time after all of these years (even though parts of it have been replaced and refurbished over the years). The clock was built in Spain and received as a gift, but it’s disputed as to who exactly gave the clock as a gift. One of the craziest things I read was the “raining fish” phenomenon (called lluvia de peces) in the town of Yoro. There are a number of theories as to why or how this happens, especially given the fact that this town is 140 miles from the Atlantic coast. Whatever is causing this ichthyoidal gift wrapped in superstition, it’s been going on every year for more than a century. I’m excited to jump into researching Honduras. I’ve already downloaded an album by the Honduran metal/rock band Diablos Negros, so this is bound to be good.
Up next: art and literature