sábado, 29 de marzo de 2014

Cacica Pech de Silin Moradel Denuncia las Ciudades Modelos en Honduras

Email communication from the Chief of Moradel Juana Carolina hernandez Torres after seeing the televisión program Tierra negra produced by Telesur about the Model Cities in Honduras.


gracias mi querida Wendy la saludo de manera muy especial. yo estoy trabajando con Claudina siempre de sobre nuestra lengua y cultura de nosotros los Pesh, así como lo hacíamos con usted es lo estoy haciendo por que también estoy muy preocupada por lo que esta pasando con nuestro patrimonio cultural de nosotros los pueblos indígenas. yo como cacica de la comunidad de Silin Moradel también denuncian estas situaciones de inconstitucionalidad del gobernó con la ciudades modelos que solo quieren vender nuestro patrimonio que es nuestra subsistencia, quiero que lo ponga mis palabras en su articulo como una reacción del pueblo Pesh. también defenderemos nuestros derechos. gracias por informarme de todo lo que esta pasando, yo también la recuerdo todos los días, gracias por pensar en nosotros att Juana Carolina Hernández. 


Fecha 26 de marzo de 2014

Thank you my dear Wendy. I send you very special Greetings. I am working with Claudina always about our language and our culture about us the Pech. Just as we did with you, that is what we are doing because I am very worried about what is happening with our cultural patrimony of us the Indian peoples.  I as chief of the community of Silin Moradel also denounce the situations of unconstitutionality of the government with the Model Cities that only want to sell what we have received as an inheritance from the ancestors that is our way of being able to live, I also want you to putmy words inyour article as a reaction of the Pech people,that we also will defend our rights.  Thank you for informing me of all that is happening. I also remember you every day. Thank you for thinking of us, Attentively, Juana Carolina Hernandez Torres.

martes, 25 de marzo de 2014

Honduran Traditional Medicinal Practices often Clash with Western Agricultural Practices and in Medicine

Honduran Traditional Medicinal Practices often Clash with Western Medical and  Agricultural Practices as Taught in Honduran Universities (Not published yet.)

Part 3 of 5

By Wendy Griffin

Comments about  clashes  between traditional medical beliefs and treatments such as those of the Garifunas, Maya Chorti, the Miskitos, the Tawahkas, and the Pech and Western hospital medicine as practice in Honduras or in the US where thousands of  Garifunas  and Mayas live are  common. Also the issue of patenting traditional plant knowledge as intellectual property rights of US or European drug companies, a topic known as biopiracy in Spanish, is also a very hot topic, and not well protected under Honduran Intellectual Property laws.  The destruction of the plants, animals, and for the Garifuna even medicinal fish, used in tropical forest tribe medicines is another hot topic among Honduran native peoples. The intentional destruction of traditional indigenous or Black Hondurans knowledge of traditional plants medicines by Honduran school programs and currently of Evangelical churches, but in the past also by the Catholic Church, is another hot topic in indigenous and Afro-Honduran communities.

 I am extremely worried about the new Intercultural Agriculture Program at the National Agricultural University, because if they do at that university what they do in Honduran elementary schools and say they are teaching intercultural education to get funding, and then teach the same old things—use agrochemicals, use imported hybrid seeds or worse Monsanto transgenic seeds, cut all the wild plants down to the ground, I am worried Hondurans will starve, be poisoned and die from the lack of medicinal plants. It is well documented that poor Indian and Ladino small holder farmers produce most of the food in Honduras. The large commercial landholdings in Honduras are almost all for export agriculture—coffee, bananas, African palm, and cattle ranching for exporting deboned frozen meat like the type used for hamburgers.   

Interestingly many of the stories collected about the Truxillo Railroad era turned out to be interethnic stories of healing or other medical treatments-rainforest Indians healing Ladino workers of lance de fer (barba amarilla or tamagas in Honduran Spanish, tamagas being the Nahua language name) snake bites because they would have died before getting to the Company hospital by train, Garifuna healers curing the children of rich white English speaking Jews who had tried doctors in the fruit company hospitals and Europe and were not cured, Black English speakers healing  Garifunas who were paralyzed and their parents were high up employees of the Truxillo Railroad so could use their hospital but they were not cured there.

One of my favourite stories is of Garifunas being midwives to the current Honduran President Pepe Lobo, whose father used to raise pigs in the Garifuna neighbourhood of Rio Negro in Trujillo, and sold meat to the workers in the Trujillo area. President Lobo has said that his support of projects for the Honduran Indians and Garifunas is directly related to him having been brought into the world by a Garifuna midwife in the Trujillo. Among all Honduran ethnic groups, including the Ladinos, a family like relationship exists between the midwife who cuts the umbilical cord of the baby and the baby. Among Honduran Ladinos and Garifunas in Spanish, the midwife is called the “Comadrona”-the big co-mother of the baby.  Many people address their midwife as “abuela” (grandmother) or if they are an English speaker “goddie” (short for godmother).

Doña Juana, the new Pech chief in Moradel and her husband Hernan grew up in traditional Pech communities in Culmi, Olancho and lived for 20 years with their children in Las Marias in the Rio Platano Biosphere in the Mosquitia, so they maintained many elements of Pech culture which the Pech who lived on the Coast near Trujillo had lost. Also her husband’s father Don Amado who lived with them, was one of the last Pech men to perform traditional Pech curing and religious ceremonies, only dying in 1997.  Don Amado was trained by other older Pech men and by the Wata, the traditional Pech shaman, of which there has been none since the death of Don Catarino in 1950’s. Her mother and grandmother taught her how to be a midwife.

 Doña Juana also took classes in how to do massages for traditional Honduran diseases like “haito”, “empacho”, “aire” and caring for pregnant women from Catholic nuns in the Culmi area. Also she has taken courses in medicinal plants from Miskito healers and Ladinos from Tegucigalpa. These courses were sponsored by MOPAWI (Moskitia Pawisa-the Development of the Mosquitia),  a development  and environmental agency active in the Rio Platano Biosphere when Dona Juana lived in Las Marias, the Pech village there. The change in the Catholic Church’s stance on traditional medicine came about partly as an issue of social justice, that chemical medicines were out of the economic reach of the poor, and also a willingness to consider traditional plant medicine separate from the issue of witchcraft “brujería”.

“Brujería” is actually a crime punishable by law in Honduras among other places like Guatemala. Although Indians were supposed to free from being persecuted for brujería in the colonial period, there are in fact numerous cases of Indians being legally prosecuted for brujería in both Western and Eastern Honduras. I have heard the Honduran government announce campaigns against “brujería” since I came to Honduras in 1985, and the only effect I could see was the medicinal plant sellers in Tegucigalpa were forced to not sell near Central Park and the National Congress’s building. According to an UNAH study, at least 90 types of medicinal plants were typically sold in Tegucigalpa as herbs, and they were in fact for treating illnesses, not witchcraft.

One of the leading proponents of plant medicines in Honduras is Father Fausto Milla, a retired Honduran Catholic priest born in the town of Guarita, Lempira  who has a medicinal plant clinic in Santa Rosa de Copan. This is the same Father Fausto Milla who helped file some of the suits against the new laws to give the 51 rivers, the 250 mines, and other areas as concessions or Model Cities and the suits against President Pepe Lobo and the 126 members of Congress personally for approving the laws for these concessions and model cities as an act of treason.  His project to teach about traditional medicine INEHSCO is threatened with losing its corporate charter or legal existence (personaría juridical) and its assets frozen under a law under the new President Juan Orlando Herndandez who took power in January 2014 after a election plagued with thousands of reports of fraud. See for more details see HondurasWeekly.com, the blogicito de la gringa,and especially the video Fraude Electoral en Honduras on Youtube where you can see election table reports --report by report that what was written at the election table as the number of votes was different from what was reported by the computer even according to the Honduran government's own TSE website, and in every case it favoured the nationalist Party candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez and/or took away votes from the opposition parties like PAC and Libre.  Even 10 days after the election the Honduran government had on its official government website if anyone has the reports of the following election tables,please give them to us.  The US Ambassador said it was a clean and transparent election, in spite of the over 3,000 allegations of fraud serious enough to present to the Supreme Court often in front of international observers.   $10 million dollars from the US and 440 US soldiers from Delta Forces helped make these election results happen.

People who are active with medicinal plants are usually in favor of protecting the environment, because otherwise there will be no useable plants.  It’s like the sign in the Maya Chorti’s office in Copan Ruinas says, "If there are no famers, there is no food, it is that simple. "
If we cut down all the forest, put herbicide on all the plants, get rid of varieties of plants that are medicinal for plants that are not, our health and our ability to treat our children will suffer.

Where my sister lives in Florida, they have orange trees, but they can’t sell the leaves to Hispanics who want to make orange leaf tea to calm their nerves and help them sleep, because there are so many pesticides sprayed on the oranges, you would kill yourself making tea with them.   Now the orange trees in Florida, Arizona and California are dying, because since they plant them all together, a style known as monoculture,  when a disease got in, like “greening” which is affecting them now, they all get sick and die at once, just like bananas did with sigatoka and Panama disease.

Traditional Honduran Indians and Afro-Hondurans did not practice mono-culture, and so if one variety died,or even if one crop failed, they usually had several different varieties and several different types of crops planted.  John Solouri’s book Banana Cultures on the Honduran banana industry makes the argument that the whole paradigm  that we take the land away from lazy and unproductive Black and Indians to do monoculture or mining and get development was based on  theories that turned out to be in long run  unsustainable and based on false premises.

Most Catholic priests serving in Honduran churches are foreigners and are forbidden by law as foreigners to participate in “political activities”, and if they do, their residency can be revoked and they can be escorted out of Honduras.  In recent time the Catholic priest Father Tamayo who won international awards for his work in favour of the Olancho rainforest was forced to leave Honduras, and his organization the environmental Movement of Olancho is also threatened with losing its personaria juridical corporate charter and having its assets frozen.  In the time of the Contra wars, Father Guadelupe Carney, an American who had chosen to have Honduran citizenship, was forced to leave Honduras, and Father Fausto Milla, even though he was Honduran was also forced into exile  in Mexico which is where he began studying medicinal plants. Red Comal another organization whose personaria juridical is also threatened supports growing food in healthy ways, selling food to other farmers, like bean farmers selling beans to coffee growers who sell coffee to the bean growers at a fair price, making personal care products with medicinal plants like aloe vera shampoo and soap, nutrition, andnot eating junk food that will make their health worse. They had been supported for a number of years by American Jewish World Service and there is a great video about them just called Red Comal on Vimeo.com.
American Indians are also working in the area of better eating, better agricultural processes that don't poison them or kill the bees or the fish, traditional medicines, and recovering traditional ways of treating illness and especially working with troubled youth who fall into drugs, alcohol or commit suicide. In the US studies showed that native young people who spoke their language were less likely to get involved with drugs and alcohol, perhaps because they are more rooted in their culture at home and learn good values at homes. Having taken Native American kids away from their parents to Boarding Schools at very young ages and under harsh treatment, so that in Canada thousands died, and in the US men in their 60's still cry to think about it, and they were not with their parents and grandparents to learn how to be good parents which they think still affects them a generation or two later.  In Canada they also learned that in Western hospitals they sterilized Canadian indigenous women without their knowledge. So not only do they see that they were taught bad values which emphasized being mean to others, and often sexually abusive to others, and they were not taught the good values of their own societies and did not have skills to be successful in either the traditional nor the capitalist economy, the traditional knowledge was left out or purposely made fun of and ridiculed. A visit to the Tulalip Museum north of Seattle in Snohomish County shows that similar experiences existed here. A Cuban doctor published an article recently in Granma called Racism to speak or to be silent.  And he said he felt as a man of science that he had to admit that for at least 200 years Western science took an epistemological wrong turn, and chose to support the belief that one race the white race was superior to the other races in the New World, the Indians and the Blacks, and he felt as a man of science he should speak out and say the new research shows people are not inherently less intelligent or less anything by race, but racism does exist and it affects peoples' lives how they experience them still today. 
The American Anthropology Association felt it also needed to still state something still now last year in 2013 about Race, and has a whole special program on their website about Race. A new book by Ian Haney Lopez a professor of Law at UC-Berkeley says the main ploy of US politicians over the last 50 years has been to play the race card, what he calls "Dog Whistle Politics".  It is being played against Blacks, against Hispanics, and if people are aware that they exist, which they often are not, against Indians in the US, and in Latin America. The interview of this author with Bill Moyers no win 2014 which was on www.latinalista.com and also on www.BillMoyers.com was awesome.  Just like in the Cuban newspaper, it is awkward in the US to say, Race still matters, we are still making decisions about education, about what knowledge is heard or not heard, about who has the right to say if these kinds of plants or another kind of plants will grow here, about whether plants or animals have any rights to be here, based on what Dr. Marie Batiste in her book Decolonizing Education "Eurocentric" thinking, education, and research funding and publication  and land use policies. And in the US, and in Canada, and in Latin America, there is evidence that this not only hurts the Indians and blacks, but also the white people who are missing the opportunity to learn something from people who have been in these eco-systems a lot longer than we have.


Traditional Medicine and Other Knowledge about Plants is Missing.as Part of Intercultural Education

Published on HondurasWeekly.com  in 2013 and read over 1,700 times.

Trujillo Education Forum Raises Questions on What is Missing as Part of Intercultural Education—Traditional Medicine and Other Knowledge about Plants is Missing.

Part 2 of 5

By Wendy Griffin

The Forum on the Challenges of Bilingual Intercultural Education took place in Trujillo on 11 December 2013 with the participation of the current Minister of Education Marlon Escoto, the co-author of a new book on how or if the African Diaspora is taught in Public School curriculums in Central America Yesenia Martinez, and Pech and Garifuna teachers, leaders, and artisans. Mayors and District Supervisors for all of the Department of Colon are invited.  Melesio Gonzales, a Garifuna who worked as a social worker in California for many year, but now has returned to Trujillo, will also be speaking on the issues of drug and alcohol addiction, that are increasingly affecting Garifuna schools and towns.  This is the first time such a high level forum has been organized on the North Coast of Honduras to exchange ideas on what is the current situation in the schools of these ethnic groups, and what needs to be done now, to move forward in the Garifuna and Pech communities of the North Coast.  The first term of Minister of Education Marlon Escoto was been characterized by action, but he first asked people what were the problems and why they had not been solved already, something unique in high level Honduran government authorities.

All of the ethnic groups concur that this Minister of Education has been very supportive of bilingual intercultural education, which is not something that they have all said about any of the other Ministers of Education in the last 20 years.  He has made sure that the Ministry of Education employees actually comply with curriculums that were written three years before, but had not implemented in the classroom, to the point of reviewing unit and lesson plans to see if they complied within a short time and requiring them to redo them if they did not comply.

He instituted computerized registration which shocked everyone, especially when they found dozens of schools did not exist and teachers were being paid for towns that did not exist. When textbooks or dictionaries were sent out from Tegucigalpa for the bilingual intercultural education project, he insisted that Ministry employees make sure that they actually arrived in the schools, and usually in the same week, even in the Mosquitia. He had the bilingual intercultural authorities from Tegucigalpa go out to the communities and meet with the teachers of their ethnic group in the rural areas, something that had not happened for years.

He assigned Pech and Chorti teachers to Departmental Coordinator positions, which had existed for Garifunas for many years, but not for smaller ethnic groups.  Pech, Chorti, Lencas, Tolupanes, and Garifunas have all graduated from special secondary programs to train bilingual intercultural education teachers, which for many ethnic groups, especially the Chortis,  represented a huge boost in the number of professionals in their ethnic group. Pepe Lobo’s government has been short of money, but what money they did get for education, Marlon Escoto ensured that it was spent well. I have heard people, “El me convence”, which means something like, I really believe he is working. And he is really making the teachers work, and if their skill level is low, to study. When computer registration was required,(not really easy with about half the communities with no electricity), they found many teachers did not even know how to turn on a computer, so that was added to skills they should study.

In spite of all that movement, intercultural education has not flourished, so this is a good time to take stock and ask what is intercultural education and why aren’t we managing to do it?

 The ILO Convention 169 on the Human rights of Indigenous and Tribal peoples in Independent Countries which the Honduran Congress approved in 1994and which the Ministry of Foreign Relations ratified in Geneva, Switzerland in 1995, requires the signatory countries to teach the “traditional technologies” of the Indians in the educational programs for them.  For all Honduran Indians, a great deal of their traditional technologies have to do with care of, the planting of, the harvesting of, the processing of and use of plants. They care for and use both cultivated plants and wild forest plants from two inch tall plants that grow under water in the Olancho wetlands, to giant trees and 90 foot tall vines, and bromeliads that grow in the 90 foot plants.

The first time I visited the Lancetilla Botanical Garden outside of Tela and saw a cinnamon bush, and found out cinnamon was made from the inner bark of a very nondescript bush, I wondered how did anyone discover cinnamon, which is a widely used bark for tea to treat diarrhea in Honduras? But when the Pech of El Carbon showed me a bromeliad growing 50 feet up in the tree and said that is the plant you should use for enemas if someone is seriously constipated, I was blown away. How went up into the tree originally to get it and tried it out?  Because the Pech up until 50 years ago did not know plastic, enemas were applied with the bladders of peccaries, a type of wild boar in the Honduran rainforest, a use that would not have occurred to me having grown up in cities like Detroit and Pittsburgh.

The Pech medicinal plant guide in El Carbon at that time Pablo Escobar, the nephew of a well known Pech healer,  said that we the Pech protect the tall trees, because we know there is medicine in them, and there is also medicine below them. In fact, below that try was growing a chichipinse or achiotillo bush.  Chichipinse, according to Paul House et al.’s book on Common Medicinal Plants in Honduras, is proven to be antifungal, which is why it is sometimes called mazamora in Spanish because it kills the mazamora fungus, similar to athlete’s feet, but more painful, and antibiotic, and  it is also antibiotic to prevent skin infections and helps healing through the rapid formation of scar tissue on open wounds.

 While in El Salvador, they export chichipinse soap to help control skin infections, in the African palm district near Trujillo, Honduras  the owners of the African palm plantations kill all the chichipinse which used to be abundant there with herbacides. In Trujillo, the Garifunas who have gone to school and learned in agriculture classes to “chapiar” (to cut grass and weeds with a machete) and to leave areas “limpio” (devoid of plants), are constantly cutting down the medicinal chichipinse plants I identify as I walk around to be able to recommend them to people I see with wounds or skin infections, usually from infected bug bites or from being rubbed raw by sandals or ropes for carrying drums. 

The Garifunas who know medicinal plants know the uses of chichipinse which has a long name in the Garifuna language, but many young people do not learn about medicinal plants. Honduran schools typical taught that Indians, were “gente sin cultura” (people without culture) because they had not gone to school, and thus there was no need to study with them. The historical terms for North Coast Blacks are worse, usually something along the lines of savages and menaces to civilization.   Obviously there was no need to study anything with them.

In fact Honduran schools often followed the teachings of the founder of the Carlyse Indian School in the US, that you should kill the Indian, but save the man.  He did that by literally beating the children until they forgot their native language and took them away from home so that their parents could not teach them, such as shown in Rich Heape’s video on Indian Boarding Schools "Our Spirits Don't SpeakEnglish", available through his website. US Native American adults in their 60´s and 70’s still cried in the video to remember their school experiences. This type of education continued in Canada until 1990, and the horror stories are all over Wikipedia article about Indigenous rights.

Not only were Honduran schools not teaching medicinal plants, and instead teaching the kids  to hate them as “brujeria” (witchcraft) and as signs of lack of modernity and as part of being a savage, but first the Catholic church, and later the Evangelical churches, such as the Moravian church in the Mosquitia and the protestant churches in the Bay Islands,  had similar or even stronger teachings against medicinal plant use.  This is the reason that Danira Miralda’s book about the War of Low intensity and the original people of the Mosquitia,  is full of comments of “lack of medicine”, when there are over 600 known medicinal plants in the Honduran Mosquitia, but the Moravian church prohibits the church members from seeing the people who know how to divine illnesses and prescribe the plants, the sukya, for being associated with the Mosquitia’s pre-Christian religion.   

I do not know why the Mosquitia has such a high rate of infant-maternal death, but it is also likely to be related that the fact that there are almost no government or private healthcare centers in the Mosquitia, and yet the church wants to forbid using the medicinal plants and the traditional people who knew how to dispense them. Even Honduran Ladino midwives use plants in helping to control typical birthing problems like infection, anemia, hemmoraging, prolonged labor, the placenta not coming down, etc. One Pech woman in Culmi who was expecting her 8th child and was malnourished, said she was not concerned about giving birth as there was a Ladino midwife in Culmi who used 8 different plants to treat people, and she had never lost a baby or a mother.

My Garifuna midwife friend Yaya  who also uses plant to treat the complications of birth also reports in 70 years of experience only losing one mother and no children.  At the TED conference on Maternal health care, a Garifuna woman Katherine Hall Trujillo from Honduras pointed out that the infant and mother mortality  was higher in the US than in Honduras. Cartoons in US papers show African babies being born in huts in Africa saying, I am sorry to Black babies being born in Washington, DC because the Black child born in the US is more likely to die than the African child, the same is true for its Mother.

 My thought as I was speaking to Hondurans in San Pedro Sula at the UPN in a conference on Intercultural Education, was that it has not gone well for Honduras to try to adopt US models of health and dealing with plants—the Hondurans can’t afford the chemical medicines, they are often not available, they are often not safe especially for young children, there are easily available Honduran medicines for illnesses that US chemical medicines do not know how to cure, and if they let them be lost either through forgetting or refusing to learn them to be modern, or because they lose the land base which the plants grow on or they kill them all with hierbacides, they are going to be much worse off and might even die or have their children. This is in addition to the problem of the hierbacides killing the birds, the animals, the fish, and damaging the humans, such as the Dole banana workers who have won lawsuits regarding the chemicals used to control banana diseases in the Aguan Valley.

The new chief of Moradel Doña Juana is also a traditional healer with plants (curandera), a massage therapist (sobadora), and midwife (partera).  She grows food and medicinal plants and some craft plants near her house which she shows to visitors.  Some of the foreigners and Honduran-Americans who live in Trujillo have visited her for treatment. One woman commented that she had spent all this money and time and effort to get a foot operation in Houston, Texas in a very sterile environment, which left her foot feeling worse, but after a few treatments of Honduran massage, given in a mud hut in Moradel where the owners still cook with a wood fire and have chickens running around, her foot felt better.

 The Pech and Garifunas of the Trujillo area have been invited to speak at a Global Health conference in Seattle, Washington next year, about topics related to health and minority ethnic groups, including topics which are often censured in meetings of hospital trained doctors. The University of Washington (UW) in Seattle has a $30 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to work on the topic of Global Health. In addition to the Medical School, three Anthropology professors at the UW are specifically identified as working in the area of Global Health.

They were especially intrigued by the idea of identifying the best practices of Garifuna midwives who have almost no infant or mother deaths and seeing if they could help the high mother and infant mortality rates among the Miskitos, who probably have access to similar plants, but they just don’t know them, an idea suggested to me by a Miskito Indian Walstead Miller who worked with MOPAWI. We have not been able to get funding to do that exchange yet, but we did document the Garifuna practices and send the books to the Mosquitia. US Medical students from the University of Massechusettes who have come to observe the Garifunas in Trujillo, have commented that US doctors did not know these techniques. A Mexican Anthropologist who has studied midwife techniques in Honduras and in the US, particularly related to Hispanics, also said, the US doctors did not know these techniques and their lack may have caused deaths. The talk proposed for Seattle suggests ways that this exchange could be helped with access to the Internet, and programs like ”Go to Meeting” and video equipment and documentation centers in the area of the ethnic groups of Honduras.

I am sad, because my Garifuna friend Claudio Mejia lost his wife after she had their sixth child in a hospital, due to hemmorging, which a Garifuna midwife can generally control with a strong cup of  coffee. Are his six kids orphaned because of a lack of a strong cup of coffee?  Also all over Honduras children—Garifunas, Ladinos, Black Bay Islanders, etc. are given something when they are born to make them spit up placental fluid (agua sucia de la fuente), they may have swallowed while being born, because if they don’t do that the child will be sickly (enfermizo), and have asthma and problems with colds and coughs. The recipe varies—sometimes chicken lard or sometimes garlic with rue, but in each case the children do not have asthma when they grow up. In 70 years of treating newborn  children that way, none of the children Yaya delivered had asthma.  Are millions of US Black kids suffering from asthma because of a lack of properly prepared “fowl fat” (Manteca de gallina)?



Pech Chief of Moradel a Traditional Healer Her Family Fight to Protect Pech Culture Threats Loom

 Pech Chief of Moradel Who is a Traditional Healer and Her Family Fight to Protect Pech Culture
By Wendy Griffin--This article was published in HondurasWeekly.com in 2013

Doña Juana Carolina Hernandez Torres, the new female Chief (cacica) of Moradel and Silin, outside of Trujillo, Colon, is well known around Trujillo.  Most weekends she is on the beach in Trujillo selling Pech crafts from one restaurant to another.  She is also active as a catechist in the Trujillo dioceses of the Catholic Church, and so she and her husband Hernan, a Celebrator of the Word of the Catholic church attend many sectorial meetings.  In Moradel, she runs a small store that sells Pech crafts which is a popular stop for Honduran university students studying social sciences. It can be seen on the blog www.culturapech.blogspot.com.  She and her family still speak Pech, so they are commonly visited by international linguists studying the Pech language.  Doña Juana is also a midwife (partera), a massage therapist (sobadora), and ahealer with medicinal plants(curandera).

Her son Angel Martinez, in the same Pech Assembly that elected Dona Juana in April 2013 as Chief, also was chosen to be the Departmental Coordinator of Pech bilingual intercultural education program in Colon, a new position started in 2013. Since he has become coordinator, there have been several large and small Pech bilingual intercultural education seminars in both Colon and Olancho,  the formation of a Pech dance group in Moradel and Silin which danced in the streets of Central Park of Trujillo recently for the first time ever,  and the formation of a Pech musical group in Moradel which sings modern Pech songs which combine traditional Pech instruments like a Pech drum and a Pech flute made by Doña Juana’s husband Don Hernan and maracas made by her son José with modern instruments and songs in Pech composed by Prof. Angel himself.  In2014 the funding for the Pech Coordinator position was cut although that for Garifunas was continued, which is fairly typical of the discrimination of smaller ethnic groups inHonduras like the Pech and the Tawahka in internationally funded projects.

His song in Pech about “Who were our relatives? The wild animals of the mountains were our relatives, the white collared peccary (quequeo), the peccary (jaguilla), the deer, the tapir (danto), were our relatives and they are gone and we are worried”, was a popular song at the Central American Linguists Conference in Tegucigalpa in August 2013, and at the first ever Celebration of the Day of the Wata on 13 October 2013 in the community of Moradel. The Departmental Office of Education in Trujillo together with the Pech and the Garifunas of Colon sponsored a  conference last  year in 2013  on the Challenges of Bilingual Intercultural Education  in Honduras which even the Minister of Education Marlon Escoto attended, said Prof. Angel Martinez.

The Pech and the Garifunas of Colon and the UNAH-CURVA in Olanchito, Yoro near the Jicaque community of Agalteca, and some Miskito Indians and Black English speakers are also working on an oral history project of the Ethnic Groups and the Banana Companies, the preliminary advances of  which are tentatively proposed to be shared at a mini-conference in the Trujillo area at the end of March 2014 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Truxillo Railroad, a United Fruit subsidiary, and the beginning of African Heritage Month which is the month of  April in Honduras.

Since Doña Juana and her family also speak Pech, and know many details about traditional Pech culture, her house is usually one of the first stops of visitors to the village.  She is the co-author of the book Los Pech de Honduras with her husband Hernan Martinez and me, published by the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History (IHAH) in 2009, and she and her family have given talks on the Pech or their crafts or bilingual intercultural education around Honduras.  They are members of the Trujillo Artisans Association and their crafts were recently displayed in the US in Atlanta, at the University of Kansas, Western Washington University, and are now part of the collections at the University of Washington’s Burke Anthropological and Natural History Museum and the San Pedro Sula Museum of Anthropology and History. In that book she describes the Pech versions of illnesses which are common on the north coast of Honduras like haito de agua, haito de leche, empacho, etc. and their treatement.

She and her family also helped produce a Spanish translation of the Pech grammar book Pech (Paya) with comments by the Pech themselves, and a new book on Pech crafts, being prepared to accompany an upcoming permanent exposition of Indian crafts in the San Pedro Sula Museum which is being planned to open in January 2014.

 Juana’s husband Hernan Martinez and her husband’s father Don Amado also contributed to a published collection of Pech Myths, Dioses, Heroes y Hombres en el Universo Mitico Pech (Gods Heros and Men in the Pech Mythical Universe) written in 1991, while French linguist Claudine Chamoreau and Professor Angel, Juana and Hernan’s son, are currently working with Doña Juana and her husband Don Hernan on new bilingual (Pech-Spanish) collections of Pech stories and in March 2014 started a documentation project of the endangered Pech language with funding from a University in England. Pech stories of Don Hernan with translations by his son Prof. Angel Martinez are in a collection of stories from the Department of Colon being published by a USAID project Educaccion.
Why losing Traditional Stories and Traditional Songs Affect Health and Societies

 According to studies of members of the traditional knowledge network often the key stories to convincing people how to protect the environment, are often in stories, songs and taboos about killing too many fish or too many rainforest animals or cutting too many trees. Studies of how social values are taught like don’t steal (no tocar cosas ajenas, no son suyos), don’t kill your neighbors, a good reputation is worth than L100,  how to start strong families, are also often encoded in stories and songs in native languages. I warned in 1993 in intercultural education seminars about values in the Mosquitia and in Colon, that if we did not teach the young people a good sound foundation of the traditional values of their cultures, the young people would be at risk for learning the values of the street—having more is better, it does not matter how I get it.

You only have to look at the statistics of San Pedro Sula, with the highest homicide rate per capita in the world and 70-80% of the public health dollars goes to attend gunshot and machete wounds,  or the HondruasWeekly.com articles about Colon and the Mosquitia, to see the results of 20 years of not teaching traditional cultural values in the schools, and the young people often not hearing them at home either because they do not speak the language of their ethnic group, or they were watching TV (usually programs from the US translated into Spanish or Spanish telenovelas from Mexico both of which often have bizarre social values shown), or they are listening to popular music in Spanish, like narcocorridos (popular songs in Spanish teaching young people how it is fun and exiciting to be a drug trafficker) which includes a whole genre of narcotrafficante music from Mexico and their families do not go to traditional ceremonies of their ethnic group due to having become Christian.

When I read to my gringo friends,  who are only too familiar with stories of theft in Honduras, the Miskito stories collected by MISKIWAT, for example if a child steals a watermelon, a big ogre pops out it and chases the child until it has a heart attack and dies,  they say, "Why don’t they teach those stories in the schools?"

While the fact that visitors to Moradel used to visit primarily Doña Juana’s family’s house and store, used to cause friction with the rest of the local Pech community, now they have elected her as Chief to help them rescue the Pech language and culture in Silin and Moradel, also choosing her son Angel Martinez as Departmental Coordinator and her son Jeremïas as a Pech Bilingual Intercultural Education teacher in Moradel’s Elvira Tomé school which like many schools where bilingual intercultural teachers work is a PROHECO school rather than a regular Honduran government school.  Her husband Hernan was elected Wata, at the recent Day of the Wata in Moradel in October 13.

Don Hernan is also active in the local Catholic church as a Celebrator of the Word (lay minister). The Catholic Diocese based in Trujillo celebrated earlier this year a “Encuentro Cultural” (Cultural Encounter)  of the Pech, the Garifunas and the Miskitos in the Trujillo area in the community of Moradel, which was very well attended in spite of happening on a day of heavy downpours. The Day of the Wata also ended in a torrential downpour after not raining heavily for months, which the Pech took as a sign of blessing that the spirits were happy with the celebration.

Among the Pech of Silin, the Chief serves for two years, but can be reelected. Doña Juana is the second female chief of Silin and Moradel communities, the first one being Doña Guillermina who recently died and the Pech there held a large kech ceremony in her honor prior to burying her. Profesor Angel had previously been elementary school teacher in the community of Moradel during two years and has taught a course on the Pech language for adults there funded by the new Secretary of Indian Peoples and Afro-Hondurans (SEDINAFRO), which was started during President Pepe Lobo’s administration. 
All the ethnic groups say that the Minister of Education under Pepe Lobo’s Administration Marlon Escoto, has been very supportive of bilingual intercultural education, which in Apirl was upgraded to a “Direccion General” (General Directorate). Unfortunately the President of the Congress is not so friendly to them, and the new Law of Education recently passed downgraded bilingual intercultural to a “Subdireccion” and has no participation of the Indians and Afro-Hondurans (or Honduran universities) in the National Council of Education, confirmed Scott Wood, the Miskito Sub-director of Bilingual Intercultural Education. Because it leaves out the UNAH, which by law sets the guidelines of education in Honduras and almost all Honduran lawyers graduate from its Law School, the UNAH has filed a case saying this law is unconstitutional, too. In the end they were able to save bilingual intercultural education from being downgraded and the Minister of Education under Pepe Lobo was renamed under Juan Orlando Hernandez in January 2014.

 While many Pech teachers in Olancho were able to become graduated teachers with help from training programs sponsored by the National bilingual intercultural education program PRONEEAAH, the children of Doña Juana only became graduated teachers through a lot of work and sacrifice by her, her family and her children which included abandoning their lands in the Mosquitia, where there are no high school or university programs to train teachers.  She and her husband said in their speeches after she was sworn in as chief in April 2013, “We made the decision to teach our children Pech  and the Pech culture when they were young, and you can see that it has helped them (to get these jobs in the bilingual intercultural education project)”.

Violence Increases towards Honduran Indian Bilingual Intercultural Education Teachers Who are Often Younger Family members of Traditional healers and Craft people and Singers or Musicians
By Wendy Griffin Published in HondurasWeekly.com

I am excited that the Honduran Minister of Education Marlon Escoto is going to go to Trujillo for a Conference on the Challenges of Bilingual Intercultural Education being organized by the Departmental Office of Education there, together with the Pech and the Garifunas there. But it is very disheartening and worrisome  that one of the current challenges of bilingual intercultural education is the trend to target Honduran Indian bilingual intercultural teachers as targets for threats and assassination, with the most recent case being two Maya Chorti cousins José and Ismael Interiano who were shot at in November 2013 as they returned home by motorcycle from teaching in the PROHECO schools where they began teaching this year to Carrizalon, Copan Ruinas, killing one of them. Their motorcycles had parts taken.

 Although the deceased had over L2,000 ($100) on him as he had been recently paid for being a teacher, the money was not taken, supporting the idea that the murder was designed to frighten and intimidate the Maya Chortis, and was not just another simple robbery.  “Asombro” a feeling of frightened surprise is how the mood of the Chorti in Copan Ruinas is described after the murder news was known. The story of this murder of the Maya Chorti teacher has not been covered by the Honduran Spanish speaking newspapers, even though they were sent articles in Spanish about it with photos.

This problem that violence in the general society was also affecting directly schools in Mexico and their personnel, was also a topic at the First Pedagogical Exchange in San Pedro Sula in July 2013. My last articles for Honduras This week on Honduran maras or gangs began that when you think of the risks of taking a job as a primary school teacher, you do not think that seeing one of your students murdered in front of the school would be one of them, as happened to my UPN students in San Pedro Sula. Accepting to be a school teacher, especially for elementary grades or for the Ministry of Education in Tegucigalpa, has not traditionally been thought of as a high risk job but it has become so in Honduras.

The mother of one of the young Maya Chorti teachers, both only around 20 years old, had been the First Consejera Mayor (lead Council Person, the highest position in CONIMCHH, the Chortis’ ethnic federation) of CONIMCHH (National Council of the Maya Chorti Indians of Honduras), which has its main office in Copan Ruinas, Copan.

An employee of CONIMCHH confirmed the murder of one of the Chorti teachers, and said the organization of CONIMCHH denounces this kind of activity against its teachers and against the Chortis.  An earlier report had erroneously said both the teachers were killed. As in the case of the Pech, the younger people involved as bilingual intercultural education teachers, are often family members of Honduran Indians who practice a wide variety of traditional skills, because these are the families most likely to speak the language and to value the traditions enough to teach them to their children, and also because they are often local leaders, and being a leader in the community, first means being a leader and an example within your home.

The mother and aunt of the Chortis who were attacked  is a craft person in the Chorti pottery cooperative project in Carrizalon, while the grandfather of both of the teachers attacked is a well known healer and one of the few makers of the traditional maguey fiber crafts among the Chorti and who still grew maguey, currently a very scarce plant among the Chortis. An example of Maya Chorti Carrizalon pottery and maguey crafts, as well as examples of crafts important in healing ceremonies,  are now in the Burke Anthropology Museum at the University of Washington and in the office of CONIMCHH in Copan Ruinas. The San Pedro Museum has plants to include Maya Chorti crafts in its upcoming Honduran Indian craft exhibit, but has not yet found the funds to be able to fund the purchase of them, nor the display cases to put them in.

Other examples of Honduran Indians being killed who worked in the bilingual intercultural education project include Maya Chorti Candido Amador, and the Pech teacher from El Carbon Blas Lopez. Candido Amador who was the Chorti with the highest grade of education at that time, was a 9th grade graduate and had been working as a tour guide at the Copan Ruinas Archqueological Park when CONIMCHH request that he accept the position of Chorti Bilingual Intercultural Education Coordinator at the National level. He was an official Ministry of Education employee paid with international funding from the World Bank  in the bilingual intercultural education program at the time of his death.

Candido Amador was murdered outside of Copan Ruinas on his way home, where he was found with machete wounds and at least 9 bullet wounds, and his long hair was cut off by a machete. He had been in a nearby village helping the almost illiterate Maya Chorti women of the village fill out a grant proposal for sewing machines for a sewing cooperative.   His death galvanized the Chortis who fought even harder after that, and his picture hangs in their office and his photo and his story is on their website www.conimchh.org. As the Chorti currently have no sewing cooperative with sewing machines, I assume that not even to honor his death, were the funders encouraged to approve the sewing machine project grant which he was working on.

 I met Prof. Blas Lopez in 1987 when he was one of the sixth grade graduates, along with Hernan Martinez the husband of the Pech chief of Moradel Doña Juana,  who were hired to be bilingual intercultural education teachers among the Pech of Olancho. These Pech teachers had generally studied two years in a formal primary school with a teacher, but then they had primarily finished sixth grade through adult education programs by radio, such as Alfalit of the Evangelical churches during the Contra war period, or such as Escuelas Radiofonicas (Radio Schools), who had studied in groups led by volunteers, usually themselves Pech Indians who did not have 6 years of formal school education.   It is actually very brave to decide you will take up teaching first graders to learn to read and write when you yourself have such a low level of education.

If US teachers with Master’s degrees in reading have problems teaching reading in US schools, how much more difficult to teach reading and worse Math in rural Honduran schools. I observed a few of the classes they gave over the years, and sometimes it seemed very difficult to deal with the orders that came from Tegucigalpa. If it says on Monday, at 10 am you must listen to the radio class on math, they did this.

 There is terrible reception of the radio in the Olancho mountains, so if it was not raining, it was still not clear what the radio instructor said. But if it was raining, as was often the case in this edge of the rainforest area in Olancho, it was totally impossible to hear a thing on the radio. But the instructions said on 10 am, you must teach Math by radio, and so for an hour the Pech students and the  Pech teachers listened to static or the rain, or both.

The use of the official textbooks was also difficult in Pech villages. The textbooks and curriculum said you teach about cows in the section of “Domestic animals” (Animales mansos—tamed animals).  The Pech children grow up in Olancho where Ladino cattle ranchers let their cattle which they do not visit for months at a time, roam wild in the forest. The Pech children grow up afraid a running steer will run over them, or gore them, or knock the clay off of their clay house.

So if the Pech teacher asks, “Are cattle “manso” (tamed), or “bravo” (wild, angry, dangerous)?” the Pech children all answer “Bravo” (wild, angry, dangerous). This is the wrong answer according to the curriculum. In the world of the textbook writer, cattle are tame, domesticated, while in the world of the Pech the cattle are semiferal/wild  and extremely dangerous. I have been in a Pech village in Olancho when the Ladino cattle owners finally came on horse to round up their cattle for sale and dozens of cattle are hurrying down a path only wide enough for one person towards the highway, when I was walking the other way. I ran. I know Olancho cattle are “bravo” and a lot bigger than I am. 

Some Pech teachers dropped out of the project almost immediately, like Don Hernan of Moradel, the father of Profesor Angel,  but Blas Lopez kept getting more training and teaching. First he spent six years studying on the weekends in a professionalization program to get a high school degree as an elementary school teacher. He went on studying several more years on the weekends to get a college degree, so that he could qualify to teach and eventually become the director/principal of the Centro Basico  (a combined elementary school and nineth grade junior high school) in El Carbon, which did not exist until he helped fight for it. On several occasions Blas Lopez lived in Tegucigalpa, helping the Ministry of Education project to write Pech textbooks or the Pech grammar book that was published last year, or a proposed Pech dictionary that was never published.

 If you are a rainforest Indian, living in Tegucigalpa is often not a pleasant experience. The Tawahkas have come to my house in Tegucicalpa, amd I asked what they liked to eat, and they said, “sopa de tepescuintle” (tepescuintle soup). Tepescuintles, a rainforest animal that eats only fruits is delicious according to everyone that has eaten it, but it is not available in Tegucigalpa supermarkets, and in fact due to its overhunting and loss of habitat, especially the wild fruit trees, is rarely available anywhere in Honduras now.

The lack of water in Tegucigalpa where there is often only one hour a day of water if any, the crime, the high cost of food and not food they like, lack of firewood, etc. is part of what makes one Pech woman who used to live in Tegucigalpa’s twin city Comayaguela say of a Pech village in Olancho with no electricity or running water, but which had farmland, forest, creeks, “Estamos en la Gloria aqui” (We are in glory or paradise here in Pech villages in Olancho.)

When the bilingual intercultural education program started in the Pech villages, there were Ladino teachers there. These teachers called the Pech children “payitas”. Paya means “bruto”, stupid, like a dumb animal, according to the Pech, and “payitas” is the diminutive, so it means little dumb things if they called their students “payitas”. Sometimes the dimunitive in Spanish, shows affection, but it also often shows a lack of respect.  To call the Pech Chief Carlos Duarte, an older well known healer and a hereditary chief for more than 40 years and he had formerly been Mayor of the county of Culmi, “payita”  is just as insulting of calling sixty year old Black men in the Southern US “boy”.  

I know that now that I am over 50, I think people should not call me a “gringuita” (a little gringa) and I am still angry about development agency people or Ministry of Education employees in Tegucigalpa who used to use “vos” with me. “Vos”  (you) is only used with either people you are very intimate with like your childhood friends, or towards people inferior to you, and if I have to call the other person, Licensiada ( a person who has a college degree), I do not want them to use “vos” with me.

Just that fact alone, of being called “little brutes” was one that made the Pech Indian children want to drop out of school often before finishing third grade. At that time none of the Pech schools had a sixth grade, not because of government policy as in the case of the Chorti, but because none of the Pech children still wanted to be in school by the time sixth grade came. Honduran children not liking school and not finding it useful, and not wanting to go, is what makes the majority of Honduran parents say, Ok, don’t go. It’s not worth the money, and I have work you can do around the house or the farm”, according to official studies and my experience with the Pech.

When the Pech teachers were hired, they said immediately to me, to each other, to the Pech parents, to the Pech students, “It would be good if we the Pech had Pech nurses.  It would be good, if we the Pech had Pech bus and truck mechanics. We are made out of meat and bones (carne y hueso), someday we will die. It would be good to have more Pech teachers.”  Since the Pech teachers were hired, in spite of their original low level of schooling, Pech children school attendance has soared.

Almost all Pech finish sixth grade now. There are a lot of Pech who study high school, and I know of at least 2 Pech college graduates who teach at “Centros Basicos” in the Mosquitia, and at least 15 in-service Pech teachers are studying college on the weekends.  I think Blas would say, it was worth it to have spent those years in Tegucigalpa and more than 10 years of being away from his family on the weekends, so that we could have all these Pech professionals.

Many Pech bilingual intercultural teachers also take on roles of leaders in the Pech village councils or in villages that elect chiefs (some Pech villages elect chiefs, in some it was heriditary by families), to become chief, partly because you need to be able to read and write Spanish well to go to this infinite number of meetings and sessions, and you also need a cash income to pay to go to these meetings. This means the same bilingual intercultural education teachers are the ones fighting for land rights. And it was because of land rights struggles in Olancho that Prof. Blas Lopez, then the president of the Pech Federation was killed. 

And it was probably because of land struggles that one Chorti Indian bilingual intercultural education teacher from Carrizalon, Copan Ruinas was killed and another one shot at over the last month.  The Chortis of Carrizalon are one of three Chorti villages threatened to be dislodged from lands the Honduran government promised to buy them and then did not. It is strange that Carrizalon should be in this position, because the Chorti residents say they have lived there since 1820, before the independence of Honduras, and more than a century before the location of the Honduran-Guatemala border was decided in the 1930’s, a decision brokered in Washington, DC because the border conflict was between the United Fruit Company (now Chiquita) advancing towards the border from the Guatemalan side and the Cuyamel Fruit Company of Samuel Zemurray advancing towards the border on the Honduran side.

Carrizalon located 1 km from the Guatemalan border is in the sights of narcotrafficantes, the drug traffickers, who have bought all the mules available along the Salvadoran-Guatemala border, according to the mule sellers. A high ranking member of the Sinoloa gang was captured in Guatemala in the Zacapa Department on the lower end of the Chortis’ area and armed Zetas, have also been seen having lunch on the Guatemalan side of the Chorti lands. The Zetas and the Sinoloa cartel are the two biggest Mexican gangs fighting for the control of the drug trafficking business in Mexico. The Cachiros, the Hondurans who had their bank accounts frozen and their lands seized in the Colon/Garifuna area were reportedly associated with the Sinaloa cartel. The name of the community of Copan, comes from the Nahua and Honduran Spanish word  for bridge copante, because it was on the path from the Valley of Mexico to the Guatemala city area to the Honduran north Coast 1,000 years before the Spanish even thought of finding the New World or the route to the Spice Islands.

 When the recent 32 year civil war was going in Guatemala, a time known as “las ruinas” (the ruins) among the Guatemalan Mayas because of the high number of murders of Indians, a number of his Mayan bilingual education teacher friends were also murdered, reported Dr. James Loucky, a Latin American anthropology professor at WWU in Bellingham, Washington. The start of this civil war was also associated with problems with United Fruit (Chiquita) and about land for Indians.  

Now Hondurans is now gaining a reputation that it is competing with Guatemala of the civil war period for its horrendous treatment of Indians and of the people who worked in favour of them. English anthropologist Krystyna Duess’s book on her thirty year study on Mayan Shaman, Witches, and Priests in Highland Guatemala is dedicated to an American USAID bilingual education project worker who disappeared in Guatemala and showed up dead later in Mexico. That book is now available through the University of Oklahoma Press.

I purposely chose to come Honduras to work in 1985 instead of Guatemala which is much more famous for its Indians than Honduras, because although I thought Guatemala was beautiful, they were killing the people who worked with the poor there then during the civil war, and the situation in Honduras was much better then. 

The situation in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala has deteriorated so much, that they are now called the “Northern Triangle” by theatlantic.com which considers them collectively the most dangerous place in the world, and CCN has done articles, repeated on Honduran radio, comparing the safety of living in Honduras on par with the Congo.

Healthcare in the Honduran Mosquitia Faces Special Issues

Healthcare in the Honduran Mosquitia  Faces Special Issues

By Wendy Griffin

Studies of traditional healthcare and beliefs about how diseases are caused, diagnosed and cured among the Miskito Indians of the Honduran Mosquitia have generally taken place in the context of  some event of global interest has taken place in the Mosquitia. For example there are two studies of “grisi siknes”, a hysterical disease caused by problems of stress or “nervios” which many Miskito Indians on both sides of the Honduran-Nicaragua border suffered during the Contra War.  Isabel Perez, an Ecuadorian anthropologist married to a Honduran university professor, in her book Entre la Vida y la Muerte (Between Life and Death), tried to give the foundations of Miskito beliefs in illness and wellness, before analyzing specifically “grisi siknes”  during the Contra War period whose name come from gris-grey in Spanish, and the English word sickness.  91% of the people who live in the Honduran Mosquitia come from a minority culture like the Miskito Indians, Tawahkas, Pech, and Garífunas, and for most Spanish is not the language they use at home.

More recently as over a thousand Miskito divers have become paralyzed due to decompression illness (the bends) while lobster diving for international seafood companies , the issue of how do you treat or prevent or do education about this illness, has had to take into account that  Miskitos see it as as one type of illness caused by angry mermaids or water spirits (liwa mairin) who protect the aquatic life from over exploitation, illnesses generally treated by traditional healers, called sukya, rather than hospitals, which is the subject of Laura Hobson Herilhy, an anthropologist at the University of Kansas.

Danira Miralda’s book “La Guerra de Baja Intensidad y los Pueblos originarios de la Mosquitia” (The War of Low Intensity and the original peoples of the Mosquitia”) is full of references to “no hay medicina” “there is no medicine” in the Mosquitia, a rainforest area known to have at least 600 documented medicinal plants which traditional healers among the Miskitos, the Garifunas, the Pech, the Tawahkas, and the Ladinos or Spanish speakers used.

The reason for this contradiction is that the Moravian Evangelical Church threatens people, for example they might not be able to stay in the church or in the village,  if they use traditional healers who know how to diagnose traditional illnesses and prescribe medicinal plant remedies.  These healers, called sukya in Miskito, are associated to pre-Christian Miskito religious beliefs, and for example believe that before you pick a medicinal plant you must say the prayer or secret of the plant, called “sika” in Miskito, so that the spiritual owners of the plants will activate it and it will work. Trying to collect just the name and use of the plant does not work, according to these healers, because, you have to have the permission to take the plant and activate its medicine. These Miskito, Garifuna, and Pech Indian healers also often prepare themselves before collecting the plants, so that they are in the right state to collect plants and ask for permissions.

The Miskitos, like the Garifunas, are the result of the mix of Africans with Indians, and this belief in “sika” is similar to African medicinal beliefs about medicinal plant beliefs, such as in the Wikimedia article on Traditional African medicine. However, Native America healers in the US, and Garifuna and Pech healers in Honduras, also agree that it is not just a case of knowing a medicinal plant and for example, growing a whole field of it commercially and processing it into capsules, that there are permissions, prayers, payments, and mysteries involved, and these too are probably “censored” topics among Western medical doctors.

The issue of currently evangelical Christian missionaries and in the past Catholic missionaries telling traditional people not to use traditional healers and midwives, and medicinal plant cures, and not to learn from these people, even when no other locally available alternative, like government health clinics, were available, is probably also a “censored” topic.

I originally began to study Garifuna midwife techniques, to see if I could help understand why Miskito women had such high levels of infant and mortality, a problem reported to me by a MOPAWI Miskito employee Walstead Miller. I thought maybe if we could exchange experiences of the Miskitos and Garifunas, who live in similar eco-systems and so would have access to similar plants, we could lower the mother and infant mortality among the Miskitos. We were never able to do the seminars due to lack of funding, so I was not able to discuss with the women themselves the reason why Miskito women have such a high rate of mother and infant mortality.

In the entire Honduran Mosquitia, there is only one government hospital in Puerto Lempira, even though there are at least 120 villages large enough to have an elementary school.  There are healthcare clinics in not more than  three or four Miskito towns, such as Brus Laguna and Ahuas. There are almost no roads in the Mosquitia, with most people getting around by canoes, with or without outboard motors, and in the case of real emergencies paying for charter flights in and out of the Mosquitia or  from the villages to the regional hospital in Puerto Lempira. There usually are not 4 doctors to serve the entire Mosquitia, and these doctors are often not graduated doctors, but rather students who are finishing a 5 year undergraduate program in medicine who are doing one year of social service, a requirement of Honduran medical schools. The total inability of the government or missionary provided health care to meet the sheer volume of needs of the Mosquitia, is one reason that local healers and midwives remain important in the Mosquitia, as they are in Africa.

One problem contributing to high maternal death rates in the Mosquitia may be that modern Miskito midwives may not be able to use the medicinal plants traditionally used by the Miskitos, either because the destruction of the rainforest has wiped them out, or because being part of the Moravian church they did not teach them to the new generation, and the new generation for the same reason may not have learned them. The young Miskito women may have gone to Spanish speaking government schools and taught to look down on traditional knowledge of Indians and Blacks and non-Christians.

There is also an added problem among Miskitos, that most of the people who are bilingual in Miskito and Spanish are men. The topic of childbirth among Miskito men is so taboo, that in a mixed meeting of teachers, the Miskito male teachers were so embarrassed to even say the word for Miskito midwives, as an example for the list of “Who are the Workers in my community”, a common topic in first grade texts, that in the end I have never heard the Miskito word for midwife spoken clearly.

If the Miskito men will not even say the word for midwife, we can imagine that the monolingual in Miskito women who go to a Western style hospital in the Mosquitia, are going to have a very hard time finding anyone who will translate for them with the doctors who are usually monolingual in Spanish, if there is some complication in the pregnancy.  The Miskito midwives also simply may not know the same plants as the Garifunas, and it would be a benefit for them to be able to learn to use them, to help the other Miskito women.

The Miskito Indians, still a very traditional people in many ways and the group with the highest percentage of monolingual indigenous language speakers in Honduras, have a lot of beliefs regarding birth, and regarding the cutting of the umbilical cord, and the proper burying of the placenta, which are all acts that among the Miskitos they believe affects them their whole lives.  The person who is given the ceremonial job of cutting the child’s umbilical cord at birth, calls the child “lapia” the rest of its life and there is a fictive kinship bond between them, which is true of most Honduran ethnic groups, including Black English speakers who call the midwives “goddies”, short for Godmother. The Garifunas use the Spanish word “comadrona” the big co-mother of the child, and the child usually calls their mother’s midwife, “abuela” (grandmother), even if they are of different races like mestizo children and a Garifuna midwife, like Yaya.

Another  example of the sacredness of birth, Miskito mothers bury the umbilical cord under a tree, and that tree is that child’s tree their whole life, even if they move away. Adult Miskito men, even professionals in Tegucigalpa the country’s capital, will still talk about where their umbilical cords is buried, that their umbilical cord is buried in the Mosquitia, that it calls them home, that they are literally sons of the Mosquitia, because they are planted, physically planted as well as spiritually planted, in the earth in the Mosquitia.

A Maya Chorti man told me he did not believe in the necessities of total purity in the burying of the afterbirth, and so was not as careful as he could have been, and  everyone told him that is the reason his children had eye problems. Garifuna midwives bury the afterbirth in a secret place, partly to avoid the danger of witchcraft against the person.

 Can you imagine telling these traditional people in a US hospital, we are collecting the placentas to make replacement tissue for burns, as one US researcher is trying to get a patent to do? Or that we just throw them away as hazard waste, because of the danger that the mother might be HIV positive?

 One researcher thought there were now more Mayas in the US, than any single Maya tribe in Central America. Are we being respectful to traditional people’s beliefs if they happen to give birth in a US hospital instead of at home in Central America or in Africa? Are we teaching doctors, who are overwhelmingly male, to be disrespectful to the beliefs of minority women? The theme of the Censored medical conference, also includes references to gender and gender issues, and these are some ways why the two issues are linked.

Besides the issue of midwives, the Miskito Indians believe in a wide range of illnesses caused by angry nature spirits, by upset spiritual owners of animals and trees as well as of fish or lobsters, and also by ancestor spirits called “isigni” among the Miskito Indians. The belief in witchcraft is also widespread in the Mosquitia. Pech Indians who have been cured or their family members have been cured of witchcraft (mal), and of diseases caused by upset nature spirits, by Miskito traditional healers, say they are alive today and their children are alive today because these Miskito healers healed them.

Honduran rainforest Indians like the Pech, Miskitos, and the Tawahkas are also essential for their knowledge of how to cure snakebites, because if you have been bit by a lance de fer snake  (barba amarilla or tamagas) in the rainforest, such as during the time of the Truxillo Railroad, a subsidiary of united Fruit in NE Honduras, the worker  would  not live long enough to reach a government or banana company hospital if the local Indians or Garifunas did not agree to cure you. It takes about 40 minutes for a person to die of a lance de fer snake bite, while the trip from Sico to the banana company hospital by train took all day. Although lance de fer snakes are common in the area and United Fruit had a serpenterium to study poisonous snakes in Trujillo, the Truxillo Railroad reported almost no deaths to these snakes, thanks to these traditional healers. Among most NE Honduras ethnic groups curing snake bites and making them not come back is a speciality of male healers (curanderos)  rather than female healers (curanderas). 

Among both Mesoamerican Indians like the Nahua who used to live in the Trujillo area and later moved into the Mosquitia and for Africans snake magic as well as snake bite curing was an important aspect of their culture. The Honduran Spanish name for this snake Tamagas comes from the Nahua name, which is also the origin of the  name of the one the highest levels of governors in the Pipil state, who spoke Nahua. In Honduran Spanish the phrase “ el mero mero Tamagas”  (the really high up or important lance de fer) refers to some high ranking person not the snake. The towns in the Trujillo area had names like CeCoatl (One Snake), when the Spanish with Cortes arrived. The SiguaCoatl, the woman snake was also a high ranking position in Nahua and Lenca societies, and in spite of the name is thought to refer to a male official or leader. The Miskito word for mermaids who cause mermaid sickness (liwa sicknes) is “liwa marin”  (the worm or snake female).  The idea of large snakes in the water who bite children and cause them to drown or disappear also exists among the Pech Indians.

 While the Pech Indians have lost most of their healing ceremonies as a result of adopting more seriously the Catholic religion since the 1960’s, they are very concerned about the possibility of losing the snakebite curing ceremonies as the Pech healers who know the ceremonies and the plants are now over 70 years old, and if the young people do not learn the plants, and the prayers, the Pech in the future  and other Hondurans in their area may die of these poisonous snake bites. It can take all day to reach a government hospital from the Pech area, if the hospital even had any medicine which they often do not, and an untreated lance de fer snake bite can kill you in under an hour.

Another part of this Pech healing ceremony is the male healer (curandero) blows through a carrizo tube (acatl in Nahua) a technique known as “soplo” and used from Honduras all the way into the Amazon. However after a two and half year off and on search, even going up into the mountains in the nuclear zone of the Rio Platano biosphere and the Sierra de Agalta National Park, the Pech can not find any Carrizo to do the soplo part of the ceremony or for making a Pech flute, of which one example was recently donated to the Burke Museum at the University of Washington. Carrizo grows only at an altitude above 1,500 feet, which is also the attitude considered appropriate for growing coffee, a major Honduran export.

Traditional Indian  and Afro-Honduran Music Threatened-The example of Carrizo Flutes

By Wendy Griffin

Without a doubt the rarest Honduran craft recently donated to the Burke Anthropological Museum at the University of Washington in Seattle  is a Pech Carrrizo Flute, none of which had been made in the last 20 years. The reasons why this flute had not been made in 20 years highlight a whole range of the problems faced by rainforest Indian or Afro-Honduran crafts, especially those related to the religious ceremonies of Indian or Afro-Honduran peoples. 

The maker of the Pech flute donated to the Burke Museum Don Hernan Martinez of Moradel, outside of Trujillo, also made an example of this type of traditional flute for himself to play in his son Angel’s Pech musical group which also includes Pech marracas (kamacha), Pech drum (tempuk), and either an electronic keyboard or guitar played by ProfesorAngel Martinez.

Since the Pech have forgotten most of the old songs in Pech, Profesor Angel and other Pech teachers like Profesor Gil Lugo Catalan are composing new comtemporary songs in Pech. The Pech Indians have rescued at least 3 traditional dances that in some cases had not been danced in 40 years, and  last year danced in Central Park in Trujillo to traditional dances and music for probably the first in 1,000 years, when they were displaced from the Trujillo area,such as the archaeological site Silin Farm,  by the arrival of Mexican Indians like Nahuas in the Post Classic period (900-1500 AD).

Why Intergenerational Loss of Traditional Knowledge and Crafts happens?

The problems of why there were no  Pech Carrizo flutes for at least 20years  include almost all the problems of intergenerational transmission of modern Indians—the Carrizo had mostly been destroyed in the habitat above 1,5000 feet where it was native to (this is also the recommended altitude for coffee),  the few people who knew how to make it moved to a new eco-system where the plant was not available, the plant was supposed to be protected in protected areas like the Rio Platano biosphere Reserve and the El Carbon Anthropological Reserve, but it was not protected and was cut down, it is valued by the Pech and almost all other Indian groups but often not by Ladino cattle ranchers or coffee growers who can consider it in the way and cut it down, the part of the culture when it was played was lost when the Pech were converted to more orthodox Catholocism or Evengelical Christianity, and no longer did their traditional ceremonies where the music was played.

The lack of good intercultural  educational programs meant that the Pech were taught Ladino folkdances,usually played on marimba an instrument of African origin,  rather than teaching them their own dances and music. The Carrizo flute is also affected by the local extinction of animals and plants in their ecosystem which  were needed to make it or which the music copied the sound of, and the lack of good intercultural education meant that Pech crafts were not being handed down in either the homes or in the schools. 

Pech- An Endangered Language in Honduras

The almost complete loss of the Pech language which has an estimated 300 speakers, almost all older adults, out of 3,800 inhabitants, also affects the teaching of crafts and especially  the stories associated with them from one generation to the other. In Honduras most indigenous languages in Honduras are in the endangered category according to the UNESCO Atlas of Endangered Languages except Miskito, which is still considered vulnerable, as more Miskito children go to school now. Profesor Angel Martinez, the Pech teacher who lives in Trujillo and whose father made the Carrizo flute in the Burke Museum, described the Pech as being in an ethnological crisis during his talk at the Central American Linguists Congress in Tegucigalpa in August 2013.

No Birds Means No Songs of Birds for Flutes

The first thing I heard about this Carrizo flute over 20 years ago, was that no one knew how to play it any more. There used to be two Pech flutes—one made of a jaguar bone and black wax, and one made of Carrizo, a bamboo like plant, and black wax. One of these flutes should sound like the rainforest bird the pavon, and the other one should sound like the rainforest pajuil. Both of these birds are considered delicious eating by almost every group in Honduras, and they are larger, so they have more meat to eat.

The reason Pech young people can not play the flutes correctly, even if they had one, was that  there are almost no pavons or pajuiles left in Honduras. They are among the animals in danger of extinction in Honduras. Most things the Garifunas, the Pech, the Miskito Indians, the Tolpuan Indians and the Tawahkas ate sounds like a who’s who of endangered animal, bird, and aquatic life species in Honduras.

The story of the origin of the jaguar bone flute among the Pech is interesting, because it is the same story shown in an Aztec codex,such as shown in David Dominici’s book The Aztecs. In the Pech story collected in Lazaro Flores’s and book Dioses,heroes Hombres en el Universo Mitico Pech, (Gods, heros and Men in the Pech Mythical Universe) the grandfather thunder assigned the two grandsons, the morning star Kapani and the Evening star his twin, to hunt the animal with big whiskers and after they had killed a lot of different kinds of animals and him saying that is not the one, the morning star hunts the yellow tiger or jaguar, and kills it.

 When they show it to grandfather, he says that is the one. The scene in the Aztec Codex shows the morning star as the god of hunt killing a yellow jaguar. Then the grandsons have to get the wax for the flute. The evening star gets stung in the testicles while he tried to get the wax. After they made the flute, they were allowed to go to the sky, so actually it is a pretty important story, as it is the story of the origin of the morning star (associated with Quetzalcoatl by the Aztecs, and Quetzalcoatl heads are found all over the area like on www.roatanet.com/ciudadblanca) and his twin the evening star. Among the Pech Indians the morning star is also associated with the hunt and in the earliest hours of the morning (kapani in Pech), when the morning star is out, but not the sun, it is taboo to hunt animals then, as they are under the protection of the Morning Star (kapani).

The Connection of Pech Flute Myths and Aztec Flute Myths

Since there are no jaguars in Central Mexico, but there are jaguar bone flutes in the ruins in Mexico and in the archaeological ruins near Trujillo, it seems that the Nahua speakers of Trujillo were exporting jaguar bone flutes to the Aztecs before the Spanish conquest. They also seemed to have exported whole jaguars, as whole skeletons are found in Aztec ruins as sacrifices. Wouldn’t that have been fun to travel from Trujillo to Mexico by canoe with a jaguar in the canoe?

 Eduard Conzemius reports the jaguar bone flutes still being made in Honduras in the 1920’s when he was visiting the Pech, the Misktios and Tawahkas before the Truxillo Railroad, a subsidiary of United Fruit (now Chiquita) moved onto their areas. The lack of jaguars is only one reason why these jaguar bone flutes are not being made today in Honduras.

Teresa Campos, the Director of the San Pedro Sula Museum, is particularly interested in traditional musical instruments, having recently published an article on the 1,200 whistle, ocarina, and flute like objects in the San Pedro Sula Museum’s collection in a new journal devoted to the field archeomusicology. While “aerophones”, musical instruments that  make music because you blow air through them made of clay or jaguar bones will remain the archaeological record, but those made of the bamboo like plant “Carrizo” will rot, and so she was excited about the possibility to acquire a collection of modern Honduran Indian musical instruments, including the Pech Carrizo flute known as a “arwa” in Pech, for the new San Pedro Museum’s  Indian Craft Exhibit which was due to open in Janaury 2014, but the opening has been postphoned due to lack of funding.

Carrizo Flutes Were both Ancient and Widespread in Honduras

I was also interested in obtaining a Pech Carrizo flute, the arwa, because it is similar to all the other Carrizo flutes in Honduras-the ones previously made by the Maya Chorti, by the Lencas, and still made by the Tawahkas and the Miskitos, who call it bra or bará. Because the ceramics of the Lencas during the Classic period, known as Ulua polychrome,  are so clear, in the collection at the San Pedro Museum, you can see what musical instruments the Lencas played in the Classic Period (300-900 AD), which included the Carrizo flute. 

During the Colonial Period in Central America, the Catholic Church banned all indigenous instruments except Drums and Flutes from accompanying dances and ceremonies associated  with Catholic Saints. These large dance-dramas such as Moors and Christians and La Huasteca (this dance is asscociated with la Malinche Hernan Cortes’s Maya-Nahua,-Spanish translator who was from the La Huasteca part of Mexico) by the Chortis or Guancascos of the Lencas continue until today, but most Lencas and Chortis have forgotten how to make the Carrizo flutes and how to play them  They have either replaced them with plastic soprano recorders for their ceremonies needing this instrument, notes David Flores,  or sometimes in the case of the Honduran Chortis substituted violin and guitar music known as “sons” for their ceremonias.

 My Tawahka Carrizo flute that I was given by the Tawahka dance group Mayagna Rikni (Our Roots) in 1993 when they stayed at my house in Tegucigalpa, I had donated to the Ethnobotany lab at the UNAH in Tegucigalpa together with some other Honduran crafts like Garifuna maracas made in Trujillo, so that they would expand their understanding of ethnobotany to include craft plants used by the ethnic groups, instead of just medicinal plants.

Pech Bilingual Education Books Had Incorrect Drawings of Musical Instruments and Crafts

I also wanted a Pech Carrizo flute, because I was distressed because the new textbooks in the Pech language, part of the Cipotillos de Mi Pais collection (the little children of my country, cipote being a Honduran Spanish word derived from the Nahua word xipe or small)  of the Honduran Ministry of Education’s PRONEEAAH project,  has pictures of the musical instruments of all the ethnic groups in one section and pictures specifically of Pech musical instruments in another section, that were wrong.

A Pech Carrizo flute (arwa), and none of the Honduran Indian Carrizo flutes, do not look like a Chinese bamboo flute which was what was shown in the book.  Not only was the picture of the Pech flute was wrong, but the musical bow, the bobo, was wrong as it was missing the gourd bowl resonator, the maracas were wrong, particularly the painting of them was incorrect, they showed the wrong gourd, they were missing the pita string tied on the outside, etc.

Not only the musical instruments were wrong, but almost all the Pech crafts in the book were wrong. A large round majao string bag used for storing meat before there was refrigeration is called ara’, but in the Pech book for the word ara’ they have a drawing of  a modern leather purse. There is an example of the ara’ in the San Pedro Sula and Burke Museum.

The bilingual education books for the Pech had a word canasto, with a picture of a basket that no one in Honduras makes, while the Pech do not make “canastas” or closed weave baskets like those of Carrizo made by the Lencas and the Chortis, but rather they made “yaguales” called “arkás” in Pech, which are hanging baskets with a vine rim and a spider web weave inside. Two of Doña Juana’s yaguales, the Pech chief of Moradel outside of Trujillo are in the San Pedro Sula Museum and one is in the Burke Museum at the University of Washington. 

Almost every Honduran ethnic group made yaguals—the Maya Chorti, the Lencas, the Miskitos, the Tawahkas, the Pech and even the Ladinos, although they vary whether they use pita (from a agave or maguey like plants that needs 90-125 of sun) or majao (purú in Pech, sani in Miskito, weñu in Garifuna) twine made from tree bark, because these groups live in rainforest where that much sun is not available and a number of people still have them in their houses hanging from the roof beams. They were good for storing lard, gourd bowls, salt, things you did not want rats to bother. Some Ladinos hung gourd bowls above them to help the rats slip down, and some more modern people put a hole in the bottom of a Coca cola bottle, and hung it on the string above the yagual, because with its curved shape and slippery glass, the rats just slide to the floor.

I thought maybe the problem with these books was that the artist did not have examples of what the Pech or other Indian crafts looked like and so I began last year having Pech crafts made that were no longer being made or used so that we could photograph them for a book on Pech crafts for Pech schools and for the San Pedro Sula Museum exhibit. 

Traditional Indian  and Afro-Honduran Music Threatened-The example of Carrizo Flutes
(Part 2 of 3)

By Wendy Griffin

No one had made a Pech Carrizo  flute (arwa)  in 20 years, such as that now played by Hernan Martinez of Moradel near Trujillo,  partly because the traditional Pech religious ceremonies which required three musicians playing the Pech flute and drum and marracas and a fourth person to say the prayers,  had not been done since the road went into Culmi in the 1960’s, and all the Ladinos began moving in and the Catholic priest arrived every week, as opposed to once a year.  The Catholic church also started the practice of training lay people in the communities to be Celebrators of the Word, and thus for the first time since the Spanish conquest there were people in the Pech villages blocking the playing of the traditional music and doing the ceremonies.

The Problem of Young People Not Learning Crafts Which Had been Marginalized

Don Hernan now 68 years old is one of the last Pech people who knew how to make the flutes, who had been taught by his father Don Amado, one of the last people to do many of the Pech healing ceremonies who died in 1997. It took Don Hernan two tries to make the two new  Carrizo flute correctly, because since he had not made one in twenty years, he forgot where the finger holes went and did it wrong the first time. Fortunately he got enough Carrizo and cera prieta to make two more flutes, one that is now in the Burke Museum in Seattle, and one he kept to add Pech flute music to his son Angel’s traditional Pech music group in Moradel, which also uses the Pech drum( tempuk), and the maracas (kamacha). When I was able to buy all three, even though we could get no pita for the maracas due to the destruction of the plant, he told me proudly, “Now you have the whole orchestra”.  I was excited.

I thought it was important to have the Carrizo flute made now, like most Pech crafts, because the main people who knew how to make them are either dead or ill or blind or quite old. Don Hernan is 67 years old. If we do not make the Carrizo flute and the other Pech crafts soon, there will be no one alive who knows how to make them. I heard about the last Miskito drum maker when he was 93 years old. Because the  Moravian church is against traditional Miskito music from pre-Christian ceremonies, no one dared to learn to make the drum to accompany them. No one knows how to make the Tawahka drum or any of the Bay Islanders musical instruments. Part of that is also the coming of Protestant churches to the Bay Islands against dancing, something that also affects some Garifuna villages like Santa Fe.


I also wanted to have an example of the Carrizo, because one of the curing techniques of the Pech is called “soplo”, literally blowing on people. But the healer does not blow directly on the person, the healer blows through a hollow Carrizo tube.  This healing technique of soplo through a Carrizo tube is also used by some South American Indians. According to the Wikipedia article on Shamanism, all shamans have pipes, and the Pech equivalent of a shaman’s pipe is a Carrizo tube

The San Pedro Sula Museum of Anthropology and History currently has money problems, and the board chair has threatened to close it if they can not figure out how to generate enough income to pay their bills, so that was why this first flute was given to the Burke Museum in the US, rather than the San Pedro Museum, which does however, have all the rest of the Pech crafts, except a musical instrument called a deer caller, which the Director of the Museum would still like to acquire.  Hopefully they will be able to resolve their money problems and the craft exhibition can open there later.

Immigration and Urbanization as Reasons Crafts Die Out

The Pech traditionally lived in Olancho and along the Rio Platano and Rio Sico and Paualaya in the Mosquitia.  The Pech craft people  Don Hernan and Doña Juana have movied to the coast and live outside of Trujillo, so eventhough the village is in a protected area, it is totally the wrong eco-system to find either Carrizo or “cera Prieta” the Black wax of a special bee that produces white honey “miel de blanco”.  

Don Natividad, formerly the chief of El Carbon,  taught his son the Pech language  and how to make Pech crafts and how to use Pech medicinal plants, but the son went to the United States to work, and it is a guarantee he will find no carrizo or “cera prieta” or anyone to practice Pech with there. Yaya, the Garifuna healer in Trujillo also trained her son Rudy, who has lived in New York for over 25 years. It made the headlines in New York City that it has become the place many languages die out due to the pull of immigration and the need to assimilate to be able to work. 

The Problem of the Destruction of the Forest where Wild Resources Used by Indians Grow

Doña Juana, the Pech chief ofMoradel and her daughter, Isabel, went into the mountains of the Rio Platano Biosphere, in the nuclear zone beyond Las Marias where no one is allowed to go and where they had found carrizo10 years ago, but now the Ladinos have  cut everything down even in this remote and off limits area and  they were alarmed.  Maybe these will be the last two Pech flutes we will ever see.

The Rio Platano Biosphere is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it has been on the Endangered List for several years. Compare the difference of the thick rainforest on the video about the Ciudad Blanca Honduras from 2000 on Youtube.com “Discovering the Rio Platano Biosphere In Search of Ciudad  Blanca” with the tragedy of the cut rainforest in the Biosphere the 2011video on Vimeo.com  “Paradaise in Peril” video which begins with showing the Biosphere map going up in flames.

The Problem of What is Happening with the Bees?

After two and half years of looking we were unable to have a Pech arwa Carrizo flute made by Don Hernan due to the lack of availability of Carrizo, which only grows above 1,500 feet, also the recommended altitude to raise coffee, and also because of the lack of the special black wax made by a special bee which also makes “miel de blanco”, the best medicinal honey in Honduras. For example, it is used to treat chronic bronchitis by Doña Juana whose mother suffered from this. The Pech considered this bee so important, they used it to demonstrate the sound of one of the words in the Pech alphabet in their literacy book, like American children learn I for igloo or for ice cream.  For the letter e, the Pech taught ejtama, the Pech name for the rainforest tree liquidambar that only grows in the tropical cloud forest.

Each culture teaches words that it considers essential in first grade, and the Pech considered the name of this bee essential, even though I usually can not distinguish it from other bees, although it is quite different from the Africanized bees, which have reached the Pech area, because African bees will swarm around your head as you walk through the rainforest. This bee which makes the miel de blanco and the special wax, will not live in an area with African bees, which someone introduced further south in Latin America, thinking it was a good idea, and instead it was such a bad idea, horror movies have been made about them in the US. It is actually common that Honduran rainforest Indians can identify by name a number of different bees by things like their buzz, their flight pattern, the type of area they like to live in, while Western scientists tend to classify dead bees pinned under glass, said ethnobotanist Paul House. The Tolupan Indians of Montaña de la Flor are famous for their beekeeping in pieces of wood near their house, not in hives.

 Only the wax from this special bee, called “cera prieta” (very black wax) in Honduran Spanish can be used, because it hardens, actually to the point that you could polish it, pointed out Hernan Martinez. Once you put the reed in place with it, it remains in place, while another black wax made by Honduran wild bees called “jimerito” always remains soft and gummy (pegajoso) so if you try to store a flute made with this, the reed becomes displaced, the flute is deformed, and you can’t play it. But this special bee of the miel de blanco and cera prieta is very scarce, as it only lives in certain rainforest habitats which are disappearing at an alarming rate.

I don’t know if the general problems that are affecting US bees that are dying out in massive numbers is also what is affecting this bee in Honduras. One specialist in food said in the US, “If the bees die out, within 4 years, we humans will die out.”  Bees pollinize most of the foods humans like to eat, and if we kill the bees due to pesticide use, either because it kills them, or it weakens them and fall prey to mites or  it disorients them and they can not find their way home to the hive. If people think we should  not worried that we can not find black wax for flutes or medicinal honey, we should be alarmed that we arelosing the bees that produced them, as this is part of a much bigger problem. The Europeans often ban chemicals used in the US and Honduras afraid of the effect on the bees.

No Protection for the El Carbon Protected Area

It took us two and half years to get together both a few pieces of Carrizo and the wax. We had previously contacted the Pech craft people in El Carbon, a Pech village in Olancho near San Esteban, that we wanted to get this Carrizo and the wax. Don Natividad Garcia, who had previously been chief and is a good craftperson and knows what the carrizo looks like, and previously a hunter so he knows his way around the mountains above El Carbon, got up at dawn to try to get high enough in the mountains to find Carrizo, but even there, which is a protected area, there was no Carrizo and cera preta.

 The Pech of El Carbon have had troubles before with Ladinos moving into the area above their village, even to the point of drying up one branch of the Aso Sewa (yellow water in Pech) River due to deforestation.  When we went to El Carbon last July, the people were “asustado” (frightened and surprised), because of the land invasion of over 88 acres of land by Ladinos about which the authorities were doing nothing, and also Ladinos had started taking people to the isolated area and shooting them and leaving them for dead in the Pech village.   The Pech chief’s wife said sometimes she heard gunshots at night, and her husband would be away studying and she could not sleep or sleep for “nerves”.  She finally had to medically treated for nerves. She also could not forget the dead man when they found him with his hands behind his back tied, and he was in a crouched position, frozen, killed trying to get up. A Pech healer said the dead man was watching her, and she needed to be treated for that, too. Sometimes when the dead people watch you, the Pech believe, they come and kill you and take you with them.

Conflicting Views of Wild Plants Between Indians and Ladinos

(Part 3 of 3)

By Wendy Griffin

The Olancho Nahua Indians believed that this higher up area where Carrizo, a bamboo like plant,  grows above 1,500 feet was closer to God, and that may have made the Carrizo  (Acatl in Nahua as in Acalteca (now Agalteca), Yoro, Santa Barbara, Comayagua and Olancho and Agalta Valley, Olancho) growing area more sacred for them. The word Acatl in Nahua seems to be a general word for tall thin craft plants like tule for making petate mats, Carrizo for baskets or flutes and junco for baskets, and the Valley of Agalta, Olancho where the town of San Esteban is may have been named for its Carrizo, as well as because the people were followers of Ce Acatl Topoltzin (Our Lord One Reed), the Toltec King who supposedly died in the Ciudad blanca area in Huetlapalan, east of Trujillo. The name Toltec, comes from tolan or tulan, the place of a lot of tule, which seems also to have been called Acatan, the place of a lot of tule, junco and Carrizo. So Acalteca are people from the place of Tule, Carrizo and Junco, like the word Junqueñas (the women of Junco) for the women craft people of Santa Barbara.  So these plants, two which grow by water and the other in the mountains, are central to the identity of this ethnic group.


High Up Places for Carrizo Sacred Places for Nahuas, Lencas and Mayas

There is an Olancho story (Olancho’s name comes from place of Rubber Ulanco in Nahua) about how God put the jilquero bird which has a beautiful song in this highest up place in the tropical cloud forest, so that it would be closer to him and he could hear it better. This bird’s Nahua name is the origin of the name of the town of Chiquimula, Guatemala which supposedly settled by people from Palenque also called Culhuacan, according to the Chiquimula Online website. Culhuacan was the Toltec neighbourhood in the Valley of Mexico founded after the destruction of Teotihuacan, and also was a place name in the Valley of Sula at the time of Spanish Conquest. The people in the Valley of Agalta, Olancho  were identified as Sules and Comayagues or Payas in the Colonial period. Paya comes the name of Ce Acatl’s kingdom “Payaqui” (among Nahuas or Among Yaquis) or Hueyatlato (the big one or most important one, el mayor).

According to Conzemius, the Pech did not go to the very tops of mountains as there were sacred lagoons there and they avoided them.  That the Nahua Indians of Olancho said their ancestors did human sacrifice in a secret cave beside the Mescal Lagoon along the way from Catacamas to the Ciudad Blanca or White City, shows that they may have had a good reason to avoid these highest mountain area. That the book Jugleland notes a high upcave by the Las Crucitas (little crosses) ruin in the Ciudad Blanca area may be significant. A number of Mesoamerican Indians including the Guatemala and Honduran Mayas and the Honduran Lencas did and still do ceremonies on mountain tops, where they often put crosses (representing the world tree), which would have been good reason for the Pech to avoid them. 

Quite specific stories associated with human sacrifice at the Ciudad Blanca and with the Cholulatecas (Nahua speakers from Cholula, Mexico) or Chorotegas are reported by Theodore Morde’s1939 report La Ciudad de Mono Dios (city of the Monkey God) found in the typewritten edition in the IHAH library in Tegucigalpa. The Pech may have called the Nahua Chorotecas instead of Cholulatecas because Pech language generally does not have the l sound.

The Pech culture has developed in the Olancho and Colon rainforest mountains, especially over the last 500 years, and probably over the last 1,000 years, due to the Nahuas occupying the low lands in their area, so the Pech culture depends on plants in the high mountains, which has been  threatened over the last 50 years as Ladinos move into the area to cut wood and grow coffee and raise cattle.  I think one of the most important studies I have heard of is Paul House’s study of what plants Ladinos use, and what plants do they consider important and where do they grow.

Honduran Ladinos, Users of Secondary Forests, the Pech  the Uncut Primary Forest

In Paul House’s study, the Ladinos only used two plants in the uncut forest—liquidambar for straight roof beams (as opposed to the Pech who take out this tree’s resin) and Carrizo for baskets. All their medicinal plants, their wood plants, most of their craft plants, their food plants, came either from their crops, but especially from the “guamiles”, the secondary forest that grows up after you cut the primary forest down and plant for a year and then let it lie fallow. 

In his planned study of how many plants the people from Southern Honduras like San Marcos Colon, he wanted to know how many useful plants the people of southern Honduras used in the uncut forest,to compare it to the 116 useful plants per hectare the Tawahka Indians used in the uncut forest.. In all of San Marcos de Colon there was not half a hectare of forest left.  The Ladinos of Southern Honduras can live without forest, the Pech, Tawahkas, Tolupan Indians, Garifunas and Miskitos can not.

To most Ladinos, the uncut forest is in the way. You have to cut it down to get the good stuff, like grass for cattle.  And while this reduced the rain, this reduction,  in fact, favors Ladino crops which come from seeds developed for the arid areas of Central Mexico that do better with less rain, rather than the Garifunas, the Miskitos, the Pech and Tawahka root crops that are fine in the rain of the Central American and South American and African rain forests.  It also favors the growing of their rope plants like mescal,pita, and maguey, and henequen which need sun, and dry, as opposed to majoa used by the Pech, the Garifunas, the Miskitos, and the Tawahkas which grows in the rainforest, even in shade.

Why Don’t We Just cut All the forest Down?

The Pech of El Carbon heard this difference reflected in the accusations of the Mayor of San Esteban, Olancho which is the municipio or county where El Carbon is located. When they complained about Ladinos invading their lands and cutting down the forest there to him, the Mayor said, “You Pech are lazy, you were not doing anything with the land.” The wife of the chief of El Carbon said, “It is thanks to us that we have not cut down all the trees, that all of us have any air to breathe.” 

The Mayor of San Esteban apologized. The Tawahka President of FITH Edgardo Benitez says, “This country just does not value trees and forest.” His father reported most of the mahoghany now cut with the Tawahka Biosphere Reserve where he lives.

 I am very concerned that UNESCO has the area where Honduran languages are spoken on their Atlas of endangered languages as Mesoamerica, when the majority of the langauges and the culturals of Northeastern Honduras are Tropical forest tribes and depend on the rainforest, which the Mesoamerican Indians and their Ladino descendants do not. In fact, the practices of Southern Honduran Ladinos have changed Choluteca Department from having a rubber and a pink Mahoghany wood cutting industries, both of which require rainforest, in the 19th century, and there still being jaguars in southern Honduras which also requires rainforest, to there now being cactus.  Pink Honduran mahoghany is now an extinct species of tree. Dr. Paul House looked all over the county of San Marcos de Colon in Choluteca to find one half hectare of forest to compare the Ladino use of forest, but in the whole county there was not half an hectare of forest.

The name of Choluteca comes from Cholulateca-people from Cholula, a valley in Central Mexico near Mexico City, where the Toltecs and other Nahua speakers went after they left the valley of Mexico. Cholula was sometimes called Tula or Tulan Cholula, the place of Tule, a water reed. The Tule mats (petates in Honduran Spanish and Nahua) were sat upon by nobles in their meetings as well as put on altars and used for sleeping. Many of the Ladina women in the Guadelupe Carney craft group who live outside of Trujillo reported growing up sleeping on petate mats.

That change from mahoghany forest to desert in Southern Honduras is pretty incredible in only one hundred years. The lack of rain and the problem of cattle meat for export not being accepted for export to the US due to contamination with agrochemicals, and so the farmers move into uncontaminated areas that still have water like the Colon, Olancho and Mosquitia rainforests, are some reasons why Ladinos are moving into the areas previously controlled by the Pech, Garifunas, the Tawahkas and the Miskitos.

I once asked what I thought was rhetorically to a Ladino cattle rancher, Why did they move into the area, and steal the land, but he answered me, saying, “The Honduran milk companies paid such a low price for milk that the cattle ranchers could not afford to buy the land, so they just stole it.” The two main fresh milk companies in Honduras  Sula in San Pedro Sula  and Leyde in la Ceiba were originally associated with the two main banana companies in Honduras, Standard (now Dole), and the Tela Railroad (originally United fruit Company now part of Chiquita), but I do not know if they are still the owners.

I asked my university English students at the UNAH what difference does it make if we cut down all the rainforest, and all of them answered, “I don’t know.” I showed them books with pictures of rainforest animals which I thought they might like to teach with in primary grades and they asked me, “Where do these animals live?”  Olancho, the Mosquitia, Yoro, Atlantida, Colon. They had never heard of them.

 These animals and these plants were essential to the life and culture of the Indians of Olancho and the Mosquitia like the Pech, but since the Ladinos who raised coffee or cattle did not know them, did not value them, did not see any use for them, they cut them down for grass or to leave it “limpio” (clean). One thing you can say about deserts, like beside much of the road between Tegucigalpa and Choluteca,  they are “limpio”, no plants all the way down to the dirt. The answer of my students inspired my 12 years of writing for the newspaper Honduras this Week to teach them why the rainforest and its animals and plants mattered.

The European custom of favouring open areas cleared to ground, such as left by sheep or cattle grazing, was not the model followed by Honduran Indians, neither Maya Chortis in the west, nor the rainforest Indians nor the Garifunas in northeastern Honduras. One researcher of Maya Chorti medicinal and food plant lore estimated in the book The Maya Chorti Area, the nutritional value of the plants called “weeds” by the Europeans and which they let their cattle in the Indians’ gardens to eat was equal or of higher value to the Chortis than the actual corns, beans, and squash which the Europeans had identified as the food crops, which they also let their cattle eat. In 450 years of Indian and Spanish contact, we still have not solved that issue or conflict.

After this discussion about why does it matter if we cut down all the rainforest with my university students I wrote the 26 article series for Honduras This Week on the roles of Honduran animals in songs, stories, food, ceremonies, religions, and what was happening with these animals now, which I required the students to read for reading classes in English.

One student commented, “Why did we have to wait until we were in the University and in English classes to learn about Honduras and its plants, animals and ethnic groups?”  I said, “I don’t know”, and I am sorry to say it has not changed. Maybe now it will, as at the Forum on the challenges of Bilingual Intercultural Education in Trujillo in December 2013  one of the decisions taken was there should  not just be  Intercultural Education for minority ethnic groups, but rather for all Hondurans as required by ILO Convention 169.