martes, 25 de marzo de 2014

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 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  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 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

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 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 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.

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