By Jheri St. James

Honduras is a vibrant country, brimming with clear turquoise waters, pristine beaches, lush jungles, breathtaking mountains, challenging rivers, and fascinating ancient ruins. Vast expanses of Mother Nature are to be found everywhere.

Ecotours, inexpensive scuba diving, river rafting, and mountain treks are what Honduras is known for today. Honduras is enjoying a boom in popularity, as the rich and famous have found a place where they can still travel unknown. Located in Central America, bordering the Caribbean Sea, between Guatemala and Nicaragua, and bordering the Gulf of Fonseca (North Pacific Ocean), between El Salvador and Nicaragua, Honduras is slightly larger than Tennessee. Subtropical in the lowlands, temperate in the mountains, Hondorus is mostly mountainous in the interior, with narrow coastal plains. The country was devastated by Hurricane Mitch in 1998, which killed about 5,600 people and caused approximately $2 billion in damage, and is subject to frequent but generally mild earthquakes. It is also susceptible to damaging hurricanes and flods along the Caribbean coast.

Honduras is home to a rather large Garifuna society, also known as the Black Caribs, which first originated in San Vicente, about a century after the conquering of Central America, South America, and the lower Antilles. Their social and cultural characteristics in family and social structures have changed very little. They still share their dialect, circular dances, religious practices, Punta dance, tales, banana cultivation, and rooster and pig sacrifices with the indigenous people of the Amazon. Their ways of production are still based in subsistence farming. Among the different communities there is a great potential of production, and in most cases the land is very fertile for farming, however the only people involved are the elders because young people believe farming is not a great source of income.

Youngsters are mostly dedicated to fishing, because most of the fish can be sold and produce an immediate source of income. Youngsters show little or no interest in participating in social reunions with the rest of their community; elders and the women are usually the ones who interact with these reunions. It can be concluded that young Garifunas seem to be more interested in immigrating to North America.

The Garifuna population that lives in the Atlantic Coast, between Belize and Nicaragua, is distributed in 43 towns and villages. Approximately 98,000 Garifunas live in Honduras, and they are mostly concentrated along the North coast from Masca, Cortés to Plaplaya, Gracias a Dios. Among other villages are: Santa Rosa de Aguan, Tornabé, Limón, Nueva Armenia, San Juán, Cosuna, Triunfo de la Cruz, and Baja Mar.

Garifuna are subject to poor sanitary conditions throughout most of the area. The lack of clinical establishments, basic infrastructure projects, illness prevention programs, and nutrition programs greatly affect Garifunas. About 78% of the children under 12 years of age suffer from malnutrition; three out of 10 will die before they are two years old. Their housing consists of small huts with walls made of royal palm, sugar cane and of cement blocks. The ceiling is commonly made of hay, however they also use zinc as a ceiling too. There is a great tendency to replace their traditional style of housing for more modern types; however, these changes have helped improve their health conditions.

Garifunas do not believe in politics, they believe that they are perfectly peaceful and can handle their personal problems without the intervention of any legal force; however, in some areas a governor is in charge of providing justice between the people. Only educated Garifunas occupy government positions. Most Garifunas not only speak Spanish, but also use the Igñeri dialect that is a combination of Arahuaco, French, Swahili, and Bantu. Garifunas still maintain their own religious system that is a mixture of African and Amerindian traditions to which they have incorporated Catholic elements. Of great importance is the Garifuna religious system called Gubida that is a combination of dreams and possession rituals, as altered states of consciousness are considered, by the participants and believers, to be caused by the possession of a spiritual entity.

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Ruins Ancient Maya Civilization

Before the Garifunas, the ancient Maya empire spread through Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, western Honduras and the five Mexican states of Yucatán, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, Campeche and Chiapas, an area of around 500,000 square kilometers. The Maya were one of the most brilliant and powerful cultures known to Mesoamerica, indeed their civilization spanned a period of 3,000 years. They had a written language, were skilled architects, adventurous traders and gifted artisans. They lived in an agrarian society and had a well-developed religious system which venerated the cosmos. Royal dynasties spawned rulers who built the exotic temples and commanding ceremonial centers which still stand today. Copán is the most famous archeological site in Honduras. Highlights include the stelae thought to represent ancient kings and the Hieroglyphic Stairway which has the written history of the dynasty recorded on it.

By the time the Spanish came to Honduras, the once great city-state of Copan was overrun by the jungle. On his fourth and final voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus reached the coast of Honduras in 1502, and landed near the modern town of Trujillo, somewhere along the Guaimoreto Lagoon, and had his priests say mass. After the Spanish discovery, Honduras became part of Spain’s vast empire in the New World within the Kingdom of Guatemala. The Spanish ruled Honduras for approximately three centuries, declaring independence from Spain on September 15, 2821. In 1822, the Central American State was annexed to the newly declared Mexican Empire of Iturbide. After a couple more changes in sovereignty, Honduras joined the Allied Nations on the 8th of December, 1941. Less than a month later, on the first day of 1942, Honduras, along with 25 other governments signed the Declaration by the United Nations. In 1982 a freely elected civilian government came to power.

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Betty Marchano was, once again, our “Earth Angel” in Honduras. Betty has been such a good friend to our project, gathering the soils of Guatemala and Honduras herself, and being instrumental in the soil of Belize coming to us from Ramiro Najera Chinchilla. We had the chance to visit with her some time back when she was in Los Angeles and came to Laguna Beach to visit, bring with her lots of DVD’s and other materials related to her collections. Wow, Betty, words can hardly express our gratitude!

She says, “I happened to come to this place because I have a friend in Guatemala who was born in this place. She’s a very good friend of mine, and I went to get a birth certificate for her and her sister. I’ve heard Puerto Cortez is the port of greatest influence in the Central American economy. It’s about one hour away from San Pedro Sula, the second most important city in the country . . . sorry, no pictures this time either.” Her soil came from Central Park of Puerto Cortez. Here is a picture of her under a tree in Guatemala.

“Puerto Cortes is the principal port of Central America, and its port facilities are the most advanced, with big ships loading and unloading every day of the week. Recent expansion and development at Puerto Barrios in Guatemala will create stiff competition for Puerto Cortes. The new port projects in Guatemala are privately owned and are expected to be more competitive and aggressive than the government run facilities at Puerto Cortes.

A banana boat at the dock in Puerto Cortes in the early 1900's.

“The Saturday farmer's market draws big crowds of shoppers, tons of fresh fruit, vegetables, and meats from local producers. We buy most of our vittles there. From Puerto Cortes there is a partially paved road to the west taking you to Chivana, Omoa, Cuyamel, other small ocean side villages, and Guatemala. It's a great drive, mountains on your left and the ocean on your right. There are many beach homes belonging to upper crust folks from other parts of Honduras scattered among the local villages and homes.

“A dirt road to the East takes you to the Garifuna villages of Travesia and Baja Mar. Puerto Cortes is an OK place for me and my family, close enough to San Pedro Sula for business purposes without the high crime and all the hassles of the big city. We love having the mountains on one hand and the beaches and sea on the other.” - R. James, January, 2003

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Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere with an extraordinarily unequal distribution of income and massive unemployment, banking on expanded trade under the US-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), and on debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. The country has met most of its macroeconomic targets, and began a three-year IMF Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PGRF) program in February 2004. Growth remains dependent on the economy of the US, its largest trading partner, on continued exports of non-traditional agricultural products (such as melons, chiles, tilapia, and shrimp), and on reduction of the high crime rate.

This journal entry is about disparity. The range of society represented in Honduras is vast—from the rich ecotourists to the Garifuna indigenous people; the incredible Maya to our little Earth Angel Betty. This disparity is visible worldwide and locally, from the artist Gary Simpson to the hungry homeless man on the street, even in our small beach town.

Using statistics from the CIA published online Worldfact Book, Gary has produced a series he calls “Disparity”, highlighting various aspects of human experience in the world: birth rates, death rates, infant mortality rates, life expectancy at birth, HIV prevalence rates, military expenditures/percent of GDP. Using the bar graphs he created from the CIA statistics, he expanded his body of artwork to include these thought-provoking pieces which summarize the world situation in a powerful and immediate way. You may view these pieces in the art gallery of this website.

There are disparities in soil, too, from the rich black loam of Eastern Europe, to the red-orange sands of Qatar, to the white sand beaches of Honduras. One thing is common to all, though, the life span of humanity that plays itself out on the surface of that soil. We give it a name, we kill each other over it, we live atop it and are buried beneath it; it grows our foods and herbs; trees and animal life issue from it. And we hardly give it a thought except maybe to wipe the mud off our boots or sweep the dust from the house. But the Common Ground 191 soil will be much more than that—it will represent the stories of all of these little collections of two cups of earth come together, without disparity, at last.




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