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The Lencas

The Lencas live in Central Honduras and El Salvador, they have been reported by the Spaniards since the conquest. About the history, the culture and the traditions of the Lenca before the Spanish arrival the experts are still in doubt and discussions. According to the Anthropologist Baron Castro the Lenca lived in Copan, and did not participate in the exodus of this Mayan center.

The few historical documents about the Lenca indicate their main and leading position in what is today the west, east and south of Honduras. Their villages consisted of up to 350 houses. They did not construct big spiritual and governmental centers like for example the Maya of Copan. Their religious celebrations, where they ate corn with ashes, did not depend on big monuments. They sacrificed humans, what indicates a close relationship to the mesoamercian cultures. Their agriculture was well developed and based on corn and beans. They harvested their fields up to 3 times a year. The traveler and scientist E.G. Squier named the Lenca in the year 1853, when he came to a place called Guajiquiro in the department of La Paz. The inhabitants of the whole region and the west of Honduras called themselves and their language "Lenca" and he used this name in his reports.

Regional dialects are proof there was four groups among the Lencas: Care, Crequin, Poton and Lenca. They lived isolated from each other, without loosing contact to maintain the traditions they had in common. Each group had its territory, and each territory was subdivided in smaller portions according to the villages and the leaders. One leader controled at least one village, often more. The Spaniards counted more than 500 villages in the region of the Lencas. The society consisted of different classes, like priests, warriors and nobles. Between the groups, war was common. But also, at times was peaceful when the groups signed peace agreements, proofed by the historical document called "Guancasco".

It seems that the Lenca and their society were in a steady development of society and trade, long before the arrival of Columbus. In the villages, the production of the daily needs and food was made in common work. The wars between the villages testify the hectic political intentions of the nobles and chiefs of having leadership over a certain region.

The Spanish conquest ended the social and economic development and independence of the Lenca and all the other local tribes. The Lenca fought against the Spaniards for more then 20 years. The key of their successful resistance was the social organization and the leadership of a man called Lempira (the name of the Honduran currency). The biggest success of the Lenca is reported in the year 1537 and took place between the actual town of Gracias and the Celaque National Park. Lempira unified the four groups mentioned above to a confederated army. Lempira was the chief of the army with at least 2000 warriors (historic reports vary the number of warriors), and was able to resist more than 6 month against the superior Spanish invaders.

Language

The language of the Lenca has been lost in the last two centuries. Some of the old people still remember some words of the language they have from their grandfathers. There is not much hope to revive this language, because the few old people are not interested in sharing their knowledge.

Religion

The Lenca lost their traditional religion and have become Catholics, like the majority of the Honduran population. The Lenca named their religion the "old religion", which got mixed with the catholic confession. The religion of the Catholics and of the Lenca has been similar in a lot of elements, and it was easy for the Lencas to switch to the catholic confession. The virgin Maria and Christ represent the father and the mother of creation. Even today the Lenca are sacrificing animals ("composturas") to please the saints and the angels. They are watching their own spiritual history that can not be found in the bible, like the creation of the clouds, the corn and the entire world.

Due to the mixture with the Spaniards and the loss of their language, culture and traditions, the Lenca are in danger of extinction as an ethnic group. Only programs to save and establish the few known traditions could save the Lenca as a ethnic group.


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