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Lenca - Honduras
The Lenca people are the largest indigenous population in Honduras today with around two thousand villages and 116,000 people. They also represent a large population in eastern El Salvador of around 37,000. The Lenca are a strong peaceful people fighting to preserve their identity and culture, despite most having lost their native language over centuries of Spanish domination.
They are known to be humble and an extremely hospitable people. They attend to the needs of friends, guests and other community members. They take the time to talk and enjoy one another’s company. Meals are an important part of keeping the community close. Everyone is expected to contribute to the life of the community, which has a strong agricultural base. The women work as skilled artisans to create pottery and woven crafts, and men with masonry and construction.
The majority of the Lenca community practice Roman Catholicism while still observing indigenous ceremonies and celebrations. They blend the new and old traditions through religious festivals that venerate nature, the patron saints of the Catholic Church, and include animal sacrifices and prayer to ancestors.
Guancasco is a ceremony between neighboring communities designed to reaffirm peace and friendship. The root of the word Guancasco comes from the the Lenca word for brotherhood (“guan”) and the word “casco” (town, in English) means “faith, peace” in Pipil. The event is filled with folk dancing, music, crafts (pottery and weaving), and indigenous games. During this time the political leaders work to resolve problems with each other directly and promote goodwill.
Their lives are difficult. Most live in poverty and struggle to overcome the challenges that come with it. An average eight-hour work day may pay up to five dollars. Opportunity is scarce for jobs and education, which make life improvement challenging.
The Lenca culture is deeply rooted in the land where they live and is tied to many of their traditions. For instance, the Gualcarque River in Honduras is a sacred space for them. It is used as a communal bathing area to spend time together. The Lenca people believe the river is inhabited by the spirits of children and women and that it must always run free. Mountains and hills are also considered sacred and holy places. They value time together and have great respect for the nature around them.
For the past decade the plans to build the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque River have threatened the Lenca community of Río Blanco. The huge growth in this environmentally destructive dam project threatens access to water for irrigation, drinking, and community space. These projects are violating their indigenous rights and have been pushed forward without the consent of the people (in violation of international law). The construction of this dam will further endanger food sovereignty for the Lenca people. The community has come together to fight this project by staging peaceful marches, encampments, and road blockings.
The displacement continues and leaders are often repressed, criminalized, and their lives threatened. For example in July 2013, resistance members Tomás García and his 17-year old son Allan García were shot when members of the Honduran Army opened fire on Lenca community members during a peaceful protest. Two hundred people watched Tomás García die fighting to protect his indigenous rights. Many more peaceful activists have been threatened, beaten, and also killed.
The continued violence and disregard for Lenca culture and ancestral land rights threatens their ability to survive in Honduras and El Salvador.
IRTF urgent action responses to protect and defend the Lenca people
Over the past few years, IRTF’s Rapid Response Network team has sent several letters to officials in Honduras, the US and to international bodies, demanding justice and protection for the political, cultural and land rights of Lenca communities in Honduras.
Here are some examples
“A tradition of faith and goodwill between communities” Grupo OSPA. 2012. http://www.hondurastips.hn/english/2013/12/13/a-tradition-of-faith-and-goodwill-between/#.VrIpQtIrLcs
“LENCA” IC Magazine. https://intercontinentalcry.org/indigenous-peoples/lenca/
“Lenca Culture” From Appalachia to Opalaca.
“The Lenca People” Isaiah Ministries. 2016. http://61isaiah.com/about-us/the-lenca-people/