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World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Honduras

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2007
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Honduras, 2007, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
Comments In October 2015, MRG revised its World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. For the most part, overview texts were not themselves updated, but the previous 'Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples' rubric was replaced throughout with links to the relevant minority-specific reports, and a 'Resources' section was added. Refworld entries have been updated accordingly.
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Honduras is the second largest country in Central America. It is bounded on the north by the Caribbean Sea and on the south-west by the Pacific Ocean. Honduras shares frontiers with Guatemala on the west, Nicaragua on the east and south, and El Salvador on the south-west.

Over 80 per cent of the land is mountainous, with ranges extending from east to west. Most of the Afro-Honduran population is concentrated on the Atlantic Coast along with Miskitu who live in areas that border Nicaragua. The majority of the other indigenous groups are located in the central departments and on the borders with Guatemala and El Salvador.


The current territory of Honduras cuts across what was a pre-Columbian boundary between Mesoamerica and the more dispersed indigenous communities to the south. In the north and west of the country, Mayan and Lenca groups based their well-organized communities around agriculture and trade and were joined by Nahuat-speaking migrants moving south from Mexico. The Lenca and Maya Chortí are descendants of these populations. The rest of the territory was made up of groups that migrated from the south, including the Mayagna (Sumu), Tolupan (Xicaque) and Pech (Paya) who lived by fishing and shifting agriculture.

The division was largely maintained following the arrival of Spanish gold-seeking colonizers. Honduras turned out to be much richer in silver and, in the west, tens of thousands died and as many as 150,000 were enslaved and exported to mines and estates in other countries. The less accessible jungle areas were not as affected, while on the Atlantic Coast the Miskitu population formed as a consequence of British trading activity (see Nicaragua).

The first Africans initially came to Honduras under conditions of forced labour with the Spanish beginning in 1540, and mostly became part of the mainstream mestizo population.

The Afro-Honduran Garífuna society developed following the 1797 exile by Britain of Afro-Caribs from the island of St Vincent to the Honduran Bay Islands. Later, a majority migrated to the mainland and established villages on the Atlantic coast extending from Belize to Nicaragua. They continued to speak their own language and preserve distinctive cultural practices.

In the 1840s a group of English-speaking black free persons from the Cayman Islands also migrated to the Bay Islands and settled there. They formed self-sufficient farming and fishing communities, had little to do with the mainland and retained their Creole language and Afro- Caribbean culture.

Additional Afro-Caribbean groups came in the early twentieth century as migrant workers to build the railroad and work in the banana enclaves of the mainland. Those who could not get jobs in the banana plantations began leaving during the global depression of 1930s and the descendants of those who remained largely became part of the mestizo mainstream.


Main languages: Spanish, Garífuna, English Creole, indigenous languages

Main religions: Christianity (Roman Catholic, Evangelical)

The indigenous/minority population of Honduras is estimated to be 8 per cent of the total population[1]

Main minority groups: Afro-Hondurans (2%),[2] Lenca, Miskitu, Xicaque (Tolupan), Maya Chorti (or Chortí), Pech (Paya), Tawahka (Sumu)

The Lenca, Pech, Tawahka, Xicaque, Maya Chorti, Misquito, and Garífuna are classified as indigenous. The Garífuna are of mixed, Afro-Carib origin and were moved to the area during the colonial period. There is also an Afro-Honduran Creole English-speaking minority group of around 20,000 who live mainly in the Honduran Bay Islands.


Modern Honduran history has been dominated by the struggle to forge a national identity from two disparate halves. US companies operating with generous tax incentives developed fruit plantations on the Atlantic coast on large tracts of land provided by the Honduran government and created a complete infrastructure of railways and roads primarily to service these holdings. The rest of the country remained a rural agrarian Spanish colonial influenced society consisting largely of mestizo ranchers and subsistence farmers.

For most of its post-independence history the culture of national unity forged by the state has been on the basis of a mestizo ideal formulated largely in the urban centres of the country; most especially in Tegucigalpa (the political capital) and San Pedro Sula (the industrial capital). As a consequence traditional indigenous and minority populations have historically been marginalized, ignored or discriminated against.

Indigenous organizations, most especially Garífuna began working at a national level in the late 1970s and in the 1980s there emerged a rising consciousness of minority rights, which has focused on struggles against the expulsion from traditional lands. Land conflicts sharpened with the Law on the Modernization of the Agricultural Sector, which brought indigenous groups into conflict with investors in agro-industry and tourism. At a more immediate level, it put them into direct conflict with local landowners, municipal governments, as well as with agencies of the Honduran state, such as the National Agrarian Institute (INA) and the Honduran forestry service (COHDEFOR).

Government recognition

Unlike other countries of the region, in the 1980s Honduras officially recognized the multicultural composition of its society and the need to protect the economic, cultural and human rights of its ethnic peoples. This helped to create an official space for indigenous and minority populations to work towards having their rights recognized and their needs addressed.

President Callejas (1989-93) pledged to demarcate territory and issue land titles. In the case of the Xicaque, a presidential order to follow this up was issued. However the promises and signed agreements to title the lands were not delivered to the agreed-upon extent which led groups to further protest against government failure to fulfil its agreements. Hopes for change were crushed when one of their leaders, Vicente Matute, was assassinated in May 1992.

In July 1994, in an unprecedented demonstration by Honduran indigenous groups, 3,000 indigenous activists camped outside the legislative assembly in Tegucigalpa for five days. Their demands included indigenous rights, protection of the environment and the release of indigenous leaders jailed in land disputes. In response, the government of President Carlos Reina set up an emergency commission to attend to the demands. Some logging concessions in indigenous areas were cancelled and, in 1995, ILO Convention 169 on indigenous rights was implemented.

In 1997 the Honduran government, under President Reina, promised 14,700 hectares of land to Maya Chorti following the murder of Candido Amador Recinos and the mass protest which occurred in Tegucigalpa and at the Mayan ruins of Copan afterwards. Since then, only a fraction of this land has been titled to Maya Chorti communities. This is partly a consequence of the difficulties surrounding negotiations to purchase the land from local landowners, changes in presidential administrations every four years as well as unexplained disappearance of funds.

All along critics have questioned the degree of government commitment, pointing out that the agreements are just standard delaying tactics traditionally used by the Honduran state, which involves tolerating the existence of social movements rather than rejecting them outright and attempting to manage or channel dissent through strategies like promises and accords.

The 30 November 1998 amendment to Article 107 of the Honduran Constitution removed the prohibition against non-Hondurans purchasing land - provided the land is used for tourism projects. This created great concern especially among Garífuna groups because it opened up the possibility for foreign individuals or companies to purchase land in areas where ethnic minorities have traditionally lived and for which they had not yet been formally given agreed upon communal titles.

The chances of indigenous and minority groups being able to have their concerns adequately addressed is especially complicated by the fact that, although each new Honduran administration inherits previously agreed upon accords and promises, it shows different degrees of commitment to indigenous issues, and towards honouring past promises and accords, or making new ones.

In November 2005 Manuel Zelaya Rosales of the center-left Liberal Party was elected president. Zelaya who took office in 2006, was a vocal proponent of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and since then various indigenous and campesino organizations have kept a wary eye on the administration to determine its degree of commitment to their issues.

In August 2008 Honduras joined the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) amid strong criticism from business and right- wing political sectors. According to the 2005 founding document ALBA was established as an alternative to US sponsored trade agreements like CAFTA with the aim of promoting Latin American cooperation, solidarity and integration while simultaneously fighting regional poverty, inequality and unequal terms of trade. Honduras joined Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Nicaragua and Venezuela to become the sixth member state.



Minority based and advocacy organisations


OFRANEH (Organización Fraternal Negra de Honduras)
[Fraternal Organization of Blacks of Honduras]
Tel: +504 443 2492

Organización Negra de Centro América (ONECA)
Tel: +504 43 3651


Comité para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos en Honduras (CODEH)

Indigenous peoples

Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas (COPINH)
Tel: +504 783 0817

Confederación De Pueblos Autóctonos De Honduras (CONPAH)
[Umbrella organization for indigenous rights, culture and development]
Tel: +504 225 2612, 225 4925

Federación Indígena Tawahka De Honduras
[Indigenous rights, culture and development]
Tel: +504 238 3279

Solidaridad y Desarrollo de la Moskitia
[Indigenous rights, culture and development]
Tel: +504 553 4001

Consejo Nacional Indígena Maya Chortí de Honduras (CONIMCHH)
Tel: +504 651 4694

La Asociación Bayán
[Indigenous rights, culture and development]
Tel: +504 408 0190, 442 2189

Sources and further reading


Amnesty International USA:

Cowater International Inc. (ed.), Honduras Country Report, Poverty Alleviation Program for Minority Communities in Latin America, Washington, IDB, 1995.

Davidson, W., Historical Geography of the Bay Islands, Honduras, Birmingham, Southern University Press, 1974.

Euraque, D. (ed.), 'The banana enclave, nationalism and mestizaje in Honduras, 1910s-1930s', in A. Chomsky and A. Lauria-Santiago (eds), The Margins of the Nation-state: Identity and Struggle in the Making of Laboring Peoples of Central America and the Hispanic Caribbean, 1860Â-1960, Durham, NC, Duke University Press, 1997.

Hogdahl, K., 'Honduras', in Human Rights in Developing Countries Yearbook 1994, Deventer, Kluwer, 1994.

Junho Pena, M.-V. and Swartz, K.J., Guía para abrir nuevas oportunidades en el valle de Copán, Honduras, Banco Mundial, December 2002.

Knight, A., 'Racism, revolution, and indigenismo: 1910-1940', in R. Graham (ed.), The Idea of Race in Latin America, 1870-1940, Austin, University of Texas Press, 1990.

Molina, L. and Rodríguez, V., 'Elementos conceptuales y vocabulario incluidos en los documentos', in Instituto Interamericano de Derechos Humanos (ed.), Conferencia Mundial contra el Racismo, la Discriminación Racial, la Xenofobia y las Formas Conexas de Intolerancia. Después de Durban: construcción de un proceso regional de inclusión social. San José, Costa Rica, Instituto Interamericano de Derechos Humanos, 2001.

Naylor, R.P., Ante Imperialism: The Mosquito Shore and the Bay of Honduras, 1600-1914, London, Associated University Presses, 1986.

Norsworthy, K. and Barry, T., Inside Honduras, Albuquerque, NM, Resource Centre Press, 1995.

Rivas, R.D., Pueblos indígenas y Garífuna de Honduras, Tegucigalpa, Guayamuras, 1993.

Thorne, E., 'Ethnic and race-based political organization and mobilization in Latin America: lesson for public policy', in Towards a Shared Vision of Development, Washington, DC, IDB, 2001.

United Nations (Doc A/CONF.189/12), Report of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, UN, 2001.

United Nations Millennium Declaration, UN, 2000.

Zoninsein, J., 'The economic case for combating racial and ethnic exclusion in Latin America and the Caribbean countries', in Towards a Shared Vision of Development, Washington, DC, IDB, 2001.


'The Garifunas in Honduras', in C. Moore, T. Sanders and S. Moore (eds), African Presence in the Americas, Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1995.

Beaucage, P., 'Economic anthropology of the Black Carib (Garifuna) of Honduras', Doctoral Dissertation, London School of Economics, 1970.

Beaucage, P., 'La Dynamique autocthone et l'etat: l'exemple des Garifunas du Honduras', in M. Lapointe (ed.) L'Etat et les autocthones en Amérique Latine et au Canada, Québec, Université Laval (Congrés annuel de l'Associacion canadienne des études latinoamerica), 1989.

Bourgois, P., Ethnicity at Work: Divided Labor on a Central American Banana Plantation, Baltimore, MD, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.

Centeno Garcia, S., Historia del Movimiento Negro Hondureño, La Ceiba, Honduras, José Hipolito Centeno Garcia, 1997.

Coehlo, R., Los Negros Caribes de Honduras, Tegucigalpa, Editorial Guaymuras, 1995.

Davidson, W., Historical Geography of the Bay Islands, Honduras, Birmingham, Southern University Press, 1974.

Echeverri-Gent, E., 'Forgotten workers: British West Indians and the early days of the banana industry in Costa Rica and Honduras', Journal of Latin American Studies, vol. 24, 1992, pp. 275-308.

England, S. and Anderson, M., 'Authentic African culture in Honduras? Afro-Central Americans challenge Honduran Indo-Hispanic mestizaje', paper prepared for presentation at the XXI Latin American Studies Association International Congress, 24-27 September, Chicago, 2007. URL:

Euraque, D.A., Gould, J.L. and Hale, C.R. (eds), Memorias del mestizaje: cultura política en Centroamérica de 1920 al presente, Guatemala, CIRMA, 2004.

Ghidinelli, A. and Massajoli, P., 'Resumen etnográfico de los Caribes Negros (Garifunas) de Honduras', America Indigena, vol. 44, no. 3, 1984, pp. 484-518.

Griffin, W., The History and Culture of Bay Islanders and North Coast English Speakers of Honduras, 2004. URL:

Inter-American Foundation (ed.), Economic Development in Latin American Communities of African Descent, Washington, DC, 2001.

Minority Rights Group (ed.), Afro-Central Americans: Rediscovering the African Heritage, London, MRG, 1996.

Morrison, J., Cashing in on Afro Latin Communities: Strategies for Promoting Grassroots Initiatives, Arlington, VA, Inter-American Foundation, 2001.

Oakley, P., 'Social exclusion and Afro Latinos', in Towards a Shared Vision of Development, Washington, DC, IDB, 2001.

Organization of Africans in the Americas, Quest for Inclusion: Realizing Afro-Latin American Potential, Position Paper, vol. 1., Washington, DC, OAA, 2000.

Sanchez, M. and Bryan, M., Afro-Descendants, Discrimination and Economic Exclusion in Lain America. London, MRG, 2003. URL: DescendantsMacro.pdf

Sieder, R., 'Honduras', in MRG (ed.), No Longer Invisible: Afro-Latin Americans Today, London, MRG, 1995; and in MRG (ed.), Afro-Central Americans, London, MRG, 1996.

Van Sertima, I., They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America, New York, Random House, 1976.

Indigenous peoples

Amnesty International, 'Honduras: justice fails indigenous people', 1 September 1999. URL:

Burke, P., 'Indigenous people of Honduras', 1998, URL:

Carnevali, J.A., Focus on the Americas. URL:

Cruz Sandoval, F., 'Los indios de Honduras y la situación de sus recursos naturales', América Indígena, vol. 44, no. 3, 1984, pp. 423-45.

Hale, C.T., Resistance and Contradiction: Miskitu Indians and the Nicaraguan State, 1894-1987, Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press, 1994.

Hegstrom, E., 'Maya bid to reclaim land at Copan tourist site stirs violence', Central America NewsPak, vol. 12, no. 17, 1997, pp. 1-2.

Herranz, A., Estado, sociedad, y lenguaje: la política linguística en Honduras, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Editorial Guaymuras.

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Organization of American States: URL:

Latin American Network Information Centre: Indigenous Peoples. URL:

Martínez Perdomo, A., La fuerza de la sangre Chorti: vigencia de la norma jurídica tradicional, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Centro Editorial.

Martinez, O., 'Indigenous groups want rights', Latinamerica Press vol. 29, no. 18, 1997, p. 3.

Mejia, T., 'Death pursues the Tawanka people', Central America NewsPak, vol. 11, no. 25, 1997, pp. 7-8.

Young, T. [1847], Narrative of a Residence on the Mosquito Shore, New York, Kraus Reprint Co., 1971.

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