Honduras in Depth: A Peace Corps Publicationby Peace Corps
Human occupation of what is now Honduras began between 9000 and 7000 B.C. These original inhabitants were nomadic hunters. Agriculture in the region began about 6,000 years ago, when people began to gather in villages. The Maya Indians settled in western Honduras around 1000 B.C. and developed an important network of communities centered around the city of… See more details below
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Human occupation of what is now Honduras began between 9000 and 7000 B.C. These original inhabitants were nomadic hunters. Agriculture in the region began about 6,000 years ago, when people began to gather in villages. The Maya Indians settled in western Honduras around 1000 B.C. and developed an important network of communities centered around the city of Copán. Archaeological remains tell the story of a civilization that grew slowly from 2000 B.C. to A.D. 800, greatly expanded, and then collapsed around A.D. 900. The civilization‘s descendants, the Maya Chortí, inhabit the region today.
The European invasion of Honduras began in 1502 with the fourth and last voyage of Christopher Columbus. He arrived on the island of Guanaja, which he called Isla de Pinos (Pine Island). Before the arrival of the Spaniards, Honduras was heavily populated with an estimated 500,000 to 1 million people. However, slavery and diseases (e.g., smallpox) diminished the population to fewer than 20,000 in less than 100 years.
Additional Spanish expeditions to Honduras occurred in 1524 and 1525, including one from Mexico commanded by Hernán Cortés. The occupiers appointed a governor, but the native population of Lenca Indians would not accept colonialism without a war. Lempira, the chief of the Lencas, led 30,000 Indians against the Spaniards on several occasions until 1536. During peace talks, he was betrayed and assassinated, and Indian resistance was quickly suffocated. The Spanish colonization brought not only new kinds of people—from Spaniards to African slaves—but also new species of plants and animals. The Spaniards introduced cattle and horses to the New World and took tobacco, coffee, maize, potatoes, and cacao to the Old World. In time, gold and silver mining techniques were introduced, large cattle ranches and plantations were developed, and new towns and fields emerged from the forests.
Central America gained its independence from Spain in 1821, and within a short time various factions developed. During this period, Central America was briefly annexed to Mexico, and then withdrew to join the newly formed United Provinces of Central America. However, conservative politicians in the Central American government who rejected the plan invaded Honduras in 1826. Francisco Morazán, a liberal, repelled the invasion and took control, but efforts to maintain the union were unsuccessful. In 1838, the countries decided to go their separate ways. Honduras signed a new constitution in 1839. Its first capital was Comayagua. In 1880, President Marco Aurelio Soto moved the capital to Tegucigalpa, in part because his Guatemalan Indian wife was not accepted by the high society of Comayagua. Another factor in the rise of Tegucigalpa was its great mineral wealth of gold and silver.
Since independence, Honduras has suffered nearly 300 internal rebellions, civil wars, coups d’état, and changes of government, more than half of which took place during the 20th century. The country has also been the target of foreign intervention, the most famous being that of U.S. soldier William Walker, who appointed himself president of Nicaragua in 1860 and aimed to take over the rest of Central America. His campaign ended in failure, and he was executed in Trujillo.
As a result of its infamous banana companies and ―banana wars,‖ Honduras was known as the Banana Republic. When banana production dominated the economy, these companies had great influence in local politics. In 1913, for example, the Standard Fruit Company and the Cuyamel Fruit Company owned 75 percent of the nation‘s banana plantations and nearly 100 percent of its politicians. While the banana companies built railroads and seaports, little of their wealth remained in Honduras.
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