Honduras History, Language and Culture
History of Honduras
The Maya civilisation reached modern-day Honduras around AD 500, and dominated the region for the next 300 years, after which several different local ethnic groups took their place.
Contact with Europeans began soon after Christopher Columbus landed in 1502 and during the early 1520s the region was subjugated by a variety of conquistador expeditions, each of which laid claim to a part of it. Only after the discovery of gold and silver deposits in the 1540s was some order imposed on the region.
Once the deposits were exhausted at the end of the 16th century, Honduras became a colonial backwater and remained so until the collapse of the Spanish Empire in the Americas in the early-19th century. During the early 20th century, Honduras was governed by a series of caudillos, notably President Tiburcio Carias Andino who dominated the country during the 1930s and 1940s.
While the peaceful environment that Carias Andino created allowed for social and economic progress, this was at the price of serious internal repression and kowtowing to powerful foreign interests. From the late 1950s onwards, weak civilian governments prompted the army to assume a greater role, launching several coups.
During the 1980s, Honduras was the main base for the US-backed 'Contra' rebels fighting the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Soon after the end of that war in 1989, national elections were held. The two parties, the Partido Nacional (PN) and the Partido Liberal (PL), fought for the presidency, which was won by the PN candidate Rafael Leonardo Callejas.
The 1990s, however, were dominated by the PL, which gained control of the presidency and legislature in 1994 and in 1997. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch swept violently across Honduras causing devastating damage. Almost 15,000 people died, 80% of the transportation infrastructure was destroyed and the resulting damage cost some US$3.8 billion.
PL leader Manuel Zelaya Rosales emerged the victor in the 2005 elections, defeating Porfirio Lobo of the PN. However, in 2009, following Zelaya’s call for a change to the constitution, the army ousted him and Roberto Micheletti took over. In 2009 , following sustained pressure from international bodies including the Organization of American States and the United Nations, democratic general elections were held, resulting in victory for Lobo.
Did you know?
• The term ‘Banana Republic’ was coined by US writer O. Henry, inspired by the United Fruit Company’s powerful control of Honduran exports in the early 20th century.
• Mosquitia, in eastern Honduras, is known as the ‘Little Amazon’, because of its having the largest tract of prime rainforest north of the actual Amazon Basin.
• Following a World-Cup preliminary football match Honduras and El Salvador declared what was subsequently known as the ‘Football War’, which lasted 100 hours and resulting in the expulsion of some 130,000 illegal Salvadoran immigrants from Honduras.
Religion in Honduras
Roman Catholic majority (97%), Protestant minority (3%).
Social Conventions in Honduras
Honduras has several distinct ethnic groups of which 90% are mestizo (mixed Amerindian and European), 7% Amerindian, 2% black and 1% white. There are strong Spanish influences, but the majority of the population is mestizo, mainly leading an agricultural way of life with a low standard of living. Many rural communities can still be found living a relatively unchanged, traditional lifestyle.
Social courtesies should be observed. It is customary for a guest at dinner or someone's home to send flowers to the hostess, either before or afterwards. Conservative casual wear is widely acceptable with dress tending to be less conservative in coastal areas. Beachwear and shorts should not be worn away from the beach or poolside. Hotels, restaurants and shops include a 12% sales tax on all purchases. There is a strong sense of community, and religious and local festivities hold great importance in Honduran life with traditional music, costume and customs.
Language in Honduras
The official language is Spanish. English is widely spoken by the West Indian settlers in the north and on the Bay Islands off the Caribbean coast. Amerindian dialects are also spoken.
Browse our Video Guides