More and more, when in Honduras you hear about the Lenca Ethnic group. But who are the Lenca people? Where do they live? How many of them are there? As you probably already know, there is a region in Western Honduras we call the Lenca Route or Lenca Trail. As far as tourism in concerned, this area includes the departments of Lempira, Intibuca and part of Comayagua. But the Lenca people also have a strong presence in the department of La Paz, Ocotepeque and Copan.
What do the Lenca People do for a Living?
The Lenca people are an ethnic group that have lost much of their original culture. To my knowledge, nobody speaks Lenca nor do they have a specific religious belief. Most are catholic believers and many still live in the land where they were born. Their main activity is subsistence agriculture. This agricultural activity includes coffee, which is one of the main products harvested in the Lenca Region.
There is a small eco archaeological park near Lake Yojoa that is called Los Naranjos. This area has a large pre Colombian site that extends throughout the shores of this beautiful lake. However, the site is not particularly impressive, nor does it show a high degree of sophistication as a society. So who are the Lenca people and do they have a claim to fame in today’s world? The Lenca are the largest ethnic group in Honduras.
The famous Honduran hero, Lempira was a leader of this ethnic group. Honduras honors him in remembrance for his resistance to Spanish domination through the Honduran currency, the Lempira. Authorities estimate that there are about 100,000 Lenca individuals living in Honduras, and about 37,000 additional ones in neighboring El Salvador. The Lenca people all speak Spanish as their main language and do not have a traditional wardrobe such as most of the Maya people in Guatemala.
The Lenca and Maya coexisted in Copan
As you can assume, they coexisted with the Maya, although they had a separate territory, but where friendly neighbors. As a matter of fact, many of the archaeological scholars that have worked in Copan are convinced that the fine high relief sculptures found in Copan Archaeological Park are the work of Lenca craftmanship. Copan is the only Mayan city that has the high relief sculptures you find there. This means that the Lenca culture inadvertently left a lasting signature through the fine work in Copan Ruinas!
Perhaps the most distinguishing garment that Lenca people use these days are scarfs and ponchos with colorful designs. These are all hand made in artisanal looms and easier to see in the area of Intibuca. You can see them in use in La Esperanza, Yamaranguila and other small towns. They provide for a nice souvenir. Many in Honduras use them to wrap their handmade tortillas to keep them warm. Lenca Pottery has also become quite popular. This is probably more of a modern than cultural design, but they but the Lenca people produce them and they are very beautiful and intricate.
Lasting Lenca Traditions
One of the last remaining traditions of the Lenca culture is the “Guancasco” ceremony. This event takes place in different locations, including Gracias, Yamaranguila, La Campa and La Paz. The ceremony seeks to renew friendships between neighboring communities and remind each other their mutual obligations. The Guancasco takes place during the celebration of the town fair, in honor to the patron saint of each community. There is an element of syncretism between their ancestral beliefs and the Catholic religion that they adopted during colonial times.
You can also see the traditional Lenca people interacting on market days. They usually come into town from their mountain villages on weekends to sell their agricultural produce and buy supplies. This can be seen at different communities on Sundays, which is the traditional market day in Honduras. Perhaps one of the most traditional markets for the Lenca people is that of Belen Gualcho, in Ocotepeque. On this day, early in the morning, you will find the local Lenca community members at the town market early in the morning offering their fresh, mountain grown produce at the market.
Many Lenca communities retain a high respect for their community authorities. These differ from the political authorities that are elected during the democratic process in Honduras. They are an indigenous authority that have a high moral and religious leadership in the community. The institution is the Auxiliaria de la Vara Alta. A rough translation would be the Authority of the High Rod of Moses. It is the result of traditional cultural Lenca background with the Catholic Religion that the conquerors introduced. I will leave this theme for a new post in the future. You can visit the Alcaldia de la Vara Alta in Intibuca when visiting La Esperanza.
I hope that by know, who know who are the Lenca people and where you can find them. You surely will enjoy your travels along the Lenca Route visiting the different cities and towns of the Western Honduran highlands. As you can see, the Lenca people retain a rich heritage that is second only the Garifuna people in Honduras.