Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Paya Indians, Early Inhabitants of Roatan

I just came across this article on the Paya Indians in The Bay Islands Voice  Link.  Paya artifacts (yabba ding dings in island English) are common.  A few people try to sell pot shards and such to the few tourists who come through, but there isn't much of a market.  To my knowledge no serious archeological studies or excavations have happened on the island of Helene.  I plan to get some clay and make some of my own yabba ding dings soon...

I pulled out some snippets from the Bay Islands article:
With all the trade in the region, Bay Islands provided some exotic goods for the native mainland inhabitants. The original Bay Islanders exported stingray spines and seafood to the mainland and in return brought back jade and basalt from the Guatemala area, copper from nearby mainland Honduras and obsidian, cocoa beans and seashells from the Sula valley. Most of these raw materials do not occur naturally on the archipelago. Utila, formed partially from volcanic activity, was an exporter of basalt – an important material used in making grinding stones on the mainland.

Monochrome baked clay bowls with finger stamped decorative patterns have been commonly found on Roatan, Utila and Guanaja. These potsherds are very durable, and provide opportunity to study the Paya ability of decoration and techniques of clay manufacturing. The analysis of the ceramics from Bay Islands and northeast of Honduras indicates that these peoples formed a united cultural region at the time of European arrival.

The pirates were often violent and destructive towards the Paya. They often burned to the ground entire Indian settlements, steeling boats and supplies. Still, with the increase presence of pirates on the Bay Islands, the Spanish came to see the Paya as providing assistance to them not the Honduran mainland. The Spanish came to see the Bay Islands as a place where pirates came to regroup and resupply.

In 1864 Honduran government awarded the Paya legal title to their communal lands. The mestizo population continued to move eastward and engulfed the Paya that now live in only 11 isolated communities surrounded by Garifuna, Miskito and Ladino people. Since the 1950s, loggers and immigrants have continued to exert pressure on the Paya resulting in erasing almost all vestiges of their traditional culture. With around 1,500 Paya surveyed around 990 speaking Pech, but among the 6 to 20 age-group, only half of them speak Pech at all. Even more striking is a report from 1982 that documented only 17 “racially pure” Paya Indians.
Paya Indians are considered to be isolationists, proud of their ethnicity and culture, in spite of colonization and assimilation of other indigenous groups. The Paya struggled hard to avoid intermarriage with other cultures. Today greatest concentration of Paya Indians is in the towns of Dulce Nombre de Culmí and Santa María del Carbón in Olancho.

The Paya with strongest cultural roots live in the community of Las Marías. They maintain much of the traditional life-style: they continue to catch iguanas by hand, to catch fish with handmade harpoons, and to navigate the waters of the local rivers in dugout canoes. They raise maize, beans, cassava and Opuntia cactus plant on which the cochineal insect feeds, using simple tools.

The future of the Paya doesn’t look great. They are isolated and their culture is engulfed in the homogenizing setting of the Honduran melting pot. In the next decades the remaining Paya could very well disappear like their cousins that once inhabited the Bay Islands.

May 1st, 2011
by Thomas Tomczyk

Source:  http://www.bayislandsvoice.com/2011/05/the-paya-of-bay-islands-after-around-1000-years-of-living-on-the-archipelago-the-original-inhabitants-of-bay-islands-have-been-forcibly-removed-the-echo-of-their-presence-is-hidden-in-pottery-moun/

1 comment:

gogovivi said...

Knowing you, your yabba ding dings would be fantastic.