From 1564 to Present
The difficult terrain of La Moskitia and the hostility of the region's native peoples
foiled all initial attempts at colonization in the 16th century. The first
Spanish expedition arrived in 1564. As they were doing in the rest of the Americas, the
Spanish believed that introducing religion first would help them control the indigenous
peoples of the region. The first expedition of missionaries in La Moskitia was realized in
1607 and followed by another in 1609. Due to various environmental reasons the first
missions and churches were not founded until 1610 on the Wampu river. They were
subsequently burned by the dissenting Taguacas (Tawakas) Indians.
In 1611 the Spanish sent a third expedition with twenty five armed soldiers to protect
the missions. The fortified village was unsuccessfully attacked by the Tawakas. The
conquistadors captured a well respected chief, and nailed him to a tree after killing him.
The angry Tawakas (some of who had been enslaved were working as forced labors) decided to
avenge their chief. In January of 1612 they attacked the village by surprise during the
night. They killed all the soldiers and religious leaders and cannibalized them (an act of
anger, not a common practice).
Ten years later the Franciscan missionaries tried again and succeeded in gaining a
foothold in the area. On February 16, 1622, the Father Martinez and the Fathers Fray
Benito de San Francisco and Juan de Vaena left the established fort town of Trujillo
(further north and west) by sea for El Cabo de Gracias a Dios. They put ashore and after a
few days trekking they encountered a Pech village next to the river called Xarúa (or
Jarúa) which they later called Concepción de Jarúa. Finding the Pech more receptive,
they converted half a dozen villages and more than 700 adults and children in less than a
The same fathers then pushed to impose their religion on surruounding populations,
eventually bringing in close to 6000 Guaba and Jicaque Indians. Pleased with their
effort, they decided to extend their religion to the Tawakas. The Fathers Franciscans and
Martinez were killed by the Tawakas of the Rio Wampu area in 1623 when they tried to
convert them. After their deaths religious conquests stopped for years.
The first violent interaction between the Pech and Spanish happened in 1661 when the
Pech attacked the Latinos who invaded their territory in the Aguan valley. In return,
Captain Bartolome de Escoto counter-attacked the Pech and captured hundreds of them
putting them into forced labor.
By the late 1600's the missionary-conquistadors finally made solid inroads into the
Mosquito Coast region. In 1667, a few missionaries from Guatemala entered La Moskitia via
the Rio Guayape and evangelized the Pech. They moved to the Agalta, Gualaco and San Jose
valleys and founded the villages of Santa Maria, San Buenaventura, San Pedro Apóstol, San
Pedro Alcátara, San Sebastian and San Felipe de Jesus. By 1690 these villages were
inhabited by 6000 people.
In the mid-eighteen century the Spanish influence in the area was increasingly usurped
by new forces, the English, French and Dutch pirates. All along the Mosquito Coast and the
islands, enclaves of buccaneers raided the Spanish and made efforts to win over the
various indigenous groups. They made an alliance with the Miskitos and provided them with
firearms to fight the Spanish.
In the late 1800's the numerous coastal dwelling Miskitos, newly empowered with
weapons, became the dominant force among the indigenous groups of the region. Notorious
for their cruelty, they invaded all the other tribes in La Moskitia. The Pech fled from
the coasts to find refuge up the Patuca, Sicre, Twas, Platano, Paulaya and Sico rivers.
Sworn enemies of the Miskitos, and fighting with only primitive weapons, the Pech suffered
extensive casualties and the overall population was significantly affected. They
occasionally sought refuge next to Spanish lands to escape Miskito raiders. At other times
they allied themselves for short periods of time with the Miskitos (often forced) to fight
the Spanish. Meanwhile, the Spanish continued their struggle to subdue the various tribes
by imposing religion in La Moskitia. The Miskitos with some support from pirates were
mostly successful at keeping them out.
Most missionaries worked with the armed conquistadors in joint effort to rule
indigenous people. In the nineteen century, the Spanish missionary Father Manuel de Jesus
Subirana was the exception. He dedicated his life to helping the people. He helped the
Pech of Santa Maria del Carbon to receive titles for their land which they did in 1862. He
wrote a map of Honduras and continued his efforts with the Jicaques in 1864. Then he
started petitioning for titles and rights to their land for The Pech of Culmi which
received them in January 1898, years after the death of Father Subirana.
The fight for ownership of the land has continued since the conquistadors time.
Initiated with events in 1869 a few villages have received titles over the years but this
is still a rare case among the indigenous groups of La Mosquitia. In the 1970's the
exploitation of forest land by homesteaders and illegal loggers opened the area to
manipulation from the outside. The new roads and infrastructures facilitated the mass
resettlement of Latino squatters and ranchers. Latinos chased indigenous people off their
land and often acquired the titles which they never received.
Without any legal or judicial support and without any means of defending themselves,
many Indigenous people have resigned themselves to their fate. Many became employees at
the lowest level for COHDEFOR one of the main company which chased them from their land.
Inconsistency, compromises (without consultation of local people) and corruption among
COHDEFOR still remains one of the largest threats to the proper zoning of Indigenous
The daily lives and cultural traditions have been greatly affected by outside
influence. Increased interaction with Latinos, often discriminatory and patronizing, has
created an inferiority complex and resentment among some. Many of the Pech have abandoned
their native tongue in favor of Spanish and adopted Latino culture to avoid further
discrimination. In addition to the loss of their language, and their assimilation into the
Latino lifestyles, many intermarried, thus leading to a greater dissolution of the Pech
culture and traditions.
Today, of all the indigenous groups in La Moskitia, the remaining Pech people and the
last vestiges of their culture are at the highest risk of extinction.