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Don Divio

Legends and History of the Pech of Las Marias

Don Divio

Story recounted by the Pech Elders of Las Marias (Don Divio Ramos Torres and his sister Doņa Catalina Ramos )

As with all native cultures with an oral rather than a recorded history, much about the Pech past is mysterious. The fantastical and the factual mix and it is difficult to draw clear lines between the two. Ironically, it seems like the more educated and assimilated (into Latino culture) among the Pech are the ones working hard in an effort to preserve the Pech culture. It also appears that much of their knowledge of the history of their people comes not from the prevailing accounts of the oral tradition of their ancestors, but more from books published by past missionaries and anthropologists. Where lies the true history of the Pech? Is it in the few books written by people who have interacted with them, or does it come from the elders who themselves were told stories by their grand fathers. All accounts reflect a bias of the teller and over time details are added, lost, changed.

The published work of one anthropologist or the notes of one missionary are more easily accepted as historical fact than the recounted fables of the Pech people which are more often described as myths or legends. In my opinion, in this case, viewed together they are one history. Legends originate from historical events. Published accounts are impressions and conclusions drawn by one person. Many of the details of both may be apocryphal but they are linked by the commonalities and from them we get a general picture.

In Las Marias we spent time with some of the elders of the village. Some of these people have lived there from before it was an established village. Many of them believe that history doesn't come from the books, but from what they remember being told as children by their grand parents. These various interviews lead us to understand that what is considered "history" among the elders are merely "legends" to the younger generation. History according to the younger generation, is the one that began with the conquest and assimilation by the Spanish. The following are notes I took during conversations over a week's period with Tribal Council President and village elder Don Divio Ramos Torres and his sister Dona Catalina Ramos.

 


History and Legend of the Pech of Las Marias
(Notes from conversation with Pech elders from Las Marias, September 1999)

"About 500 years ago five or six thousand Pech people moved to the Rio Platano area. We are not sure where they came from. We are told from South America, but we don't know. They first settled to a place we call Chilmeca, It was located close to Casa Blanca."

When I asked what Casa Blanca was, Don Divio replied:

"This is where my grand-parents were born. When I was a child, my grandfather told me he grew up in a city carved in white stones. They called it Casa Blanca."

In Honduras many people talk about a mysterious lost city they call the Ciudad Blanca. It has become the focus of numerous international expeditions. I asked if there was any relation to the Casa Blanca of his story.

"Yes, it is the same place. It was made by the gods. Giant stones were carved in various shapes, wild animals and giant grinding stones".

I asked what happened. "Why did people abandon a city made by the gods? Why can't we find it today?"

Don Divio replied: "My grandfather told me that at that time among the Pech people lived a Tawaka Indian man. He left the Ciudad Blanca after being mistreated by the community and cursed the place. Thereafter, terrible disease and catastrophes happened. The Pech people understood that they could no longer live there. They had to move."

Their search for a more prosperous place took them downriver to a place they call "Sakorska Uya," the big written stone. It is the site of a large petroglyph which can still be visited upriver from Las Marias. They lived there for some time. Evidence of modern habitation can be seen in a high concentration of fruit trees found in that area.

From Sakorska Uya, the oldest known dwelling for the Pech of the Platano River, they moved down river and started the settlement of Buena Vista, approximately seventy or eighty years ago. This is where Don Divio, his sister and the last few other elders of Las Marias were born. Why the Pech moved from Sakorska Uya is a mystery, maybe simply to find more food or to be closer to the ocean.

From Buena Vista, they moved a little downriver to a place they call Quiaquimina (pattas de Guatusa), but returned to Buena Vista after a few years. Finally they moved to Las Marias thirty or forty years ago.

 *Note: time estimates are based on the fact that the elders telling the stories remember living there as children.

 The history of Las Marias only dates back 40 years, and coincides with the period during which the Pech culture was most affected by outside influences. At that time, Miskito people inhabited the full coast. After a terrible hurricane, starving Miskito people paddled up river and stole the food from the Pech. The Pech returned to Buena Vista for a few years before re-settling permanently in Las Marias. Since, Miskito people, mainly men, have started to move to Las Marias where the land is much richer than on the coast. They intermarried with the Pech and today their culture and language prevails in Las Marias.

We listened with much interest to Don Divio and his sister as they recounted us the history of their people. Listening to them, there was no doubt that the legend of the lost city was based on historical fact. They remember being told by their grandparents about it. Sometimes Dona interupted her brother with a disagreement on a detail. The fact that they disagreed on small details made me think that they agreed on the general truths. There was a place called the Ciudad Blanca, and their ancestors lived there. Of course their grand parents may have told them the story they heard themselves from their grand parents as if they had been the ones living there.

History or legend, the promise of discovery of the Ciudad Blanca has inspired numerous expeditions. The word is out that it has been unearthed, but I suppose that we will hear many more stories as we spend more time in La Moskitia.

Passages from various books on the subject:

"Their legends talk about a lost city called Ciudad Blanca, the white city, which was created with lightning and thunder by the Pech god Wata. Large stones would have been sculpted into statues representing animals, traditional musical instruments and grinding stones.
The city is believed to be the city of Patatahua, the primitive ancestors of the Pech.
The city was abandoned long ago and future archeological discoveries may reveal the existence of an undocumented modern civilization."

"The myth of the Ciudad Blanca is known as the Ciudad de los Antiguos or Cerro de la Palmera. It is called Wahia-Patatahua in Pech (the village of the ancestors, the village of the primitives)".

 

Note: Background photographs and design by Jean-Philippe Soule Š 1997

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