Puerto Lempira, capital of the remote and wild Gracias a Dios department of Honduras, is the ancestral home of the indigenous Miskitu People. Historically a roadless fishing port with little development nor electricity, it has transformed into a boom-town, host to drug traffickers, nearby military bases, and oil and gas development. In an effort to overcome this adversity, we participated in a blessing for the people and their land and culture in transition, directed by a local Miskitu sukya, or healer, and members of the community.
Ceremony to Bless the Community
Considering the economic, social and political troubles of the people of La Moskitia, it was decided a community blessing ceremony was in order. One cannot say whether this was the wish of my generous hosts or a personal request of the gringo guest, but preparations were made nevertheless. We bought food for a small feast for several families and sent four local boys into the lagoon to coat themselves in red clay.
Since the coup of 2009, life on this remote coast, far from the rest of the world, has had to confront construction of a dam on the Patuca River, significant outside incursions into protected lands in the Rio Platano and Tawahka Biosphere Reserves and the growing presence of the international drug trade. Despite military bases and police presence, crimes are not investigated, murder has become common, and food and transport, as well as the everpresent cellular phones, have become quite expensive.
Yet, for many of the Miskitu families, life remains simple but hard, work in the hot sun farming and fishing, gathering and chopping wood. Unfortunately, this subsistence-based work no longer pays for the new faster way of life in La Mosktia.
Along the Caribbean Coast, lagoons, swamps, and pine savannas dominate the landscape. One must travel upriver several days (on a slow-moving pipante with a tuk-tuk engine) to reach the tropical forests and mountains of the interior. While the coastal villages have always been influenced by the outside world and were the first to adopt electricity generators, television, and a semblance of roads, Miskitu traditions and beliefs remain steadfast for some. But things are changing fast.
Development pressures, oil and gas interests, and of course the drug trafficking, have caused numerous land conflicts in La Moskitia. The Honduran government has been moving toward recognizing Miskitu community land titles in the region, but sometimes at the expense of the privately held land owned by Miskitus. Because of a lack of governmental oversight and proper titling and deeds, considerable abuses of ancestral property rights continue to occur.
Many people told me the last time people had some money to spend and life seemed to be improving for people was before 2009 when Manuel “Mel” Zelaya was President. Ousted in a coup, a neoliberal cabal has taken over Honduras, selling everything off to palm oil barons, mega-tourism, logging, and land development interests, at the expense of indigenous or campesino rights. Facing the specter of privately run, libertarian-minded “Model Cities” proposed for locations on La Moskitia, near to Trujillo, or closer to San Pedro Sula and Puerto Cortez, Miskitu solidarity organizations have been seeking ways to protect their interests.
Can Zelaya’s wife, Xiomara Castro, capture the Presidency and change Honduras for the better? Many in La Moskitia have hope, as when the former first couple and daughter touched down in Puerto Lempira for a campaign stop, the town came alive.
Another friend reminded me that no political party can get rid of the drug trade. One other man I met wondered, as I’d heard many others express, if Xiomara wins and attempts to reform the country, what will stop them from throwing her out, just like her husband?
Yet, faith and hope are catching in the country.
We lit the flame. We burned the herbs, picked expressly to provide a blessing, cleansing of dark entries and unforeseen dangers. The blessing was given for the children, for the future, for peace and security, for Miskitu solidarity.
No guarantees. Blessings never have changed the world, but blessed people can. One thing is for sure, change will always come, and sometimes it might just be for the better.