A Brief Introduction to Roatan…
Our Bay Islands are a group of 8 Island and 65 cays; Situated 20 to 50 miles away from the mainland Honduras. This department or state is located 16 latitude north and 83 longitude east, in the west of the Caribbean Sea, with a territorial extension of 260.6 km2.
These Island rests upon the Bonnaca Ridge, The result of an enormous crack which runs along the ocean floor, about 400 miles northeast of the north coast of Honduras. Lava from the earth’s mantle wells up through this crack and forms the Caribbean plate, which pushes south to west, buckles and creates the Bonnaca Ridge.
The department of the Bay Island was created on March 14, 1872; with three Municipals Roatan, Guanaja and Utila. On December 7, 1957 the National Assembly created the Municipal of Santos Guardiola by the 10th decree of congress; it became official in 1960.
The average temperature of this Island from October to December is 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The average rainfalls on these Islands are 40 to 60 inches yearly. The average temperature of the seawater in the Bay Islands is 27 degrees Celsius or 80.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
More than one fourth of the surface of Roatan is covered with typical broad leaf forest. Guanaja was the only Island in the Caribbean that was covered with Caribbean pine trees before they were destroyed by Hurricane Mitch. Utila is a special because wetlands and mangroves cover two thirds of the Islands. Each of these Islands has its own unique characteristic.
The Bay Islands are surrounded by the second largest Barrier Reef system in the world, surpassed only by the great Barrier Reefs of Australia. Although generally known for its reefs, This Archipelago also possesses a unique culture and Historical heritage that should be valued and protected at all cost.
Important Historical Dates of the Bay Islands
On July 30, 1502, Christopher Columbus visited the Island of Guanaja, one of the Bay Islands. He called it “Island OF PINE” because of the abundance of pine tree that covered this mountainous paradise. From 1502 until 1525, the Spanish captured the Native inhabitants (Paya) of this archipelago and forced them to work as slaves in the gold and silver mines of Cuba and Hispaniola.
In 1527, The Bay Islands (Archipelago de las Guajas) became part of the province of Guatemala Spain’s Central America Colonies.
The French Buccaneers appeared in the Bay Islands around 1536. They established their base around the areas known as French Harbour, French Cay and the Utila Cays.
During 1638, 400 Puritans from providence Islands, Maryland sponsored by the providence company established a community in the area around Port Royal and Camp Bay on the Island of Roatan, which they named Rich Island, after Lord Henry Rich Earl of Holland. The Spanish Army from Guatemala later destroyed this community.
In 1638, the British took over the Bay Islands by the means of privateers. (secret agents with permission from their countries). The Spanish Army finally removed the first known Bay Islands Natives (Paya) to the Honduran mainland in 1650.
It is reported that in 1655 and 1671, Sir Henry Morgan also paid visits to these Islands. In 1670, Spain and Britain signed the treaty of Madrid giving “all those lands, colonies and places whatsoever situated in the West Indies” to Britain.
Pirateering officially ended with the treaty of Utrech in 1713- 1714. Because of this treaty, Spain and France ceased hostilities toward Britain; Therefore, the era of pirates and Buccaneers began once again in the Caribbean.
In 1742, Governor Trelawney of Jamaica appointed a merchant named William Pitt as superintendent of the Bay Islands. New Port Royal on Roatan was fortified, and a garrison from the lawney’s Jamaica Regiment installed. This military settlement was abandoned after the signing of the Treaty of Aix la Chapelle in 1749.
The Spanish got the Islands back in 1792 due to a Diplomatic Treaty signed with Great Britain, the Spanish obtained official power over the Bay Islands in 1796.
The Garifunas were brought to the Island of Roatan by the British Army on April 12, 1797 from the Island of St. Vincent.
The country of Honduras got its Independence from Spain on 15 September 1821 along with the other Central America Spanish Colonies.
From 1828 to 1830, The British drove the remaining French settlers out of the Bay Islands. At that same time, white settlers from the Caymans started to show up in the Bay Islands.
Slavery was abolished in the British Caribbean colonies from 1833 to 1838.
In 1839, The Belizean Superintendent Alexander Macdonald, on board the British warship, HMS Rover ordered the hauling down of the Central America flag, which had been placed in Port Royal by the commander of a small Military garrison on order from Trujillo. In March of 1852, the Bay Islands were declared a British Colony and thus their inhabitants British Subjects.
From 1852 to 1859 Bay Islands, settlers were given Land Grants by the British Crown.
In 1852, Methodist Missionaries arrived to the Island of Utila and began to spread their doctrine among the inhabitants.
During the month of March of 1857 Bay Islanders were assured by their newly appointed Lieutenant Governor Seymour, that their fears were unfounded and that in many treaty with Honduras ” They shall be constituted a free territory, with the exclusive right to manage their own affairs.”
During 1859, the Wyke-Cruz Treaty was signed between Britain and Honduras, Because of pressure from the United States (Monroe Doctrine), Britain agreed to hand the Bay Island back to Honduras.
On December 13 of 1859, a copy of the Honduras official Gazette (newspaper) published on the 10 December reached the Island of Roatan. Initially the Islanders refused to believe it. Within two weeks a memorial signed by a 150 Islanders, was sent to Queen Victoria praying that the Islands might be retained as a British colony.
In 1860 Bay Islanders disillusioned from the agreement made by Britain, tried to get help from the North America Filibuster William Walker who was caught by the British turned over to the Honduran Army who later killed him through the means of a firing squad.
On April 22, 1861, The Bay Islands was informally turned over to Honduras. In 1861, Lieutenant Governor Thomas Price hauled down the Union Jack in Coxen Hole and hoisted the Honduran Flag.
In 1863, The Bay Islands were incorporated as a department of Honduras, with its own Governor; Governor Martinez was a Garifuna native from Trujillo.
In 1870, the bananas Industry became an important source of revenue.
In June 1873, The General Sherman of the U.S.A Navy attacked the Island of Utila because Bay Islanders were running guns to Cuba, Haiti and to the Confederate Army of Southern United States during the American Civil War.
In 1875 the first US consul to the Bay Island Frank E. Frye in his annual report to the US Department of State wrote the following words in reference to the Bay Islands and its people “The people greatly desire a stable government and would hail with delight the news of their acquisition by the United States. A better Naval station in the West Indies could not be found.”
On May 10th of 1880 Mr. M Connell a United States Citizen (shop keeper) living on the Island of Roatan; sent a proposal to the Honduran President Dr. Marco Aurelio Soto, asking to be appointed Governor of the Bay Islands, in return he would pay 3000 Dollars to the Honduran Treasury annually. His request was turned down.
Many Bay Islanders became Seventh Day Adventist for the first time in 1885 when the daughters of the first British Governor of the Bay Islands Uwins Elwin came to the Bay Islands.
American baseball, Jazz and Country music became popular in the Bay Islands in 1911.
From 1917 to 1919 Governor Barahona closed down the English Schools, only Spanish was allowed in public education. Barahona increased appointments of Spanish officials in public Offices, he also founded a Military School with 100 Ladino pupils on Roatan, installed a cable office aside from that he started more schools with good, Spanish- speaking teachers.
During the years 1929, to 1939 Bay Islanders sold copra and cohune to main land Honduras and to the US.
Castilianization of the education system in the Bay Islands became completed in 1957, the new constitution of Honduras included an article declaring for the first time, private schools offering instruction in English were closed by order of the Government.
In 1940 Bay Islands, Men started to work on steamships sailing to and from the United States.
A German submarine near to the Cayman Islands torpedoed Bay Islanders working on United Fruit Company steamships in May 1942.
It is estimated that as many as 5000 Bay Islanders were working on company ships or supply vessels used by the US merchant fleet during the Second World War.
In December of 1957, The National Assembly created the municipal of Santos Guardiola by the 10th decree of Congress; it became official in 1960.
LANSA Airline began air service from La Ceiba to and from Roatan in the year 1963 using DC3S airlines.
In 1969, Honduras went to war with EL Salvador over a football (soccer) game, which El Salvador lost. Hahaha.
Anthony’s Key Resort started operating in 1969 from the community of Sandy Bay.
In 1975 Hurricane Fifi hits the Bay Islands, and destroyed the Municipal of Choloma on mainland Honduras.
The department of the Bay Island was declared a Tourist Zone or area in July of 1983.
In 1983 the first Private Primary Bilingual School began operating within the Bay Island of Roatan.
The first March against Police Cruelty was held in January of the year 2000; because of this action, the Police Commissioner was removed from his duty.
When Columbus discovered a neighboring island named Guanaja in 1502, the islands were already populated. Artifacts and caves left by these early inhabitants remain today. Other Spanish explorers came after Columbus. The Spaniards began mining both gold and silver on the mainland of Honduras.
The Jackson family, a wealthy and influential family on Roatan today, came from the southern United States in the 1800’s, descending from confederate soldier who refused to surrender to the Union. A southern accent is still discernable in their speech.
Approximately 200 white people lived in “Coxen’s old kay” in 1840. Ten years later, the population of the island had risen to five or six thousand people. In 1852, the British leadership appealed to Her Majesty, Queen Victoria to establish Roatan along with other islands to become a British colony. The United States objected, citing a treaty signed to create the Panama canal that forbade the United States and Britain from establishing new colonies in the Western Hemisphere.
In 1859, England relinquished control of the Bay Islands. The Republic of Honduras accepted the Bay Islands as the “Departemente de las Islas de la Bahia”, officially making the islands a part of Honduras. For many years after coming under Honduran rule, islanders of English descent continued to claim English citizenship, although those born in Honduras after 1861 are legally Hondurans.
Although Spanish is the national language and is spoken on Roatan, the English language also lives on Roatan. Roatan is a colorful mixture of people, languages, and culture. Today, tourism is the primary industry on Roatan. Cruise ships and planes bring thousands of tourists each year. Roatan is known around the world for its scuba diving.
The First Native Bay Islanders’
The first known Bay Islander’s were the Paya, Who were in the Bay Island in the classic period (300- 900 AD). They were strong muscular people of normal height, their skin was dark brown in color and thair hair was straight and black.
They wore ornaments and jewelry such as bracelets, chains and earrings made from Copper, Gold, Jade and other materials.
Paya Indians made pottery from red clay called “Yaba Ding Ding”. Their pots, plates, cups, bowls, beads, broken pottery and figurines are still found on our Island today.
These native lived near the sea in large communities. Each community was ruled by a chief. A male member of the chief’s family took his place when he died.
Europeans claimed that the Bay Islander were warlike people that bore arms such as swords, hatches, knives made from copper and bow and arrows. The arrowheads were covered with Jade, Copper and sometimes gold.
These Islanders were hard working people. Each had a specific job to do in their community. Some were farmers, other fishermen, some hunters, merchants, traders and soldiers.
They grew crops such as corn, cassava, yam and other foods commonly eaten today.
They caught fish, Turtles, wild Pigs, Deer, Rabbits, Iguanas, Parrots, salt- water Crocodile and wild Turkeys. Paya merchants and traders sold their crops and goods to Paya Indians living on the Mainland. They also traded with the other Bay Islands.
The Paya natives were idol worshippers. Many history writers believe that the Bay Island were the religious center of the Payan Empire, and that Indians from the Honduras coast came to worship on these Island.
Many religious Monuments or Ruins are found on hiltops on Roatan and other Bay Island.
Garifuna is a mixture of two races; African blacks and the Yellow Caribs of the Western Caribbean. These races fused together in the early 1600’s, when African blacks were being transported as slaves from South Western Africa to be used on the cotton farms of the American South. The slave Ship was wrecked on the shores near to the Island of St. Vincent. The black Africans that survived this ordeal, made alliance with the local Native population known as the Yellow Caribs and thus the Garifuna race was created. They were also known as the Black Caribs.
The Garifuna were dominant people and had control over several Islands of the Western Caribbean,they lived in peace until the British and French tried to establish control over the Island of St. Vincent. The leader of the Garifuna people was Satuye, he was a great warrior and had fought several battles against the Arawarks, the native inhabitants of the Eastern Caribbean. He had also repelled invading forces of Indian from the coastal areas of South America, who were trying to conquer his domain.
Satuye joined force with the French who were at war with Great Britain. The Garifuna fought long and hard against the British. After many years of battle; The British finally won the war. They then decided to punish the Garifuna by exiling them. The British removed the entire group, some 5,000 souls from the Island of ST. Vincent and brought them to the Island of Roatan.
They landed at Roatan in the month of April 1797 at the South side of the Island known as Carib point. The Spanish Government officials ordered the Garifuna to be moved to the coast of the Mainland near to Trujillo. Many of the Garifuna decided not to go to the Coast they ran and hid in the woods and forest of Roatan. Those who stayed established the community we know today as Punta Gorda the largest community in the Municipality of Santo Guardiola, on North East shore of this Island.
The Garifuna are the only ethnic group of Bay Island that has conserved their customs and traditions. They are a people that are educationally, socially and politically advanced thus have developed a great culture.
As creators of World’s famous music and dance called punta. The Garifuna are sharing and spreading their message of survival to the world.
You can and should visit the village of Punta Gorda where you will see the statue of the Great Leader SATUYE. Meet a lot of great people, delicious mouth watering dishes and the Punta music and dance group moving their bodies to the exotic rhythm of this African beat.