Everywhere that we go the pride that the Hondurans have in their nation is clear to see, and so it came as no surprise when we met with the Director of the local school, La Republica, and he requested that the mural which we will be working on for the remainder of our time in Marcala should reflect the history and culture of Honduras and, in particular, that of the local department of La Paz. We were guided through our research by our national volunteer Waleska who has been invaluable in unearthing the national identity of the country and introducing us to the layers of history which make up the culture of Honduras today.
If the Honduran people have one thing which encompasses almost all that represents their country, it is the escudo, or shield. It is a mark of the country’s independence and communal strength, its natural beauty, richness of agriculture, and the character of its people. The Honduran Independence Day, September 15th 1821, is inscribed in the oval which takes the foreground of the shield, with the abundance of agricultural produce and natural beauty shown through trees, mines, flowers, fruits and mountains; the tireless effort of the hardworking people of Honduras is shown through the portrayal of tools in the shield, whilst the arrows represent its history and the fight of its people for its independence. The waves in the shield represent the country’s location, between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
Besides the shield, it is important to include in the mural other representations of the Honduran pride in the country’s history, natural resources and location and, luckily for us, this pride is so entrenched in its culture that it is represented in much of what surrounds us daily. The Hondurans, for example, are so proud of the natural wildlife of their country that they have a national flower, the Orchid, a national tree, the Pine, a national bird, the Guacamaya, and a national animal, the deer. One particular figure iconic in the country’s history is Lempira, a national indigenous hero and symbol of independence, who led local indigenous people in their resistance against Spanish conquest. Lempira has become a symbol of the bloody history of Honduras and the ability of its people to overcome oppression and colonisation to become a “free, sovereign and independent” state, as the slogan is read on the shield. He is considered to be a figure of hope and strength and, as one of the most influential figures in Honduran history, his name and story have come up many a time in our search for links between the present and past of Honduras.
Perhaps because they provide a link to the roots of the country, Honduras is keen to keep alive the traditions of its indigenous peoples. There are considered to be seven indigenous groups of people in Honduras, one of which is particularly relevant to the people of Marcala and to our mural: the Lenca people. La Paz, the department in which Marcala is located, has a Lenca tradition and today Lenca art is commonly sold through decorated pottery and jewellery, with this distinctive black and white style. The Honduran people also find links to their history through the architectural remains of the Maya civilisation, many of which can be found in Copan. The Mayans form a huge part of the history of Honduras and its identity.
Possibly the simplest and most recognisable representation of Honduras is its flag and this is largely an indication of its location, the white stripe between the two blue stripes symbolising the strip of land between the two oceans as the waves on the shield do. The five stars are symbolic of the five countries which were originally united as the Federal Republic of Central America – Honduras itself, alongside El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Guatemala.
Although we feel privileged to be a part of a process which allows us to connect more with the local culture in which we will be living for the duration of our stay, for us the mural is about much more than our learning of the history and culture of Honduras: with it being situated in the middle of the school’s playground, we hope that the mural will be able to instil the same pride and nationalism in this generation of ‘Marcalinos’ as their ancestors have, especially in that the children have played and will continue to play a major role in the designing and producing of the mural. It has been an opportunity for us to pinpoint the origins of the culture which we are still becoming accustomed to, but has also been a way for us to celebrate and share its history.
Blog and photo by Emma Justice