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Islas de la Bahia

The discovery of the new World had a tremendous impact on the Bay Islands history. Some historians claim that it moved the center of the world out of Europe and into the Caribbean. According to history, during the XVI to XVIII centuries, the big battles went from being staged within the Mediterranean to the Caribbean.

Whichever country controlled the Caribbean Sea basically had the upper hand in world economy and politics. Honduras and the Bay Islands of Honduras were a very important part of that fight between the European states, with Spain, England, Holland, France and Portugal being the most significant players.

There is historical evidence that Christopher Columbus actually took shelter in Guanaja (one of the lesser known Bay Islands) and had his crew disembark in search for water and provisions during his fourth and last trip to the “Indies”.

History marks this significant event as having occurred on the 30th of July 1502. After having found outstanding fresh water, and encountering natives in canoes, he continued towards Punta Castilla in the lovely Bay of Trujillo in mainland Honduras, which was due south of Guanaja, and clearly visible from this island.

Thus, on August 14th, 1502 members of this expedition, led by Bartholomew, Columbus’s brother, reputedly became the first Europeans to set foot on what is today known as the American Continent and celebrated the first Roman Catholic mass in the New World, thus bringing the advent of Christianity to America.

Curiously, there is evidence that Columbus wasn’t actually the first European in Central America. An “unofficial” and secret trip, set up by the Spanish kings themselves, took place in 1407, between Columbus’s second and third trips. History notes that this expedition departed from the Port of Cadiz in Spain on the 10th of May, 1497 and had a total of 4 vessels.


The expedition was commanded by Vicente Yañez Pinzon, who had been captain of “La Niña” one of the three vessels that was in the first trip led by Columbus in 1492. 

The purpose of this expedition was above all to confirm the discoveries that Christopher Columbus claimed to have made, and it was a secret expedition because the Spanish kings, Ferdinand and Isabella, had granted Columbus exclusive rights as “Admiral of the Seas” for all trips made to the lands that he might discover.

Historical evidence points to the fact that they landed on the Caribbean coast of Honduras, in the vicinity of what is today Cabo Camaron, east of Trujillo, and then traveled west along the coast of what today are Honduras, Guatemala, Belize and the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula. A fascinating note to this trip is that one of the vessels was captained by an old acquaintance of Columbus’s, a native Italian, Americo Vespucci! 

​It is interesting history to note that a map that dates back to 1500, attributed to Juan de la Cosa who was the navigator on this expedition, is the first to delineate the coast of Central America and Yucatan, even though this was not “officially” discovered until 1502.

Even so, the maps made by Bartholomew Columbus during this final voyage, does not delineate the coast of Yucatan because their trip went east towards Cape Gracias a Dios, and they did not explore the northwestern coast of Honduras and Yucatan.

In any case, it is clear that it was a Spanish expedition that first sighted and landed in what today is known as the Bay Islands. There is no evidence that suggests the Spaniards tried to occupy and settle the Bay Islands at this early stage.

Furthermore, the conquistadors never really got a handle on neither the islands nor the coast east of Trujillo in Honduras, or for that matter the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua. The region, known as the Moskitia was a hot, low lying land that was home to the fierce Miskito Indians who repelled and fought the Spaniards.

During most of the colonial period (1521 to 1821) the Moskitia, also referred to as the Mosquito Coast, was not under Spanish control. The British established a close relationship with the Miskito natives and provided them with arms to fend themselves from Spanish attacks.

As a gesture of friendship, the Brits also gave them rum and in exchange, they were allowed to make a couple of settlements along the coast that were most useful for pirate attacks on the Spanish commercial fleets.

The British were the first Europeans to actually settle both in the Bay Islands and the Miskito Coast. The first documented effort to settle the islands took place in 1639 under the auspices of the Providence Company.

The colony was established in the vicinity of Old Port Royal, in an area of about 100 acres of fairly flat land that was good for agriculture. The settlement lasted only 4 years, as the Spaniards came in and ousted the colonists in an effort to make it harder for the pirates and buccaneers to obtain supplies.

It was not until almost 100 years later when interest in the islands came to life again. On June 23rd, 1742, a contingent of 25 regulars under the command of Colonel Trelawny’s Jamaica regiment disembarked at New Port Royal with orders to erect fortifications for a settlement.

Eventually the colony grew to about 5000 inhabitants split between the settlements of Augusta and Litchfield. The occupation of the island lasted until 1782, when a Spanish Armada consisting of 12 ships attacked the harbour. Eventually the settlement was defeated, the colonists rounded up and taken as prisoners and the fortifications totally destroyed.

The British Empire totally evacuated its remaining settlers from the Bay Islands and the Miskito Coast in 1788. Thus, Roatan was to remain unsettled again until 1797 when about 5000 Garifunas were marooned on Roatan by the British.

The Garifuna were a racial mix of shipwrecked black slaves that had interbred with the carib Indians on the island of St. Vincent. Both cultures had one thing in common; they were fighting for their freedom against the same enemy, the Europeans.

They joined forces, and in doing so created a new racial mixture with a unique culture, blending in African elements with native Caribbean culture. The result was a resilient community that fought hard to keep their freedom and way of life.

The Garifunas were left alone on St. Vincent for many years, until the island became interesting to the British and then they were rounded up put into a ship and transferred to the island of Roatan, where they were disembarked at Punta Gorda in the month of April 1797.

The Spanish, who were concerned that the British were trying to settle the island, resettled most of the Garifunas on the mainland, and today you still have many Garifuna communities, mostly along the Caribbean coast of Honduras, a few in Livingston, Guatemala and others on the coast of Belize as well as couple in the Caribbean coast of  Nicaragua. The Garifuna community has become an important part of modern Honduras, and they are a proud people who work hard to retain their cultural identity.

Between 1797 and 1852, there were few people living on the islands, however in the last year, the British Empire once again decided the islands were worth colonizing and keeping due to their strategic location. Migration was promoted and many (over 600) British settlers from the Cayman Islands decided to move to Roatan and Guanaja.

However, the reality of the American Continent had begun changing. The British Colony’s in North America were now the United States of America, Mexico and Central America where now independent from Spain, and the United States did not want the British meddling in their back yard.

As such, on April 30th 1859, during a convention held at Guatemala City, the Brits, under a great deal of pressure from the United States of America agreed to cede the Bay Islands to the country of Honduras.

​The treaty ceding the islands was signed on the 28th of November, 1859 in the city of Comayagua, then capital of the republic of Honduras. This treaty was ratified by the Republic of Honduras on the 3rd of February, 1860 and by Queen Victoria of England on the 15th of February, 1860. The document hands over the sovereignty of the Bay Islands and the Miskito coast to the Republic on Honduras.

Despite the fact that the Government of Honduras signed and ratified the treaty of Comayagua, it was not until June 1st, 1861 that they took official possession of the islands, creating the Department of the Bay Islands (Departamento de Islas de la Bahia).


Making fast money
Bay Islands sharks

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Datos Históricos

Fueron descubiertas en 1502 en su cuarto y último viaje de Colon, en 1642 se convirtió en un asiento de filibusteros durante la lucha entre España e Inglaterra. Los ingleses la abandonaron después de la independencia de Centroamérica.

Junto a las islas hay una barrera coralina solo segunda a la gran barrera australiana, formando un paraíso tropical de grandes dimensiones y que es visitado por extranjeros con fines deportivos y estudios explorativos.

Este departamento está formado por las Islas de Roatán, Guanaja y Utila, Roatán es la más grande en territorio y población, antiguamente se conocía con el nombre de Coxen Hole. En 1872 con la creación del departamento de las Islas de la bahía se le dio a Roatán la categoría de Municipio.

Un tesoro nacional digno de ser admirado

A principios de 1642 una partida de filibusteros se apoderó de Roatán y Guanaja para fundar allí el asiento de sus correrías y cometieron muchas depredaciones, que la autoridad suprema de Guatemala, de acuerdo con el Gobernador de La Habana y presidente de la Audiencia de Santo Domingo, organizaron una expedición para expulsar a los ingleses, logrando desalojar a los piratas de las Islas, que, dando abandonadas por largo tiempo, hasta 1742 en que los ingleses intentaron tomar posesión de la Costa Atlántida, levantando fortificaciones en la boca del Río Negro y en Roatán.

Aquellos sucesos en unión de otros produjeron la guerra entre Inglaterra y España, no concluyendo sino con los tratados de paz entre las partes beligerantes estipulando que los ingleses abandonaran las islas y sus dependencias.

Por la guerra de 1796 suspendieron los efectos del último tratado e Inglaterra ocupo las islas; el Capitán General de Guatemala dio origen al Intendente de Honduras para que rescatara a las islas.

El 28 de agosto de 1814 se ajustó otro tratado entre España e Inglaterra, quedando el Gobierno Español en posesión de las islas y del territorio Mosquito, hasta la independencia de Centro América, que Inglaterra desocupó las Islas quedando bajo la jurisdicción de Honduras, pero en mayo de 1830 el Superintendente de Belice tomó posesión de Roatán en nombre de la corona inglesa.

Las Islas de la Bahía están situadas a unos 65 kms. de la costa norte de Honduras, consiste en 3 mayores islas (Roatán, Guanaja y Utila) 3 islas menores (Barbareta, Morat y Helene) y 65 cayos entre ellos los cayos Cochinos que están entre las islas mayores y la costa norte del país.

Durante el Reino de los Mayas en CA, en los siglos V al XI, las islas eran ocupadas por los indígenas PAYAS, esta era una tribu pequeña y de menor desarrollo que lo Mayas, por hoy se encuentran reliquias Payas en lugares que fueron cementerios o lugares religiosos de ellos, dicen que a estos lugares ellos le llaman "Yaba ding dings"

Los alimentos peculiares de estas Islas han sido los productos marinos, como el caracol, pescados, camarones, langostas, tortugas, cangrejos, animales terrestres como el conejo, iguanas, venados y una variedad de frutas, legumbres como el maíz, cocos, mandioca, etc.

El primer extranjero de visitar estas fue Cristóbal Colon allá en 1502 y la bautizó con el nombre de Islas de Pinos, creo que por la abundancia en esos entonces de este árbol en ella. (Guanaja).

Desde el descubrimiento estas islas fueron en sucesión y por periodos cortos dominados por los Ingleses, Holandeses y Españoles, nadie sabe cuántas veces cambio de mano y cuantas veces cada uno de estos fue el amo y señor y porque periodo de tiempo.

Durante el dominio Ingles las Islas de la Bahía fueron usadas como un lejano lugar olvidado por la civilización para mandar y desterrar a todos los individuos indeseables por los opresores británicos en las otra islas caribeñas dominadas por estos, es así que aquí se encuentran los Garífunas, Africanos, Jamaiquinos, Ingleses (de estos desterrados, colonizadores y soldados), además de todas las demás islas del caribe por ello, la diversidad étnica en ellas.
  
UBICACION GEOGRAFICA

Las Islas de la Bahía son un archipiélago perteneciente a la República de Honduras. Este archipiélago, está formado por las islas de mayores de Utila, Roatán y Guanaja. Asimismo, forman parte de este archipiélago las pequeñas islas de Barbareta, Morat y Santa Elena y más de 60 cayos situados a tan sólo 10 y 40 millas de la parte continental de Honduras en las aguas azules del Mar Caribe.

Las Islas de la Bahía fueron descubiertas por Cristóbal Colón en su cuarto y último viaje al continente americano el 30 de julio de 1502. Mas precisamente, Colón descubrió la isla de Guanaja a la que llamó 'Isla de los Pinos'. Estas islas se encontraban densamente pobladas por indios Payas, cuando fueron descubiertas. Sin embargo, éstos fueron capturados, esclavizados y vendidos a otras islas de las antillas como Cuba.

"Desde su descubrimiento, estas islas fueron dominadas en diferentes períodos cortos por los ingleses, holandeses y españoles. A los españoles les siguieron los ingleses. En mayo de 1638 William Claibourne de Virginia recibió una patente de la Compañía 'Providence' autorizándolo a establecer una colonia en Roatán. Esto, marcó el comienzo de un gran interés por parte de los ingleses en las Islas de la Bahía, interés que se prolongaria por más de doscientos años"

Por encontrarse en la ruta de los envíos españoles desde Nueva España (México) hacia España, los asentamientos de españoles e indios fueron regularmente presa de piratas y bucaneros.

El poderio militar español les permitio gobernar las islas durante gran parte del siglo XVIII. Pero entre 1827 y 1834 los europeos comenzaron de nuevo a asentarse en Roatán, luego que se prohibió la esclavitud en las colonias inglesas en 1833. En 1859, Inglaterra finalmente cedió el control de las Islas de la Bahía a la República de Honduras.









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Islas de la Bahia