Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
Pech (Paya) were the original inhabitants of the Bay Island of Roatan but were relocated to the mining areas of the mainland by the Spanish during the early colonial period. There are now about 6,024 Pech confined to a few small communities in Olancho, Colón and Gracias a Dios. They have resisted total assimilation and, under the national bilingual programme, have attempted to develop Pech language courses and Pech teachers.
Until the mid-17th century, Pech lived in a large territory near the border of Nicaragua. However, their land was greatly reduced after conflicts with neighbouring Miskito. Today, there are fewer than a dozen Pech communities in Honduras.
The killing of Pech land rights activist and community leader Elipidio Martinez Chavarria in Dulce Nombre de Culmi, Olancho province in 2004 highlighted the vulnerability of Pech to violence connected to land-grabbing.
In 2017, the Pech community received international attention when the Federation of Pech Tribes of Honduras (Federación Tribus Pech de Honduras, FETRIPH) won the Equator Prize, organised by UNDP’s Equator Initiative. The Federation unites 12 Pech tribes and fights to protect their ancestral lands. In particular, FETRIPH fought the creation of a ‘people-free’ national park which would have cut the communities off from their traditional livelihoods, especially the harvesting of liquidambar (sweet gum), used in fragrances. Instead, the Honduran government signed a co-management agreement with the Pech of the 34,000-hectare Anthropological and Forest Reserve ‘Montaña del Carbón’. FETRIPH has established a liquidambar cooperative that shares profits among community members and funds education and public health initiatives.
Of the remaining Pech, only about half still speak the Pech language. There are some efforts by community leaders to revitalize the language, however, there has reportedly been inadequate assistance from the government in this area.
Updated May 2018
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