1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Honduras

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HONDURAS, a republic of Central America, bounded on the N. by the Caribbean Sea, E. by Nicaragua, S. by Nicaragua, the Pacific Ocean and Salvador, and W. by Guatemala. (For map see Central America.) Pop. (1905) 500,136; area, about 46,500 sq. m. Honduras is said to owe its name, meaning in Spanish “depths,” to the difficulty experienced by its original Spanish explorers in finding anchorage off its shores; Cape Gracias à Dios (Cape “Thanks to God”) is the name bestowed, for analogous reasons, on its easternmost headland, which shelters a small harbour, now included in Nicaragua. Modern navigators are not confronted by the same difficulty; for, although the north coast is unbroken by any remarkable inlet except the Carataska Lagoon, a land-locked lake on the east, with a narrow entrance from the sea, there are many small bays and estuaries, such as those of Puerto Cortes, Omoa, Ulua, La Ceiba and Trujillo, which serve as harbours. The broad basin of the Caribbean Sea, bounded by Honduras, Guatemala and British Honduras, is known as the bay or gulf of Honduras. Several islets and the important group of the Bay Islands (q.v.) belong to the republic. On the Pacific the Hondurian littoral is short but of great commercial value; for it consists of a frontage of some 60 m. on the Bay of Fonseca (q.v.), one of the finest natural harbours in the world. The islands of Tigre, Sacate Grande and Gueguensi, in the bay, belong to Honduras.

The frontier which separates the republic from Nicaragua extends across the continent from E.N.E to W.S.W. It is defined by the river Segovia, Wanks or Coco, for about one-third of the distance; it then deflects across the watershed on the east and south of the river Choluteca, crosses the main Nicaraguan Cordillera (mountain chain) and follows the river Negro to the Bay of Fonseca. The line of separation from Salvador is irregularly drawn, first in a northerly and then in a westerly direction; beginning at the mouth of the river Goascoran, in the Bay of Fonseca, it ends 12 m. W. of San Francisco city. At this point begins the Guatemalan frontier, the largest section of which is delimited along the crests of the Sierra de Merendon. On the Caribbean seaboard the estuary of the Motagua forms the boundary between Honduras and Guatemala.

Physical Features.—The general aspect of the country is mountainous; its southern half is traversed by a continuation of the main Nicaraguan Cordillera. The chain does not, in this republic, approach within 50 or 60 m. of the Pacific; nor does it throughout maintain its general character of an unbroken range, but sometimes turns back on itself, forming interior basins or valleys, within which are collected the headwaters of the streams that traverse the country in the direction of the Atlantic Ocean. Nevertheless, viewed from the Pacific, it presents the appearance of a great natural wall, with many volcanic peaks towering above it and with a lower range of mountains intervening between it and the sea. It would almost seem that at one time the Pacific broke at the foot of the great mountain barrier, and that the subordinate coast range was subsequently thrust up by volcanic forces. At one point the main range is interrupted by a great transverse valley or plain known as the plain of Comayagua, which has an extreme length of about 40 m., with a width of from 5 to 15 m. From this plain the valley of the river Humuya extends north to the Atlantic, and the valley of the Goascoran extends south to the Pacific. These three depressions collectively constitute a great transverse valley reaching from sea to sea, which was pointed out soon after the conquest as an appropriate course for inter-oceanic communication. The mountains of the northern half of Honduras are not volcanic in character and are inferior in altitude to those of the south, which sometimes exceed 10,000 ft. The relief of all the highlands of the Atlantic watershed is extremely varied; its culminating points are probably in the mountain mass about the sources of the Choluteca, Sulaco and Roman, and in the Sierra de Pija, near the coast. Farther eastward the different ranges are less clearly marked and the surface of the country resembles a plateau intersected by numerous watercourses.

The rivers of the Atlantic slope of Honduras are numerous and some of them of large size and navigable. The largest is the Ulua, with its tributary the Humuya. It rises in the plain of Comayagua and flows north to the Atlantic; it drains a wide expanse of territory, comprehending nearly one-third of the entire state, and probably discharges a greater amount of water into the sea than any other river of Central America, the Segovia excepted. It may be navigated by steamers of light draught for the greater part of its course. The Rio Roman or Aguan is a large stream falling into the Atlantic near Trujillo, with a total length of about 120 m. Its largest tributary is the Rio Mangualil, celebrated for its gold washings, and it may be ascended by boats of light draft for 80 m. Rio Tinto, Negro or Black River, called also Poyer or Poyas, is a considerable stream, navigable by small vessels for about 60 m. Some English settlements were made on its banks during the 18th century. The Patuca rises near the frontier of Nicaragua, and enters the Atlantic east of the Brus or Brewer lagoon. The Segovia is the longest river in Central America, rising within 50 m. of the Bay of Fonseca, and flowing into the Caribbean Sea at Cape Gracias à Dios (see Nicaragua). Three considerable rivers flow into the Pacific—the Goascoran, Nacaome and Choluteca, the last named having a length of about 150 m. The Goascoran, which almost interlocks with the Humuya, in the plain of Comayagua, has a length of about 80 m. The lake of Yojoa or Taulébe is the only large inland lake in Honduras, and is about 25 m. in length, by 6 to 8 in breadth. Its surface is 2050 ft. above the sea. It has two outlets on the south, the rivers Jaitique and Sacapa, which unite about 15 m. from the lake; and it is drained on the north by the Rio Blanco, a narrow, deep stream falling into the Ulua. It has also a feeder on the north, in the form of a subterranean stream of beautiful clear water, which here comes to the surface. The Carataska or Caratasca lagoon is a shallow salt-water lake connected by a narrow channel with the Atlantic, and near the mouth of the Segovia. It contains several large sandy islands.

Honduras resembles the neighbouring countries in the general character of its geological formations, fauna and flora. Here, as in other Central American states, there are but two seasons, the wet, from May to November, and the dry, from November to May. On the moist lowlands of the Atlantic coast the climate is oppressive, but on the highlands of the interior it is delightful. At Tegucigalpa, on the uplands, a year’s observations showed the maximum temperature to be 90° F. in May, and the minimum to be 50° F. in December, the range of variation during the whole year being within 40° F.

See also Central America: Geology, Fauna, Flora, Climate.

Inhabitants.—The inhabitants of Honduras are in many cases of the Indian or aboriginal type, and the European element is very small, although it shares in the social, political and economic preponderance of the Spanish-speaking half-castes (Ladinos or Mestizos), who are the most numerous section of the population. Throughout the country there are many interesting relics of the native civilization which was destroyed by the Spanish invaders in the 16th century. In the eastern portion of the state, between the Rio Roman, Cape Gracias à Dios, and the Segovia river, the country is almost exclusively occupied by native Indian tribes, known under the general names of Xicaques and Poyas. In many districts the Indians are known as Lencas, a generic name which includes several tribes akin to the Mayans of Guatemala. Portions of all of these tribes have accepted the Roman Catholic religion, and live in peaceful neighbourhood and good understanding with the white inhabitants. There are, however, considerable numbers, probably about 90,000 in all, who live among the mountains and still conform closely to the aboriginal modes of life. They all cultivate the soil, and are good and industrious labourers. A small portion of the coast, above Cape Gracias, is occupied by the Sambos, a mixed race of Indians and negroes, which, however, is fast disappearing. Spreading along the entire north coast are the Caribs, a vigorous race, descendants of the Caribs of St Vincent, one of the Windward Islands. These, to the number of 5000, were deported in 1796 by the English and landed on the island of Roatan. They still retain their native language, although it tends to disappear and be replaced by Spanish and a bastard dialect of English; they are active, industrious and provident, forming the chief reliance of the mahogany cutters on the coast. A portion of them, who have a mixture of negro blood, are called the Black Caribs. They profess the Roman Catholic religion, but retain many of their native rites and superstitions. In the departments of Gracias, Comayagua and Choluteca are many purely Indian towns.

The aggregate population, according to an official estimate made in 1905, is 500,136, but a complete and satisfactory census cannot be taken throughout the country, since the ignorant masses of the people, and especially the Indians, avoid a census as in some way connected with military conscription or taxation. The bulk of the Spanish population exists on the Pacific slope of the continent, while on the Atlantic declivity the country is uninhabited or but sparsely occupied by Indian tribes, of which the number is wholly unknown. In 1905 there were fewer than 11 inhabitants per sq. m., but all the available data tend to show that the population increases rapidly, owing to the continuous excess of births over deaths. The first census, taken in 1791, gave the total population as only 95,500. There is little emigration or immigration.

Chief Towns.—The capital is Tegucigalpa (pop. 1905, about 35,000); other important towns are Jutigalpa (18,000), Comayagua (8000), and the seaports of Amapala (4000), Trujillo (4000), and Puerto Cortes (2500). These are described in separate articles. The towns of Nacaome, La Esperanza, Choluteca and Santa Rosa have upwards of 10,000 inhabitants.

Communications.—Means of communication are very defective. In 1905 the only railway in the country was that from Puerto Cortes to La Pimienta, a distance of 57 m. This is a section of the proposed inter-oceanic railway for which the external debt of the republic was incurred. For the completion of the line concessions, one after another, were granted, and expired or were revoked. Other railways are projected, including one along the Atlantic coast, an extension from La Pimienta to La Brea on the Pacific, and a line from Tegucigalpa to the port of San Lorenzo. The capital is connected with other towns by fairly well made roads, which, however, are not kept in good repair. In the interior generally, all travelling and transport are by mules and ox-carts over roads which defy description.

Honduras joined the Postal Union in 1879, The telegraph service is conducted by the government and is inefficient. Telephones are in use in Tegucigalpa and a few of the more important towns.

Commerce and Industry.—Although grants of land for mining and agricultural purposes are readily made by the state to companies and individual capitalists, the economic development of Honduras has been a very slow process, impeded as it has been by political disturbances and in modern times by national bankruptcy, heavy import and export duties, and the scarcity of both labour and capital. The natural wealth of the country is great and consists especially in its vegetable products. The mahogany and cedar of Honduras are unsurpassed, but reckless destruction of these and of other valuable cabinet-woods and dye-woods has much reduced the supply available for export. Rubber-planting, a comparatively modern industry, has proved successful, and tends to supplement the almost exhausted stock of wild rubber. Of still greater importance are the plantations of bananas, especially in the northern maritime province of Atlantida, where coco-nuts are also grown. Coffee, tobacco, sugar, oranges, lemons, maize and beans are produced in all parts, rice, cocoa, indigo and wheat over more limited areas. Cattle and pigs are bred extensively; cattle are exported to Cuba, and dairy-farming is carried on with success. Sheep-farming is almost an unknown industry. Turtle and fish are obtained in large quantities off the Atlantic seaboard. In its mineral resources Honduras ranks first among the states of Central America. Silver is worked by a British company, gold by an American company. Gold-washing was practised in a primitive manner even before the Spanish conquest, and in the 18th century immense quantities of gold and silver were obtained by the Spaniards from mines near Tegucigalpa. Opals, platinum, copper, lead, zinc, nickel, antimony, iron, lignite and coal have been found but the causes already enumerated have prevented the exploitation of any of these minerals on a large scale, and the total value of the ores exported was only £174,800 in 1904 and £239,426 in 1905. The total value of the exports in a normal year ranges from about £500,000 to £600,000, and that of the imports from £450,000 to £550,000. Apart from minerals the most valuable commodity exported is bananas (£209,263 in 1905); coco-nuts, timber, hides, deer-skins, feathers, coffee, sarsaparilla and rubber are items of minor importance. Nearly 90% of the exports are shipped to the United States, which also send to Honduras more than half of its imports. These chiefly consist of cotton goods, hardware and provisions. The manufacturing industries of Honduras include the plaiting of straw hats, cigar-making, brick-making and the distillation of spirits.

Finance.—Owing to the greater variety of its products and the possession of a metallic currency, Honduras is less affected by fluctuations of exchange than the neighbouring republics, in which little except paper money circulates. The monetary unit is the silver peso or dollar of 100 cents, which weighs 25 grammes, .900 fine, and is worth about 1s. 8d.; the gold dollar is worth about 4s. The principal coins in circulation arc the 1-cent copper piece, 5, 10, 20, 25 and 50 cents, and 1 peso silver pieces, and 1, 5, 10 and 20 dollar gold pieces. The metric system of weights and measures, adopted officially on the 1st of April 1897, has not supplanted the older Spanish standards in general use. There is only one bank in the republic, the Banco de Honduras, with its head office at Tegucigalpa. Its bills are legal tender for all debts due to the state.

In July 1909 the foreign debt of Honduras, with arrears of interest, amounted to £22,470,510, of which more than £17,000,000 were for arrears of interest. The principal was borrowed between 1867 and 1870, chiefly for railway construction; but it was mainly devoted to other purposes and no interest has been paid since 1872. The republic is thus practically bankrupt. The revenue, derived chiefly from customs and from the spirit, gunpowder and tobacco monopolies reached an average of about £265,000 during the five years 1901–1905; the expenditure in normal years is about £250,000. The principal spending departments are those of war, finance, public works and education.

Constitution and Government.—The constitution of Honduras, promulgated in 1839 and frequently amended, was to a great extent recast in 1880. It was again remodelled in 1894, when a new charter was proclaimed. This instrument gives the legislative power to a congress of deputies elected for four years by popular vote, in the ratio of one member for every 10,000 inhabitants. Congress meets on the 1st of January and sits for sixty consecutive days. The executive is entrusted to the president, who is nominated and elected for four years by popular vote, and is re-eligible for a second but not for a third consecutive term. He is assisted by a council of ministers representing the departments of the interior, war, finance, public works, education and justice. For purposes of local administration the republic is divided into sixteen departments. The highest judicial power is vested in the Supreme Court, which consists of five popularly elected judges; there are also four Courts of Appeal, besides subordinate departmental and district tribunals. The active army consists of about 500 regular soldiers and 20,000 militia, recruited by conscription from all able-bodied males between the ages of twenty and thirty. Service in the reserve is obligatory for a further period of ten years.

Religion and Education.—Roman Catholicism is the creed of a very large majority of the population; but the constitution grants complete liberty to all religious communities, and no Church is supported by public funds or receives any other special privilege. Education is free, secular and compulsory for children between the ages of seven and fifteen. There are primary schools in every convenient centre, but the percentage of illiterates is high, especially among the Indians. The state maintains a central institute and a university at Tegucigalpa, a school of jurisprudence at Comayagua, and colleges for secondary education, with special schools for teachers, in each department. The annual cost of primary education is about £11,000.

History.—It was at Cape Honduras that Columbus first landed on the American continent in 1502, and took possession of the country on behalf of Spain. The first settlement was made in 1524 by order of Hernando Cortes, who had heard rumours of rich and populous empires in this region, and sent his lieutenant Christobal de Olid to found a Spanish colony. Olid endeavoured to establish an independent principality, and, in order to resume control of the settlers, Cortes was compelled to undertake the long and arduous march across the mountains of southern Mexico and Guatemala. In the spring of 1525 he reached the colony and founded the city which is now Puerto Cortes. He entrusted the administration to a new governor, whose successors were to be nominated by the king, and returned to Mexico in 1526. By 1539, when Honduras was incorporated in the captaincy-general of Guatemala, the mines of the province had proved to be the richest as yet discovered in the New World and several large cities had come into existence. The system under which Honduras was administered from 1539 to 1821, when it repudiated the authority of the Spanish crown, the effects of that system, the part subsequently played by Honduras in the protracted struggle for Central American unity, and the invasion by William Walker and his fellow-adventurers (1856–1860), are fully described under Central America.

War and revolution had stunted the economic growth of the country and retarded every attempt at social or political reform; its future was mortgaged by the assumption of an enormous burden of debt in 1869 and 1870. A renewal of war with Guatemala in 1871, and a revolution three years later in the interests of the ex-president Medina, brought about the intervention of the neighbouring states and the provisional appointment to the presidency of Marco Aurelio Soto, a nominee of Guatemala. This appointment proved successful and was confirmed by popular vote in 1877 and 1880, when a new constitution was issued and the seat of government fixed at Tegucigalpa. Fresh outbreaks of civil war occurred frequently between 1883 and 1903; the republic was bankrupt and progress again at a standstill. In 1903 Manuel Bonilla, an able, popular and experienced general, gained the presidency and seemed likely to repeat the success of Soto in maintaining order. As his term of office drew to a close, and his re-election appeared certain, the supporters of rival candidates and some of his own dissatisfied adherents intrigued to secure the co-operation of Nicaragua for his overthrow. Bonilla welcomed the opportunity of consolidating his own position which a successful war would offer; José Santos Zelaya, the president of Nicaragua, was equally ambitious; and several alleged violations of territory had embittered popular feeling on both sides. The United States and Mexican governments endeavoured to secure a peaceful settlement without intervention, but failed. At the outbreak of hostilities in February 1907 the Hondurian forces were commanded by Bonilla in person and by General Sotero Barahona his minister of war. One of their chief subordinates was Lee Christmas, an adventurer from Memphis, Tennessee, who had previously been a locomotive-driver. Honduras received active support from his ally, Salvador, and was favoured by public opinion throughout Central America. But from the outset the Nicaraguans proved victorious, largely owing to their remarkable mobility. Their superior naval force enabled them to capture Puerto Cortes and La Ceiba, and to threaten other cities on the Caribbean coast; on land they were aided by a body of Hondurian rebels, who also established a provisional government. Zelaya captured Tegucigalpa after severe fighting, and besieged Bonilla in Amapala. Lee Christmas was killed. The surrender of Amapala on the 11th of April practically ended the war. Bonilla took refuge on board the United States cruiser “Chicago.” A noteworthy feature of the war was the attitude of the American naval officers, who landed marines, arranged the surrender of Amapala, and prevented Nicaragua prolonging hostilities. Honduras was now evacuated by the Nicaraguans and her provisional government was recognized by Zelaya. Miguel R. Davila was president in 1908 and 1909.

Bibliography.—Official documents such as the annual presidential message and the reports of the ministries are published in Spanish at Tegucigalpa. Other periodical publications which throw much light on the movement of trade and politics are the British Foreign Office reports (London, annual), United States consular reports (Washington, monthly), bulletins of the Bureau of American Republics (Washington), and reports of the Council of the Corporation of Foreign Bondholders (London, annual). For a more comprehensive account of the country and its history, the works of K. Sapper, E. G. Squier, A. H. Keane and T. Child, cited under Central America, are important. See also E. Pelletier, Honduras et ses ports: documents officiels sur le chemin-de-fer interocéanique (Paris, 1869); E. G. Squier, Honduras: Descriptive, Historical and Statistical (London, 1870); C. Charles, Honduras (Chicago, 1890); Handbook of Honduras, published by the Bureau of American Republics (1892); T. R. Lombard, The New Honduras (New York, 1887); H. Jalhay, La République de Honduras (Antwerp, 1898); Perry, Directorio nacional de Honduras (New York, 1899); H. G. Bourgeois, Breve noticia sobre Honduras (Tegucigalpa, 1900).