Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom

Colombus’ Visit to ‘Proto-Honduras’

Columbus landing in the new world.
The first contact that the Paya Indians had with Europeans occurred on July 30, 1502, when a flotilla of four small boats named La Santa Maria, El Vizcaino, El Santiago and El Gallego landed on what is known as Soldado beach, on the north shore of what is now known as Guanaja.

The ships were manned by 140 men under the command of Admiral Christopher Columbus. It was Columbus’ fourth voyage to the Americas and he was accompanied by his 13-year-old son, Fernando. Columbus’ second in command was his younger brother, Bartholomew.

They had made the fastest to date crossing of the Atlantic from Spain to the Caribbean, having left Cadiz on May 7, and arriving in Martinique on June 15.

Having been refused entry to any port in Hispaniola, Columbus meandered along the coast of Jamaica before heading south into uncharted territory, taking three weeks to reach an island which was then known to the Indians as Caguamara. Columbus immediately claimed the Caguamara and the neighboring Roatan in the name of Spain and renamed it “La Isla de Pinos.”

Guanaja was named after predominant pine trees that would become an important source of pine tar. The Spanish used to caulk their boats with pine tat at such a rate that within 100 years the entire island would be deforested completely. The island would not be known as Guanaja until 1657.

At 51, Columbus was continuously looking for a new trading route to India and China. He incorrectly thought that he had entered the Straits of Molucca, off the coast of Indonesia without the use of latitude in his calculations. He was 16,000 miles off course but charted a new route for Central America.

Although he had gained much prestige, wealth and fame for his previous voyages of discovery to the New World, his star was on the wane after his despotic governorship of Hispaniola ended amidst charges of corruption, abuse of power, mass torture and murder. Stripped of his powers, he had been shipped in chains back to Cadiz, where he spent a year in jail. He was now a much-changed person, he had written a biblical themed book called “The book of prophesies,” and had taken up the name “Christbearer.” Columbus wandered the deck of his ship dressed in a priest’s cassock.

Maya had voyaged down from the Yucatan peninsula to trade with their Paya cousins

Upon his release from jail, his chief benefactress, Spain’s Queen Isabel, decided to give him one more chance to open a trading route to China. As a condition however, on this voyage he was not allowed to settle, colonize or do any trade with newly discovered lands. To assure that Columbus complied, he was accompanied by a royal administrator and overseer, who monitored all of his actions.

After spending two weeks on the island and learning from the local “caique”, or chief, that a large ocean did indeed exist on the other side of the nearby mainland. On the 35-mile voyage to what he named Honduras, he encountered a large canoe, larger than his own ships, manned by 35 Maya Indians.

The Maya had voyaged down from the Yucatan peninsula to trade with their Paya cousins. Among the items Columbus’ men found in the canoe, was were cacao beans — European’s first encounter with chocolate.

Today the most expensive chocolate in the world is made in Belgium, and is called Guanaja chocolate.

Columbus arrived in what is now known as the Bay of Trujillo on August 15, and on that date, the first ever Catholic mass on the American continent was held at “Punta Caxinas”, present day named “Puerto Castilla.” Columbus was stricken with syphilis and tropical fever and remained on his flagship for the duration of the time he spent in Honduras.

Having collected captives to use as guides and translators, the Spanish explorers departed the Trujillo bay on August 30. They sailed west down the coast to look for the elusive passage to the Pacific. In the end Columbus never found the passage to India and it took him two years to return to Spain. He died there at the age of 54.

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