Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom
Paya Indians.
Throughout the colonial period, and up to the abolition of slavery in 1785, in Spanish held countries, Spain relied almost exclusively on local indigenous labor. As they believed, somewhat correctly, that the infusion of black Africans, would create a powerful fighting force too difficult to defeat in case of any kind of insurrection.

During the 329 years of their presence in the Caribbean and Central America, only around 25,000 African slaves were imported here by the Spanish. This is a great contrast to the 12 million blacks shipped by the English, Dutch, French, and Portuguese for use in their colonies in the same region.

Therefore, the Spanish depended on local labor, and after mostly annihilating the indigenous populations of present-day Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Cuba. Then they turned their attention to Central America and are of today’s Honduras as a source for providing laborers.

They considered anyone not converted to Catholicism with disdain, and the economic value of a Paya, Lenca or Tolupan laborer was less than that of a pig or a horse. In the one hundred years between 1524 and 1624, it is estimated that the population of Honduras fell from around 500,000 indigenous people to less than 150,000, the majority of whom were shipped off to die in the mines of Peru and Bolivia.

However, workers were also needed in the Caribbean islands. The first Spanish raiding parties arrived in the Bay Islands from Cuba in 1516. Equipped with firepower, and huge, spike collared, Pyrenean hunting dogs, brought to pacify the natives. These were previously unseen by the natives.

However, the Paya did not always go to their fate docilely and in the Bay Islands, they were valuable allies to the pirates raiding the Spanish armada. After a Spanish raid on Guanaja in 1516, some 500 Payas were shipped to Cuba, whereupon landing, the Indians took advantage of the crew and soldiers guarding them. During a drunken celebration, the captive Paya overpowered and killed them. Incredibly, they managed to sail back to the Bay Islands using astral navigation. Their feat only provoked the Spanish into sending a much larger punitive force after them, and most were recaptured and disappeared into the vast plantations of Cuba.

This curse became known as “La Maldición de Trujillo.”

Life for the Paya would become much more miserable with the arrival of Hernán Cortés in Trujillo in 1526. Using his Nahuatl speaking mistress from the Yucatan, he summoned three of the head caiques of the region to a meeting in Trujillo. Here he proposed that they and their people, subject themselves to Spanish rule, abandon their idolatry, human sacrifices and convert to Christianity. They also were to pay tribute and taxes to King Charles.

The Paya chieftains were aware of the brutal treatment of their neighbors and friends on the Bay Islands and refused to deal with Cortés. Fearing reprisal, the chiefs of four of the largest towns surrounding Trujillo, Chapagua, Merderato, Potlo, and Thicahutl, took their families, members of their courts and their shamans, and fled to the mountains of Olancho.

Only the proud caique, Mazatl, Lord of Papayeca the Paya capital, remained to defy Cortés. In retaliation, and to prove his superiority over the perceived venality of the infidels, an enraged Cortés, captured Mazatl and his head priest named Pizacura, along with one hundred of the leading citizens of the town, who were branded with the letter “C” on their faces. The mark denoted them as Cortés’s private property.

On being brought to Trujillo, Chief Mazatl again refused to swear allegiance to Cortés and took offense when manhandled by a Spanish soldier, who he slapped on the face. He immediately had his hands nailed to a tree in the plaza.

Chief Mazatl was hanged later in the day, but before dying, he laid a curse on the Spanish, telling them that they would find no wealth, no joy or nor prosperity in the region on account of their inhumanity.

This curse became known as “La Maldicion de Trujillo,” a legendary curse that people all over the region believe in, so much, that when Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa, who was born in Trujillo, became President of Honduras in 2010, he brought the Archbishop of Tegucigalpa to the town to exorcise and remove it.

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