Olanchito, The Civic City.

It is an old Spanish settlement hidden away in quite literally the middle of nowhere; so tucked away, out of sight and unmentioned, that I would bet money most visitors to Honduras have and will never hear the name ‘Olanchito’.

Little Olancho.

Nevertheless, despite it’s punishing location – miles away from anywhere – remote as remote can be, it is only within Olanchito that the true spirit of the noble Honduran is to be encountered. I personally, have met nothing but the finest of individuals which life produces from this small town lying lost somewhere between Trujillo and La Ceiba.

Wonderful souls. Characters, who’ll give one the shirt of their backs.

It is also and without any doubt, the undiscovered and tragically unappreciated cultural heartland of the nation. Olanchito is the birthplace and hometown of countless writers, poets, painters, sculptors and artists of all varieties. Yet only one of the great many has been ever so slightly recalled and celebrated.

Ramón Amaya Amador. Please see: https://lempiratimes.com/2020/03/19/honduran-hero-number-three/

A bust of Ramón Amaya Amador in the central park of Olanchito.

History.

Source: Wikipedia in Spanish.

The conquest of Honduras (https://lempiratimes.com/2020/03/31/the-spanish-conquest/) began with the arrival of several expeditions sent by Hernan Cortes to extend the domain of Spain in Central America. In 1525 he seized the town of Trujillo (https://lempiratimes.com/2020/08/18/trujillo/) which would become an important Atlantic port and the first capital of Honduras. Truxillo served as an outpost for the colonisation of the hostile territory of Olancho Valley. Hernando de Saavedra, Governor of Honduras, had a dispute with his counterpart in Nicaragua, Pedrarias Davila, on the rich gold deposits and rivers of Olancho. After several battles between rival groups of Spanish for control of the area, the town of San Jorge de Olancho was established. But because of the mistreatment of the natives of Olancho, they unexpectedly rebelled and attacked the place, destroying it completely. In this rebellion, Captain Juan de Grijalva, one of the conquerors of the Aztec empire, was killed. The survivors were scattered, some to the town of Caceres, in 1526, and others to the Valley of Aguan.

With the death of Diego de Salcedo, Governor of Honduras in 1530, the province was in chaos. But the important issue of extending the settlement and continuing the conquest of people who were not yet subjugated continued. Stories differ as to who founded the settlement that became Olanchito – and are all somewhat confusing. According to the statistical yearbook of Antonio Vallejo, this town was founded by Captain Diego de Alvarado in 1530, with the name of San Jorge de Olanchito. The Guatemalan historian José Mata Gavidia once explained: “Diego de Alvarado sent his brother Jorge to found the city, called Olanchito, in the province of Honduras.”

The town of San Jorge de Olanchito was founded in 1530, located on the right bank of the Aguán river. Its first inhabitants were the few survivors of San Jorge de Olancho and others sent by Pedro de Alvarado, becoming a stage of El Camino Real, which led from Truxillo to Olancho. Ten years later (1540) the Governor Francisco de Montejo, was ordered to continue the colonisation of Olancho and sent his officer Alonzo Caceres, who established a settlement with the same last name: “San Jorge de Olancho” (El Viejo). Years later Alonzo de Reinoso founded the village of “New Salamanca“, which was rapidly depopulated due to continuing native rebellions. Olancho as a mining town was flourishing, producing huge amounts of gold and silver that were shipped from the port of Truxillo and Puerto Caballos.

San Jorge de Olancho later became known as El Boqueron, and in 1611 was completely destroyed. Historians attribute it to a volcanic eruption, or an earthquake, and some legends to divine causes, such as the biblical case of Sodom and Gomorrah. The survivors of this catastrophe, migrated in several directions as their ancestors had done a century earlier. Some founded the city of Juticalpa and others headed to San Jorge de Olanchito and Truxillo.

Over the years, some people moved to the left bank of the Aguán river, and on the route leading to the native village of Agalteca, established a place they called “San Jorge de Olancho” (The New). With the move all of the residents of the town to the new place, it took its name “San Jorge de Olanchito“, and the old site was known then as “Old City” or “San Juan El Sevillano“.

The old Spanish church of Olanchito.

It is unknown the exact date of the foundation of the present city of Olanchito but this may have occurred between 1613–1620. The settlers were colonising the upper valley, and the road leading to Yoro, thus sites were established such as “Santa Barbara” in 1657, by Captain Pedro de Aliendo and Subiñas and “Santa Cruz” in 1682 by Don John of the Cross.

In a report presented by Ing. Luis Diez Navarro (1742–1745) to the King of Spain – it says: “The capital is that city of Comayagua, and has four cities named Gracias a Dios, that is in the West, San Pedro Sula at northeast, San Jorge Olanchito at Levante [East] and beyond San Jorge Olanchito is Sonaguera, and the Port of Truxillo at a distant twenty leagues”

Another document concerning the invasion of the English, says: “In 1747, the British themselves with Miskito natives arrived as far as Sonaguera village, where they committed great crimes and would have done more damage if not for the energetic attitude of Governor Tablada. The latter adds that those foreigners spared no means to intimidate Olanchito and Olancho El Viejo.”

In 1797 there was still a war between England and Spain: “In part, this Captaincy General directed by the Lord Mayor Governor of the Province of Comayagua, Ramon Anguiano, from Olanchito, early this month have reported the following: On April 26th before five in the afternoon the British had placed, two warships and a brigantine at the Boca of Truxillo Port.”

In the late eighteenth century, due to this situation, the archive and the treasury of the Real Hacienda de Truxillo were forwarded to the town of Olanchito.

The Iguana-eaters.

An interesting fact which must not be left out when discussing Olanchito, is that its citizens are known by the nickname of “los comejamos”.

Given that Hondurans for some utterly unknown reason love to award animals the most peculiar names, the title means “iguana-eaters” as a “jamo” is an iguana. Yet only for Hondurans! These reptiles were traditionally consumed due to an abundance however the practice seems to have died down and sadly, iguana numbers are far lesser in present times. I saw not one during my visit. Nevertheless, iguanas are to be seen all over the town in the form of monuments, murals etc.

The “Iguana Roundabout”.
Giant iguanas are paraded about the anual carnaval in Olanchito. Professor Carcamo was indeed the first to design such a spectacle.

Conclusion.

Whilst Olanchito may be decidedly far away from most popular tourist hotspots within Honduras, if the place grabs your fancy then it is most certainly worth a visit. Olanchito is what I would call a destination for the intellectual traveller, it requires an appreciation of the arts and a sense of admiration for those few who have tried their utmost to celebrate and promote the exploits of their fellow ‘comejamos’.

I would like to thank all those who so gracefully opened the doors of her town and family to me.

Ramón Amaya Amador

“I left my town one day to travel the world.”

Published by Ben Anson

Young writer with a passion for Latin American and Caribbean affairs.

One thought on “Olanchito, The Civic City.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: