Honduras: Guancasco Lenca, A Peace Ritual Between Indigenous Peoples

Photos by Pável Uranga

Before the arrival of the Spaniards to Abya Yala, indigenous peoples maintained their cultural customs and traditions, as old as more than two thousand years before our era, even older in some areas. With the arrival of the Spaniards, everything was desecrated: peoples, cultures, historical records (pyramids, codices, languages, traditions, written, artistic representations).

There is a town in Abya Yala’s middle territories (Central America) that lost almost everything. Its buildings were destroyed, its language was forbidden, its vestiges, even its writings, pots and urns were destroyed (many of which were kindly “saved” in the 1960s by Cardinal Lorenzo Antonetti, apostolic nuncio who set up a personal museum in Genoa to exhibit his “findings”). Despite the looting and aggression, the Lenca People were able to preserve their identity, their colorful clothing, but above all, their powerful, generous, and unique communal spirit.

A ritual of the Lenca People that survived is the Guancasco, a ceremony of Peace between Indigenous Peoples that was used as an instrument of reconciliation and resilience among communities. Over the years, even for their survival, the Lenca People surrounded the ritual with Catholic imagery, and little by little, the church adopted the celebration as their own. As another act of rebellion, the Lencas used the image of a Black Christ to be used in their ceremonies and a procession during the Guancasco when they need to share Peace with their brothers and sisters in neighboring towns.

Outside the reach of Catholic priests, the guardians of the Lenca People, in their traditional mayor’s offices of La Vara Alta, jealously guard their ancestral relics that are not publicly exhibited and come out of the sepulcher once a year to be used only in a Guancasco. The ritual is beautiful. One day, the town meets in the town square, with its best-multicolored dresses, and goes out on the road in a procession of chirimías, drums, shouts, and songs, to look for the road that leads to a neighboring town. From the nearby village, its people join them in the spirit of peace, harmony, and advancing at the slowest pace, the elders of both communities march to meet somewhere in the middle of the road.

When they meet there is sweet joy, tenderness, music, hugs, smiles, hope, copal, incense, and a shared feeling that peace is possible, there, in the middle of the dirt road, while smoke and dust envelops them. Peace is seen as a giant tree that embraces and covers everyone with its shade.

They then share what little food, water, chicha, and bread that moves from hand to hand, always too little but always enough.

The Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), with Salvador Zúñiga and Berta Cáceres at the head, soon learned that indigenous spirituality is a significant part of the political development of the Lenca people. Thus, they respect it, incorporating and transmitting its teaching to new generations.

Although the Catholic Church has used the Guancasco for many years as a simple calendar ritual, COPINH managed to give the ceremony a new meaning: a political context of reconciliation between the peoples, within their fight for life and in defense of the territories. They began to develop their Guancascos outside of the liturgical calendar, as political rituals to build of people’s power, related to cultural recovery, reconciliation, and even of incorporation of new organization members.

COPINH is an indigenous environmental organization that protects the river’s waters, forests against logging, the Earth that feeds and preserves their way of life, and the territories that give identity, culture, and strength to the community. They have paid their sacrifices with blood: the murders of Berta Cáceres (Goldman Prize 2015), Tomás García, Nelson García, Lesbia Urquía are a living example of the sacrifice made by the Lenca People to preserve their culture, their environment, and the hope to live in peace.

Guancasco reconciles, helps the community to grow, drives initiatives, unites, and helps the Lencas to remember fallen sisters and brothers in the fight for peace, justice, reconciliation, and justice.

For more information, visit: COPINH.