Travel: Honduras pays tribute to Chief Lempira on special day

"For 364 days out of the year, Gracias, a town of about 25,000 people located four hours from the famous Copan ruins, is merely one of the most charming small towns in Honduras. Iglesia San Marcos, a yellow-and-white lemon meringue pie of a church, anchors the town's leafy central park. Cowboys on horseback and women selling homemade bread from baskets on their heads are as common on the cobblestone streets as motorized vehicles. There is no ATM.

Like so much of this part of the world, Gracias was conquered by Spaniards in the early 1500s, but not without a remarkable amount of resistance from the indigenous Lenca people led by a hothead known as Chief Lempira. He managed to unite historically warring tribes into an anti-Spaniard force 30,000 strong.

The Lencan leader was eventually killed by the Spanish and in his absence the popular uprising fizzled. However, Chief Lempira's legend lives on. The currency of Honduras is called the lempira and he is still a hero to the Lencans, the largest indigenous group in Honduras.

I arrived in Gracias the day before the most important Lencan festival, Cacique (Chief) Lempira Day. Held every July 20 and celebrated nationwide, the event is most vibrant here, in the heart of southeastern Honduras' 80-mile Ruta Lenca. Even the country's president helicopters in to attend."

Get the Story:
Honduras in history's wake (The Minneapolis Star Tribune 10/2)

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