¡Viva Lempira! Second only to Independence Day in terms of celebrations, it feels like we’ve been waiting for Lempira Day since we got here! The celebrations were very similar to those of Independence Day back in September. Amy and I marched with the primary school through the town and up to the central park and then hung around watching the traditional dances, the songs, the exhibition of all the beautiful costumes until the big finale, the re-enactment of the death of Lempira! We also sampled some of the food and drink our classes in the high school had prepared and were selling from booths they had constructed around the square.
Lempira (lem-peer-ah) was the war chieftain of the Lencas in the 1530’s, at the time of the Spanish conquistadores. The Lencas, one of Honduras’ indigenous groups, inhabited the western regions of Honduras and there are still 100,000 in the Honduran departments of La Paz, Intibuca, Lempira and Ocotepeque with a further 37,000 in El Salvador. The name Lempira comes from the Lencan words ‘lempa‘ (lord), ‘i‘ (of) and ‘era‘ (hill or mountain). It was under the leadership of Lempira that the Lencan tribes united to fight the Spanish, with a reported 30,000 men from over 200 towns under his command.
The 20th of July commemorates the death of Lempira. There are two different accounts of his death, the more widely recognised account which is the one taught in Honduran schools, and another that was not discovered until the 1980s and tells a very different story. According to the popular version of events, Lempira was lured by the Spaniards to negotiate when a concealed soldier shot him. The other version contests this by claiming that Lempira died not in an ambush but in combat, by having his head cut off.
Nowadays Lempira is remembered though the celebrations on 20th July. In 1931 the Honduran currency was renamed in his honour and 1943 the Gracias Department, where Lempira was from, was renamed the Lempira department. Candelaria is in the Lempira department!
We absolutely loved being part of this day, I think it was my favourite of the many celebrations we’ve had the honour of participating in this year. The costumes were absolutley beautiful. Amy and I were just going to wear jeans a Lempira tshirt but at the last minute our host mum Saida managed to find us some traditional outfits tp borrow! Among the usual gorgeous dance dresses and traditional outfits, many of the girls had used grains of rice, pinto beans, frijoles and corn kernels to decorate their dresses in various patterns, with flowers, even with outline of Lempira, the man or department, and the word Candelaria! They were incredible! Many of the boys also dressed up as Indians, which involved covering their bodies in black paint (completley unacceptable at home but just how they do things here) and wearing a skirt made of strips of material or sometimes bin bags and a bow and arrow.