National Hispanic American Heritage Month 2002
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National Hispanic American Heritage Month 2002

Land of Eternal Springtime — The Mayans of Guatemala and the surrounding regions had one of the most advanced civilizations of the ancient world. Theircities flourished across Central America, complete with remarkable pyramids, temples, observatories and libraries, and their scholars produced works of literature, philosophy, art and architecture. Particularly skilled in mathematics and astronomy, Mayan scientists developed a calendar more precise than that used by NASA even today.

With the invasion of the Spanish Conquistadors in the early 1500s, the world of the Mayans, like all of the other Indigenous societies in the western hemisphere, came to a fiery and brutal end. Although medieval Europe was in many ways far less developed, the Conquistadors arrived with enormous military advantages: specifically, gun powder, steel swords, and horses. The Mayans fought valiantly on foot, with their obsidian spears and leather shields, but they suffered devastating losses. Within a few years, they had become slaves in their own homeland, deprived of their lands, their rights, and any political or social representation of any kind. Their libraries and cities were burned and sacked, and their religion and culture were banned. Throughout the hemisphere war, disease and slavery wiped out nearly 90% of the Indigenous population within a century.

Despite the odds, the Mayans of Guatemala survived and maintained their heritage, religion and languages intact, although often virtually clandestine. Today the socio-economic structure in Guatemala is reminiscent of the old South Africa, with the Mayans constituting the majority of the population — some 80% — yet subjected to extreme racial discrimination and repression. Stripped of both their lands and political representation, they remain a virtual serf population. The villagers suffer an 80% malnutrition level, 80% functional illiteracy level, and the highest infant mortality rate in the hemisphere, second only to people of Haiti. Meanwhile, the lighter skinned descendants of the Conquistadors and other colonists live on large plantations and enjoy great wealth and social prestige. Nevertheless, the Mayans cling fiercely to their own cultural identity, wearing their own hand-woven clothing, complete with mythical symbols, celebrating their own cultural and religious ceremonies, and speaking their own languages. Some 23 Mayan languages are still spoken in Guatemala today, and the people continue to secretly worship their own Gods at ancient temple sites in the mountains. Source

In Depths: Lake Yojoa — Lake Yojoa is a natural lake, surrounded by massive mountains, amongst which is Cerro Santa Barbara, the second highest peak in Honduras with almost 8,000 ft of altitude over sea level. These majestic mountains, which surround the lake, are home to two of Honduras's National Parks: Santa Barbara on the Northern shore, and Azul Meambar on the Southern shore. The combination of vegetation and water create an impressively diverse habitat that is home to many different species of flora and fauna. Just as an example, the lake is home to over 373 species of birds!

Lake Yojoa has long been attractive to humans. During the time span of the millennium prior to Christ and well into the first millennium of our era, the shores of the lake were inhabited by native Americans believed to be of the Lenca Culture. Descendants of the Lencas still populate much of western Honduras, and although their native language has long disappeared, many of their precolombian customs and beliefs survive. The largest concentration of Lencas can be found in the departments of Intibuca and Lempira.

The lake, which sits at an altitude of approximately 2,200 ft. above sea level, offers ideal conditions for coffee, and therefore, there are quite a few coffee "fincas" or plantations in the neighborhood, which is one of the main sources of income to the area.

During the 1970's the lake became famous for its black bass fishing. Unfortunately, these were over fished, and therefore a boom in tourism, with fishermen from around the world coming to fish bass came to a sudden crash. Local environmental groups (Ecolago) have been protecting the bass for over two decades, and the result can now be appreciated. Sport fishing is once again on an upward swing, with reports of a fish biting approximately every 45 minutes on the average with each catch weighing in excess of 13 pounds! Source

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