History of The Bay Islands
Roatan was discovered in 1502 by Christopher Columbus, during his 4th voage. The Bay Islands of Honduras still keeps its primitive quintessence with great resorts that assure you and your group an extraordinary vacation in the Caribbean.
Roatan is a true tropical island with steeply sloping jungle covered hills, long stretches of sandy beaches and beautiful fringing coral reefs. The island is 35 miles ( 58Kms ) long and an average of three miles wide, it lies 40 miles ( 66Kms ) off the north coast of Honduras. With many deep water inlets called ‘Bights’ it has been a safe haven for sailors for centuries. Home originally to the Paya indians the island has passed from country to country during the conquest of the Americas in the 16th century and fought over by the British and Spanish crowns for possession of the hard woods both on the island and mainland. Roatan played a colorful roll during the pirates of the Caribbean era. This island became the stronghold of Henry Morgan who ravaged and plundered the Spanish Main.
It was from Roatan the raiding expeditions were planned and organized, with whole flotillas of pirate vessels from many nations taking part, sacking cities such as Granada in Nicaragua, Porto Bello and Panama city in their wake. There were an estimated 5,000 pirates on Roatan during its heyday. Contrary to modern depictions the pirates were well disciplined and organized, able to build sophisticated fortifications for the defense of the island, so much so that it was not until the 1740’s that a combined Spanish army and naval offensive could rid the island of the scourge of the Caribbean.
The British occupied Roatan for a large part of the time. Roatan (called Rattan on old maps) carries a legacy in the language and culture. Many family names are linked to the old pirate days and their Scottish, Irish and British ancestry. You will find McNab’s, Jackson’s, Foster’s, Ebanks, Burke’s and many more on the Bay Islands and as far as the Cayman islands as well. No Caribbean island would be complete without the other component of that time. The African slaves brought over to work the fields. Roatan had the pleasure of being the dumping ground for the most rebellious and troublesome slaves the British could not control. The Garifuna people were one such group left to fend for themselves on the Island, today they comprise a distinct ethnic group with a village on the East end of the island called Punta Gorda. With a wonderful culture of song and dance linked back to their West African heritage. Although still predominantly English speaking, the island is becoming multilingual as it integrates with the Spanish speaking mainland.
Today’s visitors will receive a decidedly warmer welcome than a couple of centuries ago. The friendly outward going islanders will make you feel right at home, although they do say the pirate spirit lives on in some quarters, but that is usually confined to the drinking of rum these days!!
It is that when Columbus visited the Bay Islands in the 15th Century, the Paya Indians, who inhabited the Island, welcomed him and his crew. The bounty of the Caribbean and of the islands’ forests allowed these peaceful islanders to lead a hunting and gathering lifestyle. They were also involved in active trade with the Mayas and other tribes on what is now the Honduran mainland. The Payas collected stingray barbs and mother of pearl shells to exchange for cocoa and corn from the mainland.
The Bay Islands have a colorful history quite distinct to that of mainland Honduras. Indeed, the islanders are native English speakers and are proud of their traditions. During the pre-Hispanic period the islands were inhabited by the Paya Indians and visited frequently by Mayan traders. In the 17th century, they became a refuge for British pirates who preyed on Spanish ships setting out from the nearby port of Trujillo on the long voyage back to the mother country. There was even a pirate stronghold on Roatán called Port Royal. According to local legend, the loot from the Henry Morgan’s 1671 raid on Panama is buried somewhere on the island. Britain and Spain fought over the Bay Island during the 18th century and in 1797, the British marooned 5,000 rebel Garifunas from St. Vincent on their shores. Most of them eventually migrated to the mainland, and farmers from the Cayman Islands later settled the islands. In 1859, Britain ceded the islands to Honduras.
Roatan has a warm climate and equally warm and friendly communities, you’ll begin to feel right at home.
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