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OysterbedLagoon History

Utila (Isla de Utila) [1] is the third smallest of HondurasBay Islands, after RoatÃin and Guanaja, in a region that marks the south end of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second-largest in the world.

The eastern end of the island is capped by a thin veneer of basaltic volcanic rocks, erupted from several pyroclastic cones including 74Â m (243Â ft) Pumpkin Hill which forms the highest point on the island. It has been documented in history since Columbus’ fourth voyage, and currently enjoys growing tourism with emphasis on recreational diving.

Archeological, historical and ethnographic evidence of the Bay Islands indicates that they were inhabited well before the Europeans arrived, as long ago as 600AD by a pre-Columbian culture known as the Paya. The Paya may have entered Central America in the great North to South America migration in 5,000 BC, although to the contrary, linguistic studies indicate that the Paya may have been descendants of South American tribes.[1] Christopher Columbus, on his fourth voyage to the new world, landed on the island of Guanaja on July 30, 1502, after encountering a small fleet of dugout canoes destined from the mainland to the Bay Islands. These vessels were filled with cotton cloth, maize, cacao, beans, copper goods and wooden swords with sharp flint edges, and on this meeting one dugout canoe carrying 25 men, women and children was captured.[2] On land, Columbus encountered a fairly large population of Paya whom he believed to be cannibals.[citation needed] In 1516, licenced slavers were sent to the Islands under the authority of Diego Velasquez and captured 300, killing others who put up resistance. The slaving vessel returned to Havana harbour, Santiago de Cuba, where it was taken over by the Paya who demanded repatriation. On hearing that the Paya had been repatriated, Velasquez commissioned two ships back which then captured 400 Paya on Utila and on one of the other islands, and during this raid 100 Paya were reported to have been killed. After their capture, this and future shipments of Paya slaves were forced to work in mines, farm sugar cane plantations and tend livestock on Santiago de Cuba,[3] and were also sent to work in the gold and silver mines of Mexico.

Later on, English, French, and Dutch pirates established settlements on the islands and raided the Spanish cargo vessels laden with gold and other treasures from the New World. The Welsh buccaneer Henry Morgan established his base at Port Royal on Roatán, about 30 kilometers from Útila, in the mid-17th century; at that time as many as 5,000 pirates were living on that island.[citation needed]

Colonization by the Spanish began in the early 16th century. Over the next century, the Spanish plundered the island for its slave trade and eliminated the island of its natives by the early 17th century. Britain, in its aggressive attempt to out-colonize the Spanish in the Caribbean, occupied the Bay Islands on and off between 1550 and 1700. During this time, the buccaneers found the vacated, mostly unprotected islands a haven for safe harbor and transport. Útila is rich in pirate lore, and even presently, scuba divers look for sunken treasure from Captain Morgan’s lost booty from his raid on Panama in 1671.

The British were forced to give the Bay Islands to the Honduran government in the mid 19th century. It was at this time that the nearly uninhabited islands were being populated by its now Caymanian roots. They remain rich in Caymanian culture and dialect.

Utila has been a part of Honduras for approximately 150Â years.[4] [5] For nearly 200Â years Spanish conquistadores and British pirates battled for control of these islands, ignoring the native people for the most part. During this period, the Islands were used for food and wood supplies, safe harbor, and slave trading. Remains of British forts and towns named after famous pirates remain as their legacy.

Making a significant impact on Útila’s cultural base were the Black Caribs, who originated as the Callinagu in the Orinoco Delta in Brazil. Migrating north to the Lower Antilles the Callinagu subsequently exterminated the Arahuaco men, but kept and bred with their women creating a new ethic subgroup that became known as the Caliponan, or Yellow Caribs. In 1635 African slaves who had been shipwrecked by their own devices began to marry the Caliponan women, adopting their language and culture so as to assimilate locally and thwart their owners attempts to retrieve them. Thus the Garifuna society was born. On April 12th, 1797,a total of 2,248 Garifunas were sent to Honduras and the Bay Islands in an attempt by the English to restrain the Garifuna from assisting the French in the English/French dispute over the islands of Martinica, and Santa Lucia. Scattered on the north coast of Honduras and in the Bay Islands, the Garifuna still populate much of the Bay Islands, maintaining their own cultural identity and language. On Útila the Garifuna maintain a strong presence in the Sandy Bay community, on the western most side of East Harbor, a number of them having made the journey to Útila from Cayo Chachahuate, a small nearby island that is a bastion of the Bay Island’s Garifuna.