The Lenca are the largest of eight indigenous people groups in Honduras. There are about 116,000 Lenca Indians who live in 1,196 villages. The Lenca language is almost a dead language. Like the language, much of the Lenca culture has been lost since the 1920‘s. The Lenca are the poorest people group in all Honduras, as well as the least educated. The majority of Lenca are Catholic. However, in recent years many have become evangelicals. There are Lenca who maintain their ancestors’ beliefs and practices. In some villages, there is a medicine doctor or shaman who plays an important role in curing the sick.
Lenca men are typically farmers cultivating crops such as corn, beans, coffee, garlic, and sugarcane. However, some men also work as carpenters and masons. Lenca women mainly work in the home, but some also generate income as skilled artisans in pottery and sewing. The Lenca social structure is still very strong in Lenca communities, but the language of the Lenca has almost died out completely.
The Lenca diet is simple, consisting of tortillas and beans as part of every meal. A cup of coffee can be served at almost any hour of the day. There are a variety of fruits and vegetables available throughout the year. One of the most popular meals in the homes of the Lenca is sopa de gallina India, which is the Lenca version of chicken soup. On special occasions, such as weddings and birthdays, tamales are prepared. However, due to deforestation, deteriorated ecosystems, natural disasters, and low productivity, food security has become a common issue. This food insecurity, as well as the communal Lenca culture, often leads to children being taken out of school to assist their family’s farm. In addition to the lack of education, the children are commonly malnourished as food insecurity has led to a reduction in calorie consumption.
The Lenca homes are typically constructed of mud-bricks, a dirt floor, and clay tiles for the roofs. The average home is 215 square feet with most families sharing a one bedroom and one kitchen home. Most homes lack basic sanitation, electricity, and running water, meaning the only reprieve from the warm Honduran climate is the cool nighttime mountain air. Even so, the Lenca have an amazing spirit of hospitality. Upon visiting the Lenca people in their homes, there is always a quick response to find an empty chair or a comfortable place to sit. Coffee and bread or some form of juice drink is almost always offered during visits. The Lenca people are very humble, and they almost always stop what they are doing to accept guests and visit. Through the years, the Lenca people have persevered through the loss of some cultural traditions, but even so are an important and productive group in Honduras.
Minority Rights Group International (2018).World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples – Honduras: Lenca, May 2018. Available at: https://www.refworld.org/docid/5b9f708f7.html [accessed 4 April 2021]