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The Chortis

The Chorti are assumed to be direct descendants of the Maya, according to the linguistic investigations done by Larde and Larin. The Mayan people constructed some 1500 years ago cities like Copan and Quirigua. The scientists have compared the different Mayan languages and proved that the language of the Chorti belongs to the language family of Maya - Chol. This language group has its origin in the today Mexican regions of Chiapas and Tabasco and is spoken by the tribes Chontales and Choles. Some two thousand or more years ago, the Chol lived in the region of what today are Guatemala and Honduras. The Chols got divided into two main groups: the Chol migrating to Chiapas, and the Chortis staying in the region till today.

The Maya Chorti is formed of different tribes and one of the leading groups was called Pipiles. They developed a regional trade system and ended the monogarchie of a few leading families. Recent research is bringing more and more evidences that the Chortis of the region of Copan are the direct descendants of the ancient Maya, whose empire ended in the years between 820 and 830 AC. The upper class of Copan left the city seeking shelter in Tikal and other places. The common people are supposed to have stayed in the Copan region till today, but the scientific proof of who lived in Copan between 830 and 1530 is still missed. Historic documents of the Spaniards conquest of the region of Copan in 1530 tells about the resistance of the Chorti king of Copan against the conquestador Hernando de Chavez and Pedro Amalin, leading to the conclusion that the common people never completely left the region.

The Spanish invaders brought hunger and suffer to the local population called by the Spaniards, Indians. The Indian populations of the whole Central American region, including the Chortis, were destroyed systematically. The Spaniards used a system called "Encomienda". The soldiers got land titles from the Spanish governors in Central America. The people living on that land where declared as property of the new owners, without any rights. Murdering Indians was common and legal. Not enough, the Europeans brought unknown diseases like measles causing epidemics between the local population because their immunity system never before was forced to develop a defense against these illnesses.


At the present time Chortis do not use their traditional and spiritual customs of their ancestors. The Spaniards killed the Indian leaders and priests, and stored the knowledge and the traditions forever in there graves. The few traditions and customs maintained by the few survivors got mixed with the elements of the Catholic Church. There are some correspondences between the catholic and the pre-Columbian Chorti religion. Both are using elements like baptism and confession, pilgrims and incense. The Chortis are celebrating devotions to the god of the earth and the virgin Maria. They are not accustomed to marriage in the catholic sense, but they do baptize their kids according to the Catholics. Baptism means the change from a newborn to a human person. In addition to the holy water, they are using also salt and oil in this religious ceremony.

Every town has its holy patron whoms picture or statue is devoted, and being guarded safely in the church or the house of a guard. The origin of the most of saints is unknown, and raises their mystery and power. The saints are closely connected with the local agriculture. "Chaac" - the rain, and "Panathuro - the wind, are influenced by the archangel San Miguel, responsible for climate and rain. The virgin Maria protects the corn, the basic food, and supports the gods producing rain.

The god of dreams is a male for men and a female for women. He steadily accompanies the god of the dead. It is baneful to follow the needs to have a rest or a nap during the day. The god of dreams is trying to make humans sleep during the day, selling them to his friend the god of the dead. During the night sleep is not harmful or dangerous. The god of the dead has both sexes and appears as skeleton wearing a white shawl. His weapon is a long stick with a knife of bone on the top. Invisible for everyone else, he appears to persons close to death and seems to be dangerous. The ghosts of dead people are said to appear to the living, or even attack them. To avoid that the Chortis offer gifts to the ghosts to maintain there friendship, for example pumpkins with honey (called "tzinkin" by the Chorti). This tradition takes place on the second of November, the day of the dead.

A holy place in the town is the cross on the church, where a Chorti stops and prays. The cross can help sick people to get healthy. There for, the day of the cross on the third of May is another important ceremonial day. The crosses of the region are decorated with flowers, fruits and corn. The cemetery of a town is not only the place for peace for the dead, but also a place of bad ghosts. The god of death hides in the cemetery. Human sacrifices are not used anymore, but the Chorti still take gifts like corn and pumpkins to the cemetery to motivate the saints of their town to protect them from the evil gods.

During a religious ceremony, the food is usually chicken or turkey. The blood of these animals is spread out over the altar, or thrown in the direction of the four cardinal points. Formerly, other animals have been sacrificed, frogs, snakes and vultures, in the hope for rain and fertility.


Scientists think that the Chortis are one of the oldest groups among the Maya, confirmed by their old and primitive language. Actually, in Honduras the language is disappeared, even where there is some old people in towns like El Paraiso, Carrizalon and Ostuman having certain knowledge the languages. Young people are not very interested in learning this dialect. Some Chortis in Guatemala are still able to speak both the Chorti and the Spanish language. Some old people in Guatemala only know the native Chorti language. Especially in the Guatemalan towns of Jocotan and Camotan the inhabitants use "tcor-ti", in daily life with other local residents. Where needed though they will speak Spanish. Scientists are trying to save the language by looking for interested Chorti willing to learn the old dialect from their brothers in Guatemala.

Food and Agriculture

Corn (maiz) and beans (frijol) are the basic and elementary elements of each plate, and seem to be more important the any other food. Corn tortillas and beans symbolies food, and among the Chorti of Guatemala the words "maiz" and "frijol" mean the same as food. The only other important plant produced by the Chorti is sugar cane. Livestock is not important, even though one can find chickens and turkeys. Cattle and pigs are produced by some Chorti to earn money by selling them to the Latinos.

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