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The Tawahkas

This small ethnic group named Tawahka, live in the heart of the Honduran Moskitia. Their villages are found on the Patuca River and are among the biggest remaining and unfragmentated rainforest in Central America. The language, the lifestyle and other elements are preserved till now, even if they have hed to accustom their habits to the life of the dominating Latinos and Miskitos.

Before the colonization through the Spaniards and other Europeans, the Tawahkas or Sumos were one of the biggest tribes all over Central America. Their territory reached from the Patuca River in Honduras up to the central highlands of Nicaragua. According to Spanish reports, the first contact between the Spaniards and the Tawahkas took place in the year 1604, and confirmed the domination of the Tawahka over the region for at least four centuries. During the colonization of Honduras they avoided contact with the Miskitos and the Whites. According to their similar languages, the Tawahkas and the Miskitos are very close relatives. Even if the vocabulary is different the structure of both languages is very similar. Both dialects derive from a language family called Macro Chibcha from South America. The common theory is that the ancestors of the Tawahkas came from Colombia migrating to what today is Honduras and Nicaragua. The Tawahkas call their language "Twanka", almost the same as the Spanish name "Tahuajcas" used for the indian people living on the Guayape and Guayambe Rivers. Before both groups where unified in the huge Patuca River region.

Krausirpe and Krautara are the names of the biggest Tawahka villages' ubicated on the banks of the Patuca. Although the Tawahkas lived on the banks of the Patuca for centuries, Krausirpe was funded in 1938 by the last chief. Till 1948 the capital of the Tawahka was Yapuhuas, one boat hour upstream from Krausirpe. Three to four people died daily of an unknown epidemic disease this made the inhabitants leave this town, for survival.

The culture of the Tawahka is strongly influenced by the Miskitos. At the end of the 19-century the Tawahka disappeared almost completely because of a lack of women. The male Tawahkas didn't want relationships with other women; meanwhile the few Miskitos preferred to marry one of the few Tawahka women. Slowly, the Tawahkas adopted the customs and traditions of the Miskitos. Both drink "Guabul", a drink made out of bananas, water and sometimes milk. Another highly alcoholic drink is "Chicha" made out of the heart of special palm trees. Another palm provides the material to make bows and arrows.

Getting old, among the Tawahkas does not mean loneliness and getting bored. One works according to the condition of the body. The women are responsible for the homework and the children. The old men are important in the social life and as leaders because of their life experience.

When a Tawahka dies the body will be carried to a cemetery with their feet towards the grave. Before that, a shaman captures the soul of the dead person in his last home. To do that he dances around a small insect directing the animal to the body of the dead. The soul travels from the dead to the insect. The insect will be caught and liberated close to the grave to give the chance of the soul to get back to the body. If this procedure is not done, the soul of the death runs around town forever without a destination, being able to produce harm and disease.

That is the basic information that is documented about the Tawahkas. The last investigation of the population counted some 950 Tawahkas in five villages. Only very few people are not mixed with the Miskitos or the Latinos. Like the Pech, they are in danger of extinction. But there is hope: the Tawahkas became organized in an NGO. In 1999, the region where the Tawahkas live was declared as a Biosphere Reserve confirming the rights of the Tawahkas on and with the land.

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