The ethnic group of the Tawahkas in Honduras
The Tawahkas or sumos, as they are also called, are one of the indigenous groups that inhabit inland of the Miskito coast live the Tawahkas.
Most of them in the village of Krausirpi, located on the banks of the Patuca River in the heart of the Honduran jungle. The Tawahkas of Honduras are a small group.
Historically and culturally, they are an ethnic group that has endured the Miskito influence, although they have adapted many of their cultural patterns, they still retain elements of their own culture that make them stand out as an indigenous people.
Among the characteristics that they maintain is the language, its social relations and its characteristics of production and mutual solidarity. The first contact they had with the Spanish was in 1604.
The Tawahkas or sumos were one of the largest indigenous groups in Central America during the colonial period. They stretched south from the Río Patuca in Honduras, through the central highlands of Nicaragua, to the Río Rama.
Colonial documents indicate that they were the dominant group in this area for at least four centuries. During the colonial period, they were forced to retreat towards the interior of the country, before the bellicosity and intransigence of the Misquitos or Zambos; that’s how they settled in the central region.
The Tawahkas appear to be closely related to the Miskito.
Where they are located
Krausirpi and Krautara are the largest Tawahka villages located on the banks of the Patuca River. Although the Tawahkas have inhabited this area for several centuries, Krausirpi, the main Tawahka village, was founded in 1938 by the last Tawahka chieftain (Claudio Cardona).
Until 1948, the main Tawahka settlement was Yapuwas, a hamlet that they abandoned due to a plague that struck and decimated the population added to the pressure exerted by the authorities of the Department of Olancho.
The exodus of the Tawahkas currently living in Krausirpi is believed to have been started gradually by three families. The plague that struck Yapuwas, according to the Tawahkas accounts, was a strange evil that killed three to four natives daily, saving those who left the place.
The Tawahkas call their language Twanka, which shows a similarity to the name that, in the early seventeenth century, the Spanish gave to the Indians of the Guayape – Guayambre area: Tahuajcas.
There are many sociocultural traits that resemble them and language is one of those elements.
According to studies consulted, the Tawahka and Misquita languages are quite similar in their morphological and syntactic structure, although they do not have much lexicon in common. Both languages belong to the macro-Chibcha group, a linguistic group of South American origin.
It is assumed that in very distant dates the ancestors of the Tawahkas, Misquitos and the Ramas (another related group), emigrated from what is now Colombia through the Isthmus of Panama.
Misquita is their predominant language, but they also speak Spanish.
Culture and tradition
The Tawahkas show a high degree of Miskito cultural penetration. During the nineteenth century, they were on the verge of extinction due to the small number of Tawahka women for reasons not yet determined since their men did not wish to unite with the Miskito women.
The opposite occurs with the Misquitos, who, without any problem, decide to join the Tawahkas. A sample of Misquita influence is one of the most popular drinks by the Tawahkas: guabul, a drink made from mashed ripe banana dissolved in water or milk and boiled.
In addition to these, they make wines from various species of palms and sugar cane; from rice and corn they prepare intoxicating drinks like chicha.
From the palm called supa they consume the cooked fruit and the trunk is used to build bows and arrows (just like the Misquitos). They consume, contrary to the misquitos, to a lesser extent: garlic, onion, coffee and various herbal teas.
Old age among Tawahkas in no way implies loneliness and idleness. Older people continue to dedicate themselves to their daily tasks, to the extent that their strength allows it.
The elderly Tawahka are in charge of the education of young children and certain domestic tasks, such as partial preparation of food and some handicrafts.
Elderly men occupy in the civil and religious hierarchy of the group, a position that they owe to their experience and wisdom. They are respected and listened to. Their company is enjoyed and their advice is sought.
When a Tawahka dies, the body is taken to the cemetery with the feet forward, the zukia or prayer directs his prayers to the deceased and formerly, the zukia had to capture the soul of the deceased and lead it to its last resting place; otherwise the soul wandered without destiny causing much damage to the settlers.
To achieve this, he began to dance around an insect and brought it closer to the dead, inviting the soul to penetrate the body of the animal. The zukia placed the Insect in a container and then released it in the vicinity of the grave, so that the soul could then pass from the animal to the corpse.
It has not been possible to delve into the religious rites of this ethnic group. At present, there are no studies that provide a broad overview of this cultural aspect.
The latest census indicates that there are approximately in the Tawahka reserve, a little more than 950 members of which only a small percentage has remained pure, the rest have mixed with Misquitos and Ladinos. The Tawahkas are an ethnic group also threatened by extinction.