Tawahka Region

Further up the Río Patuca, and deep in the rainforest, are the towns of Krausirpe and Krautara. Both are considered Tawahka communities, though Krausirpe, like Wam-pusirpi, has a growing Miskito population. Krautara is smaller and more isolated, and remains 100% Tawahka.

Community leaders in Krausirpe have tried to establish eco-tourism programs like the ones in Las Marías and elsewhere in the Moskitia, though with little lasting success. Whether this is due to a lack of infrastructure or experience, the remoteness of the area, or reticence on the part of ordinary Tawahka - or some combination of these factors - is not entirely clear. But as tourism in La Moskitia grows, it stands to reason that the Tawahka region will slowly open to foreign visitors as well.

THE TAWAHKA

Honduras' smallest ethnic group is the Tawahka indigenous people. By most accounts there are only about 1000 Tawahka people in Honduras (another 8000 or so live in Nicaragua). They are also the most isolated of Honduran ethnic groups, living in a handful of communities along the Patuca and Wampú rivers, including Krausirpe (the largest), Krautara, Yapawas, Kamakasna and Parwas. They were the last of Honduras' indigenous groups to be contacted by European explorers, and also the last to be converted to Christianity.

The Tawahka live much as they have for centuries, through fishing and subsistence farming, growing mostly plantains, rice, beans and yucca. European colonizers introduced them to panning for gold, which remains a source of extra income for some. The Tawahka are also adept hunters, using trained dogs - only a quarter of households own a gun of any sort - to capture armadillos, peccaries, and tapirs. But the Tawahka are perhaps best known for their production of enormous dugout canoes. Made from a single mahogany log, the canoes can measure a remarkable 10m long. The Tawahka rarely use their impressive creations, though - most are sold downriver.

The Tawahka language - called twanka - is still widely spoken. However, it has been deeply infiltrated with Miskito and subsequently English (since almost a third of Miskito words come from English). More alarming is the illiteracy rate: a study of one typical community found 96% of men, and 100% of the women, could not read. Few children attend school beyond the third grade.

Accustomed to isolation, the Tawahka have seen their ancestral lands severely reduced by the encroachment of mainstream farmers, ranchers and timber harvesters in the Río Patuca area. In 1999 - after much foot dragging - the Honduran government approved the creation of the Reserva de la Biosfera Tawahka Asangni, setting aside 250,000 hectares of traditional Tawahka territory. A victory for the Tawahka people was a victory for the environment as well. The reserve accounts for just 2% of Honduras' landmass, but contains a whopping 90% of its mammal species. It borders three other protected areas - the Reserva de la Biosfera del Río Plátano to the north, the Río Patuca National Park to the south, and the Bosawas National Park in Nicaragua to the east - and together they form a key nexus in the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, spanning all seven Central American countries.

The Tawahka were for many years referred to as Sumo, a term you still read and hear occasionally. It was the name Miskitos used when describing their upriver neighbors to European explorers. But it was almost certainly pejorative - the Miskito and Tawahka have historically been rivals, and some say the name was Miskito for 'inferior.' True or not, today it is considered very un-PC.

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