Lempira (Lenca ruler)
Drawing of Lempira (Lenca de Honduras)
Lempira (Spanish: lem-pee’-rah) was a war chieftain of the Lencas of western Honduras in Central America during the 1530s, when he led resistance to Francisco de Montejo's attempts to conquer and incorporate the region into the province of Honduras. Mentioned as Lempira in documents written during the Spanish conquest, he is still regarded as a warrior who offered resistance against the Spanish conquistadors.
Jorge Lardé y Larín argues that the name Lempira comes from the word Lepaera, which in turn comes from two words of the Lenca language: de lempa, meaning "lord" as a title of hierarchy, and monque, meaning "hill or mountain". Thus, Lempira, means "lord of the mountain" or "lord of the hill". When the Spaniards arrived in Cerquin, Lempira was fighting against neighboring chiefs, but because of their threat, he allied with the Lenca subgroup of Cares thus unifying the different Lenca tribes. Based in Cerquin hill, he organized resistance against the Spanish troops in 1537, managing to gather an army of almost 30,000 soldiers, from 200 villages. As a result, other groups also took up arms in the valley of Comayagua and Olancho. Spanish attempts to stop him, led by Francisco de Montejo and Alonso de Cáceres, but unsuccessfully until 1537.
There are two very different historical accounts of Lempira. The first, by Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas, appearing in Historia general de los hechos de los castellanos ..., published in 1626 in Seville, Spain, identifies Lempira as a war captain appointed by Entipica, leader of the Cares, a named subgroup of the Lenca. Herrera reports that Lempira, whose name means something like "Lord of the Mountains" in Lenca, commanded over 30,000 soldiers from over 200 different Lenca towns. In 1537, there were widespread indigenous uprisings in Honduras, and the Cares were one group that revolted against Spanish rule.
The Spaniards, on instruction from their Governor, Francisco de Montejo, attacked him at Cerquin, near Gracias a Dios. Lempira, according to Herrera, retreated to a fortified hill top where he resisted the Spaniards for many months. Finally, the Spaniards lured him out to talk, and a concealed Spanish soldier with an arquebus shot and killed him. On seeing this, Herrera reports, the Lenca surrendered. This is essentially the story as taught to Honduran children in school.
In the 1980s, the Honduran historian Mario Felipe Martínez Castillo discovered a very different account of Lempira in a document entitled Méritos y Servicios: Rodrigo Ruiz, Nueva España written in 1558 in Mexico City, and located in the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, Spain. That document, Patronato 69 R.5, tells the story of Rodrigo Ruiz and his service in the conquest of Honduras under Francisco Montejo. It includes his account of killing Lempira. The document is in the form of a series of questions, answered by witnesses to the services Rodrigo Ruiz gave to the Spanish King. Ruiz wrote the questions, one of which is translated in part as follows:
|“||"...after I cut off his head, they retreated and within 4 days we controlled all of their towns, and they gave obiedience to your Majesty as they were obligated to do... and later we founded the town of Gracias a Dios. Ask them to say what they know and if its true that I served in said war, all the time it lasted, serving with myself, my weapons, my horse, at my cost, and was not rewarded for it." &ndash- Archivo General de Indias, Méritos y Servicios: Rodrigo Ruiz, Nueva España.||”|
Rodrigo Ruiz goes on to detail other service to the Spanish Crown. The many witnesses in this 100 page document agree that Rodrigo Ruiz fairly outlined his service and told the truth. Ruiz asked for a pension of 1000 pesos for his service. Interestingly, the modern Honduran Lenca preserved in their oral tradition elements that match the Ruiz story, Lempira's belief that wearing Spanish clothing made him impervious to Spanish bullets, and that Lempira died in combat, not through ambush.
In 1931, Honduras renamed its currency in honor of Lempira. In 1943, Honduras renamed the Gracias Department the Lempira Department. In 1957 the Honduran writer Ramón Amaya Amador wrote a fictional account of Lempira, entitled El señor de la sierra.
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