The Pech are an indigenous people in northeastern Honduras, previously known as the Paya. As of early 2005 their population had been reduced to 3,800. The Pech language is a member of the Chibchan family of languages, and, although it is still spoken by older people, it is in danger of extinction in the relatively near future.
The region where the Pech live was originally densely forested, principally with the pitch-pine (Spanish ocote), as well as with mahogany & other tree-species. However, the forest has been heavily logged in all but one Pech location. Pech traditional religion included ceremonies to the spirit of the mountains, the spiritual owners of animals, and to the mermaid who cares for the fish. The Pech have traditionally hunted rainforest animals, such as peccaries, monkeys, and so on. However, near most of their villages these animals are now extinct or near extinction due to habitat-loss and over hunting. In addition, the government has sponsored the moving of thousands of Honduran Spanish-speakers into the Pech area as part of its agrarian reform program, activity which is almost certain to lead to further erosion of Pech language & culture. Their language and people are in the most danger of becoming extinct.
Social complexity began among the Pech or probable Pech speakers as long ago as 300 CE. The earlier Pech cultures may have developed independently of the Maya, their near neighbors, or they may have been influenced by Maya, a hypothesis that has been corroborated to some extent by the discovery of Mayan loan-words in the Pech language. In archaeological reckoning, the Pech formed a number of chiefdoms, some of which left archaeological remains of some sophistication, and certainly by the time of the Spanish exploration of the region in the early sixteenth century, the coastal regions were dominated by substantial chiefdoms. Spanish records of the mid-sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries refer to an paramount chiefdom called Taguzgalpa which dominated the region. Spanish attempts to conquer it in the sixteenth century were unsuccessful.
The Pech suffered heavily from the emergence of the Miskito in the seventeenth century and their alliance with outsiders, especially British traders, and with the runaway slaves who made up the "Mosquitos zambos". The aggressive raids of the Miskito were in large manner responsible for the gradual withdrawal of the Pech into the mountainous regions and away from the coast.
^Dennis Holt and William Bright, "La lengua paya y las fronteras lingüísticas de Mesoamérica" in Las fronteras de Mesoamérica: XIV Mesa Redonda, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 23–28 de junio 1975, 1:149–56. México: Sociedad Mexicana de Antropología, 1975
^Thomas Cuddy, Political Identity and Archaeology in Northeast Honduras (Boulder, 2007)