Located about 50 miles off the Northern Coast of Honduras, the Bay Islands
group consists of 3 main Islands (Roatán, Guanaja, and Utila), 3 smaller islands
(Barbareta, Morat, and Helene), and 65 smaller cays. Between these islands and
the mainland are the Cayos Cocinos (Hog Islands). This is a very brief history
of Roatan Honduras.
During the Maya reign in Central America (between the 4th and 10th centuries),
the Paya Indians populated the Bay Islands. The Payas were a smaller and less
advanced group than the Mayans. Their civilization was characterized by simpler
housing and tools. Payan artifacts (pottery, jade, and shells) are often found
in Island burial and ceremonial sites and are referred to by the locals as "yaba
The island Indians mined jade which they took in small boats to the mainland to
trade for tools, and other items. The islands provided an abundant variety of
foodstuffs such as manioc, fish, corn, turtles, iguanas, agouti (island "rabbits"),
native fruits, land crabs, and deer.
When Columbus discovered a neighboring island named Guanaja in 1502.
Artifacts and caves left by these early inhabitants remain
today. Other Spanish explorers came after Columbus. The Spaniards began mining
both gold and silver on the mainland of Honduras. Van Horne, a Dutchman, raided
Spanish-Indian settlements in 1639. English and French pirates also terrorized
the area. In 1642, English raiders from modern day Belize had occupied old Port
Royal on the south eastern coast of Roatan, which is a little to the east of
modern town of Oak Ridge. A number of
white descendants with English names and heritage live on the island today.
For almost 200 years Spanish conquistadors and British pirates battled for
control of these islands, ignoring the Indians for the most part. During this
period, the Islands were used for food and wood supplies, safe harbor, and
slave trading. Remains of old British forts and towns named after famous
pirates remain as their legacy. One group of slaves was "parked" here during
this time during the heat of a battle. When the winners came to collect them,
the slaves refused to go. These are the Garifunas who populate much of the
Bay Islands to this date, still maintaining their own cultural identity and
language. Punta Gorda on Roatán is one of many villages where they still make
The British eventually established control of the Bay Islands, until the
early 1860's when control of the Islands was officially returned to Honduras.