We declare that the location of the sacred places of the Muskitia, as would be Ciudad Blanca, Apalka, Raiti, among others that still have not been “officially discovered”, never have been unknown to the children of the Muskitia, who have received that knowledge as a form of ancestral knowledge from our grandparents and so we assure the inviolability of these sacred places by looters.
The representatives of one of the largest indigenous groups in eastern Honduras have weighed in on the hottest Honduran news story of the new year; and their commentary should be blistering the skin of the President of the country and officials in the government responsible for management of cultural heritage.
The announcement was made by President Juan Orlando Hernández himself: a new expedition was headed to the archaeological site in eastern Honduras which was widely promoted last year as a newly discovered “lost city”, supposedly representing an “unknown civilization”, and identified with the traditional cultural heritage site of the Pech and Miskito people, called Ciudad Blanca in Spanish.
Hernández himself accompanied the new expedition, whose goal was described as to extract (sustraer) carved stone objects that had been observed on the surface– a typical pattern for the many sites professionally studied in the region. Among those commenting on the spectacle was the US Ambassador, James Nealon, who professed to be fascinated by the sculptures.
Speaking archaeologically, there is a well-understood history of interpretation of similar objects in sites documented across the region. They have actually been studied since the 18th century, as some of the earliest, if not the earliest, Honduran antiquities exhibited in the British Museum and contemplated by European scholars.
Last year, an international group of scholars (including the authors of this blog) raised concerns about the outdated presentation of archaeology in the original expedition. An open letter to the sponsor and original publisher of the reports stressed that the area is not abandoned, but is actually the territory of indigenous people who surely include the descendants of the site’s builders. These people, we warned, were effectively being erased from their own history and territory in the service of a more exciting story.
Now, the political representatives of one of these indigenous groups have weighed in on the new expedition– and they are not pleased. The full statement by MASTA–composed of twelve territorial councils of Miskitu people– shows that they are particularly disturbed that the expedition has not consulted with them, and that objects are being removed from their territory to a distant city.
But they also object to the presentation of the expedition as discovering a city unknown to them; and to the press giving the city a nickname they identify as “racist” and “denigrating”.
Repeatedly, the Miskitu statement emphasizes that this area is their ancestral territory. They were autonomous allies of Great Britain, and when Great Britain gave up its foothold on coastal Honduras, the treaty it signed with Honduras included guarantees that Honduras would respect Miskitu territorial rights. Yet, they repeatedly note, no one consulted with them.
Perhaps the most striking thing in the statement is the use of the term looting for the current expedition, undertaken without consultation. For the Miskitu people, these sites, they say, are sacred, are a patrimony, and the knowledge of their locations and the responsibility for the protection has been a legacy.
That last may seem like a grand claim, except that it is true: the remarkable presence, visible on the surface, of dozens of great works of stone sculpture at archaeological sites in the Mosquitia seems incredible, even to experienced archaeologists who aren’t familiar with this area of Honduras. Why have they not been looted before? The local people know they are there– that is how archaeologists have been led to sites for decades. But the local indigenous people have left them in place.
And now, the government of Honduras is removing them as a staged spectacle intended to promote tourist visitation. But the Miskitu people are not letting this happen without fighting back. They are demanding the implementation of an indigenous model of management and protection; they specifically condemn the example of Copan, where indigenous people have no voice in management of the site created by their ancestors. They demand museums in their territory to conserve their material heritage, and training in anthropology and history to facilitate their management of these sites in accordance with their own world view.
And they label as unauthorized any publication of the works being removed from the site without their permission.
This is not how archaeology is supposed to go in the 21st century, where the watch words are community engagement and collaboration. In 19th century archaeology, no one paid attention to local people, certainly not to indigenous people, but that changed in the second half of the 20th century. When 21st century expeditions recreate 19th century practices, indigenous people know their rights, and no longer stay silent.
Here’s our translation of the full statement:
We, the children of the Muskitia, constituted in 12 representative Territorial Councils and the social base of MASTA, based on our respect for the spiritual, ancestral, and cultural heritage of our ancestors; aided by Article 346 of the Constitution of the Republic of Honduras; Articles 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 15 and 35 of ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries; Articles 3, 4, 11, 12, 25 and 26 of the Declaration of the UN on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; Article 8J of the Convention on Biodiversity, the framework that constitutes the principles of international law recognized by the international community and that Honduras adopted through Article 15 of the Constitution of the Republic; by this means COMMUNICATE to the national and international community concerning the case of the so-called “Ciudad Blanca”, on the following points:
First: The State of Honduras received the territory of the Honduran Muskitia from the United Kingdom of Great Britain, through the signing of the Cruz-Wyke treaty celebrated in the city of Comayagua, in the month of December of 1859, in which the government of Honduras made a commitment not to violate the ancestral territorial rights of the Miskitu People (see Article III of the Cruz-Wyke Treaty).
Second: The government of Honduras, with the support of the National Geographic, has carried out the identification of the geographic location of Ciudad Blanca, also known as the lost city, and in mass media as the city of the “monkey king”. The location of the said “Ciudad Blanca” is encountered in the territory demonstrated on the map embedded in the first paragraph [of the PDF statement], recognized by the State of Honduras as the “Mosquito Coast”, territory pertaining historically and ancestrally to the Miskitu Indigenous People.
Third: The Government of the Republic has authorized, without consultation of the corresponding entities, the publicizing, excavation, and extraction of the archaeological objects encountered in the said city and that they then will be taken to some city in the department of Olancho. In none of the processes authorized by the government, referring to: the search, exploration, geographic location, excavation, extraction and movement to another site, have the Indigenous People of the Muskitia been consulted, demonstrating a failure of interest by the government in respecting the rights of the original peoples in a process of prior consultation for their consent, as is established in the Biocultural Protocol of the Miskitu People.
Fourth: We indigenous peoples, historically have been the object of constant violations of our rights by foreign interference, a product of the lack of clear and effective regulatory policies of the government relative to the protection and preservation of the inventions, patents, authorial rights, traditional practices and security of the indigenous population. A documented example is the case of the massacre of women in the community of Awas by the DEA in 2012.
On the basis of everything explained above, and in the framework of the rights of the Indigenous People of the Honduran Muskitia, we, the children of Tunkur, Truksulu, Waylang and Miskut, in the full enjoyment of our rights, communicate before the national and international community the following:
1. We demand the application of Article III of the Cruz-Wyke Treaty, which established that “the Government of Honduras will respect the possession of whatever land the Mosquito Indians have in the territory called the Mosquito Coast” (See annex: Cruz-Wyke Treaty).
2. We declare that the location of the sacred places of the Muskitia, as would be Ciudad Blanca, Apalka, Raiti, among others that still have not been “officially discovered”, never have been unknown to the children of the Muskitia, who have received that knowledge as a form of ancestral knowledge from our grandparents and so we assure the inviolability of these sacred places by looters.
3. We demand the application of the international agreements related to the process of prior consultation, free and informed, by the Muskitia, with the goal of formalizing a model of protection and conservation proposed by the Indigenous People. We do not want to have succeed in the various sacred sites of the Muskitia what has occurred in the Ruins of Copan.
4. We demand the creation of indigenous museums in the Muskitia, in sites duly and conveniently identified by the Miskitu People, where archaeological objects that are part of our sociocultural, historic, and present patrimony can be kept and promoted.
5. We demand that the Government of Honduras, that the National Geographic and/or any institute or university respect the ancestral rights of the Miskitu People, denying authorization for any publication in any medium, relating to the sociocultural patrimony, without the required consent of the Miskitu Indigenous People by means of its representative organization.
6. We demand of the Government of Honduras, the development of local community capacity in the area of anthropology or history for the management of the Miskitu sociocultural riches and patrimony.
7. We clarify for the Government of Honduras, that the Muskitia has a millenial history related to its own culture, values, traditions, and natural riches; these form part of the patrimony and ought to be given protection, conservation, and traditional use for their continuity (for their natural and spiritual coexistence).
8. We demand of the Government of Honduras, the creation of a bureau concerning matters of anthropology, rights of authorship, traditional and innovative practices, with the full and effective participation of the Miskitu people, in keeping with the worldview of the miskitu people and in compliance with Decree No. 262-2013 in the framework of the Plan de Nacion.
9. All the administrative or legislative decisions about the development of any activity in the territory of the Muskitia should be in full compliance with the commitments acquired before the international community which are: the declaration of the UN on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; the ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries; the Convention on Biological Diversity; the Nagoya Protocol; the Directive Akwe-Kon; Directive of the UN about the free consent, prior and informed; the recommendations of UNESCO about the conservation of the Reserva del Hombre and Rio Platano Biosphere, among others.
In conclusion, and in consequence of the above described:
We, the children of the Miskitu Indigenous People, declare ourselves totally in disagreement with the arbitrary and unilateral decision of the Government of the Republic, concerning the exploration, extraction, and illegal transfer of archaeological objects of Ciudad Blanca; so that, we demand the immediate return of the archaeological objects looted from our sacred site called “Ciudad Blanca”. At the same time we demand the respect for the names that our ancestors gave to this sacred site for our people, and we energetically reject the term city of the “monkey king”, which has resulted from the recent investigations, a name that we see as denigrating, discriminatory and racist, in detriment to our miskitu people.
With the authorized representation of the Miskitu People, we publish the present communique, with the formulation in Auhya Yari, on the 13th day of the month of January of the year 2016.