The Lenca chief, Lempira, a warrior of great renown, managed to unify more than two hundred Indian tribes that had been ancient rivals in order to offer an organized resistance against penetration by the Spanish conquerors. In the village of Etempica he announced his plans to expel the Spaniards and gave instructions to all his allies for a general uprising when he gave the signal. On top of the great rock of Cerquín, an impenetrable fortress, he gathered all the neighboring tribes as well as abundant supplies and made trenches and fortifications. He finally gave the signal to attack by killing three unsuspecting Spaniards, who happened to be in the region.
Governor Montejo ordered Captain Alonso de Cáceres to attack the stronghold, but it was impossible to take. Montejo then gathered a large number of Indians from Guatemala and Mexico as auxiliary forces, mobilized nearly all the Spanish troops at his disposition, and ordered them to storm the rock. Yet Cerquín remained invincible. At the same time, Lempira ordered a general insurrection, Comayagua was set on fire, and the Spanish inhabitants had to flee to Gracias. Gracias was threatened by the surrounding tribes; San Pedro de Puerto Caballos and Trujillo were placed under siege and the Spaniards were hard pressed to maintain their ground.
While Montejo sought help desperately from Santiago de los Caballeros in Guatemala, San Salvador, and San Miguel and even from Spain, Alonso de Cáceres resorted to treason to get rid of Lempira. He invited the chief to a peace conference; and when Lempira reaffirmed his desire to continue the fight, a hidden marksman shot him in the forehead. Lempira fell from the highcliffs; and with his death, his 30,000 warriors either fled or surrendered.
The author of this piece is Óscar Acosta, a Honduran consultant to the Honduras Ministry of Foreign Relations,and a poet, novelist, journalist, and editor. The article is reproduced from the book, “Honduras” with the authorization of “Editorial Transamerica, SA”, Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Indian Chief Lempira
LEMPIRA (lem-pee’-rah), Central American cacique, born in the latter part of the 15th century; died in 1537. He was the king of Coquin, afterward called Gracias a Dios, and his name signifies “Lord of the Mountains.” At the beginning of the conquest the Spaniards were unmolested, but later the Indians revolted, on account of their cruelties, under the leadership of this chief. He had long been a terror to the settlers and a warrior of note among his own countrymen, and was said to bear a charmed life. He had been attacked in his stronghold of Cerquin, close to Gracias a Dios, by Alvarado with a strong party of troops and 2,000 friendly natives; but the assault was unsuccessful.
Lempira now proposed to annihilate the invaders, and, gathering a large army, opened hostilities at once. Montejo, governor of Yucatan and Honduras, sent a force to quell the movement, whereupon Lempira retired to his stronghold and siege was laid to the place; but, although assistance was summoned from Comayagua and San Pedro del Puerto de Caballos, the Indians made good their defence. For six months the Spaniards beleaguered the fortress, and, seeing no prospect of taking it, had recourse to a stratagem. A horseman was ordered to approach within arquebus-shot of the rock and summon Lempira to a colloquy, under pretence of opening negotiations for peace, while a foot soldier who accompanied him, screened from view by the mounted man, shot the unsuspecting chieftain as he appeared on the cliff. His lifeless body rolled over the rock, and his followers, panic-stricken, made no further resistance.
Edited Appletons Encyclopedia, Copyright ©2001 VirtualologyTM
Honduras Pays Tribute to Lempira
The bills for the currency of Honduras are named after the Lenca chief “Lempira” (ISO 4217 code: HNL). They are referred to as “lempiras”. The Honduras exchange rate was two lempiras to the U.S. dollar in the late 1980s (a twenty-cent coin is called “daime” as it used to be worth the same as a U.S. 10 cent coin or “dime”). By December 2004, the exchange rate had gone up to 18.75 HNL to 1 USD., and today it hovers at approximately 20 to one.
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