Greetings, everyone! Sunbonnet Sue hails from Honduras this time around, embodying one of Honduras’ native peoples, a Lenca woman holding a hand sculpted Lenca pottery rooster. She’s wearing what amounts to as the current Lenca style, a dress with a pleated skirt and minor decoration at the cuff and collar. A headscarf protects her head from the heat and keeps her hair out of the way. The Lencas are part of the Mesoamerican peoples that lived in Honduras at the time of the Spanish conquest. Along with the Chortis and Chorotegas, the Lencas developed a sophisticated pottery, which included basic bowls and plates for daily use as well as intricate ceremonial objects. The Lencas wove everything from their daily life, including from their astrological observations and their own artistic viewpoints, into these clay items.
The Lenca Indians live in the high mountains in western Honduras, with about 100,000 Lenca remaining today. As an ethnic group, the Lencas are among the poorest and least educated peoples in Honduras, and while they maintain many of their traditions, the Lenca language has mostly been lost. Of note, during the Spanish conquest, the Lencas maintained a 12-year defense against the Spaniards, their war ending only after the death of Lempira, their leader. Lempira is now widely regarded as a national hero and the Honduran currency is named after him.
Modern Lenca communities are built around the milpa, which essentially means “the field”, but can also mean the greater agricultural system of planting. Lenca men plant a wide variety of crops, including coffee, cacao, tobacco, plantains, maize, wheat, beans, squash, sugarcane, and chili peppers. These crops are planted at mostly subsistence levels, although some of their produce does make its way to the markets eventually.
Lenca pottery is easily distinguished from other pottery in the region. In the mid-1980s, the formation of women’s pottery cooperatives, mostly by non-governmental organizations, helped transform Lenca pottery into a more profitable version. The cooperatives initially helped create pottery with a modern touch, and help expand the market for this pottery. Much of what you will find on the market today no longer shows the traditional markings, but rather those that will appeal to a broader, even international, market. Below a picture of the Lenca pottery rooster that inspired my Sunbonnet Sue’s rooster. It’s quite lovely. It should be noted that Lencas do not use a pottery wheel, but rather form their pottery shapes entirely by hand.
ACTA de Honduras (see Blogroll) is one of the better known of the NGO’s now assisting Lenca women in design, development, and marketing of their pottery. Anthropologist Alessandra Foletti Castegnaro has made helping Lenca women her life’s work, and she has helped nearly 3000 Lencas in 14 Lenca communities to become more self-sufficient and augment their incomes from agriculture.
So I hope I’ve inspired you to quilt, to embroider, to applique, to extend a helping hand, whether it’s to a friend or neighbor, or to a whole group of people, or to share your knowledge in some way that helps someone else. I leave you with this beautiful flower from my backyard — I hope you enjoy it too.