The Tolupan are a small group of families who live in a rugged area of central Honduras, known as the Montaña de la Flor. Access to the Tolupan requires four hours of rough driving from a paved highway over gravel roads that eventually end in mud-rutted roads and steep walking trails.
The traditional Tolupan live at the ends of those roads as
well as higher up in hamlets at various levels throughout the ridges and
valleys that make up the Montaña de la Flor.
Written descriptions of the Tolupan are few. Anne Chapman has probably written the most
about the people, based on fieldwork that she did in the late 1950’s and thereafter. The people and the culture she wrote about
continue to change, as they interact with the predominant Ladino culture of
The following sketchy observations are offered in order to stimulate interest in study of the Tolupan. The occasion during which these observations were made was a medical mission in the third week of January, 2009. Details about that mission and about how the data was collected are described at the end of this text.
The exact number of Tolupan and their households is not
known. There seem to be many hamlets of
10-40 houses scattered about in the Montaña de la Flor area. Chapman called them “clusters” (1978: 42) and
explained them as derivatives of the introduction of coffee production in the
1930’s. Current hamlets include at least
the following (with population estimates from informants): Lavanderos
(550), Lima (120); San Juan (300); Ceiba (250), La Savana, El Puerto, Montenegro, Monterrey (70), Guauma (80), La Rosa, La Laguna. One informant suggested that there were “pure
Tolupan” living in
Actually, many people who came to the clinics exhibited
greatly different genetic backgrounds than that of the Tolupan who appear in
Chapman’s book. Ladinozation
from colonial times has obviously continued.
In fact a few individuals might not be noticed as particularly different
were they walking in Caucasian neighborhoods in parts of the
Maize, beans, squash, tomatoes, plantains, and potatoes were clearly planted in fields around the area. Cleared areas on many steep slopes prompted a question of how the people manage to plant there. Horses and mules were frequently used as means of transportation, but it is doubtful that they or any oxen could have been used to pull plows on the steep slopes. (No oxen were seen on roads in the Montaña area, but they were seen pulling carts along roads down in the valleys farther away). An informant said that people used digging sticks for the planting of the crops on the steep slopes, but time did not allow for more detail. Chapman (40) describes digging sticks and other farming techniques used during her observations, so obviously, some of the traditional techniques are still being practiced.
As Chapman noted in her work, coffee had come to be a major cash crop for the families in the Montaña area. During our short stay, many large sacks of coffee were brought down the mountains on horseback, and on one occasion an individual in the distance was seen to be grinding coffee with a hand-cranked mechanical grinder fixed onto a table outside his house.
All land in the area seems to be privately owned. Fences abound, even on steep slopes at higher elevations, and many fences included barbed wire, strung between wooden posts, with tops shaped into roughly hewn points. Julio, who will be introduced below, indicated to the writer that the lands once were ejido lands of the government. He indicated that the people negotiated with the government to let the lands become private property, and he seemed to say that the Tolupan did not have to pay the government for privatizing any of those lands.
Traditional clothing patterns described by Chapman were
largely absent among the people who came to the medical clinics. One individual male did visit while wearing
a skirt-like outfit, apparently made of cloth, not bark, as Chapman describes
some traditional male clothing. Both he
and his family seemed extremely poor, with clothing pieced together from many
different sources of cloth. For the most
part, others who came from around the area wore pants, collared shirts,
dresses, blue jeans, sweatshirts, and many variations typical of Ladinos
The original social structure of the Tolupan (as described
by Chapman) evolved into a moiety system from the two families whom she
described as the first families to move into the area. That family structure and its evolution make
the Tolupan a particularly interesting group for further study
. Some individuals during the
mission claimed that the Tolupan are very interbred,
and that attempts to establish genealogical relationships would be
difficult. Ultimately all names, they
claimed would relate back to the Soto’s or the
During our work there, two elders seemed to draw the highest
respect. A certain Tomas lived in a
house at the end of the road (and the beginning of trails into the higher
elevations) where we established our base clinic. He represents one of the two major family groups
of the Tolupan—the
Son, Julio, was also extremely helpful in hosting our
mission. He and his family lived in
Tomas’ son, Julio, is the heir apparent to replace Tomas as
chief of all the Tolupan households who identify with the
The respected elder of the families and hamlets who identify
with the other original family (the Soto’s) was Cipriano,
who is reputed to be 108 years old. (He
looks younger.) Cipriano visited during a clinic at
Chapman’s description of Tolupan marital
patterns suggest that monogamy was the norm, with a variation of patrilocality as the typical household residential
pattern. Occasional comments heard
during the medical mission suggested that some of the households in the Montaña
area included families in which a male was living with several women. It was not feasible to try to confirm any of
those comments, but it seemed that men often had children from more than one
woman. In a brief conversation, a sister
of one of the Tolupan leaders did indicate that her brother had at least thirty
children; and she named--while pointing to individual fingers--nine different
women from whom those children came.
Finally, during the 2008 medical mission from which this information derives, health issues that were seen resembled many that Chapman described (1992: 53). People generally complained of colds, aches and pains, diarrhea, and arthritis. Some healed-over wounds (one from a snake bite) were described. Several cases of serious asthma were seen and treated. One case of chicken pox appeared. Some tuberculosis and pneumonia were suspected. A local doctor thought that one elderly individual exhibited a case of acute skin cancer, but the medical mission doctors couldn’t rule out the possibility that the wound was the result of a serious accident. One five year old girl had a colostomy that mission doctors thought could be repaired. One young boy exhibited a rare skin disease called, “ichthyosis.” And on one occasion a family of deaf mutes came to a clinic. Chapman mentions that the Tolupan whom she had studied exhibited a higher than expected ratio of deaf mutes, and she attributed the incidence to high rates of inbreeding.
This information is offered in an attempt to stimulate
future studies of the Tolupan and of the Montaña region in which they
live. Little about the group seems to
have been published in English. The
current authoritative work is that of Anne Chapman in her book Les enfants de la mort:universe
mythique des indiens tolupan (jicaque) du
The information posted here was derived during a
The information posted here comes from observations during
less-than-systematic conversations with locals during relaxed periods before,
after, and sometimes during clinic work.
This was the author’s first time on such a medical mission (“brigade” is
the Honduran term). His Spanish is
limited, learned primarily during anthropological field work in
The author chatted with individuals, some of whom were
inhabitants of the area, and others of whom were Hondurans from outside the
area serving as mission guides, chauffeurs, and translators. On one occasion the author had opportunity
to talk continuously for 15-20 minutes with Julio, the local leader mentioned
in the text, as Julio accompanied the author during a climb up to Julio’s
Herb Kuehne, Ph.D.
February 1, 2009