Honduras may not be the most prolific country in Latin America’s literary world, but it has produced two of the most famous early modernist writers in the region: poet and essayist Juan Ramón Molina and historian and journalist Rafael Heliodoro Valle.
Along with Nicaraguan Rubén Dario, Molina (1875–1908) was one of the founders of modernist Latin American poetry and is considered Honduras’s national poet. Much of Molina’s poetry expresses his existential anguish and a struggle with deep philosophical themes. Although he did not write extensive prose, what he did produce is beautifully lyrical. Shortly after Molina’s death from a morphine overdose, his collected works were published in a volume titled, Tierras, Mares, y Cielos (Lands, Seas, and Skies).
One of the most influential Latin American journalists of his era, Rafael Heliodoro Valle (1891–1959) was a prolific writer who published regularly in newspapers across the Americas and wrote extensive histories on the region. In one of his most famous professional coups, Valle in 1945 interviewed reformist Guatemalan president Juan José Arévalo in the Mexican newspaper Excélsior. Arévalo candidly discussed the backwardness of his country and the obstacles in the way of development. After Valle’s death, his most wide-ranging and reflective work, Historia de las Ideas Contemporáneas en Centro-América (History of Contemporary Thought in Central America), was published, a landmark in regional historical philosophy.
Modern Honduran literature of note is limited mainly to short stories. Three well-respected authors are Víctor Cáceres Lara, Marcos Carías, and Eduardo Bahr. The latter in particular is known for his politically oriented stories. One exceptional Honduran social novelist is Ramón Amaya Amador, who in 1950 wrote the famed “Prisión Verde” (Green Prison), a story about life as a banana plantation worker.
Honduras has produced a number of top-quality visual artists, the most famous of which are the so-called “primitivists”: Pablo Zelaya Sierra, Carlos Zuñiga Figueroa, and especially José Antonio Velásquez, who painted classic Honduran themes, such as tile-roofed villages and rural scenes in a colorful and almost childlike style. Velásquez, a self-taught artist, spent much of his time painting the lovely colonial village of San Antonio de Oriente, near Tegucigalpa in the Valle de Zambrano.
More recent, innovative artists include Dante Lazzaroni, Arturo López Rodezno, Eziquiel Padilla, Anibel Cruz, and Eduardo “Mito” Galeano. Galeano, who works in the town of Gracias, is known for painting Lenca-oriented themes.
Typically, the most visually interesting buildings are the cathedrals and churches of the 18th century. Most are built in a Central American style known as “earthquake baroque,” which adapted the dominant styles of Spain to local conditions. Earthquake baroque is known for squat, ground-hugging structures built to resist frequent quakes. The buildings’ solidity is relieved by intricate columns, sculptures, and decorations.
Churches built in the 16th and early 17th centuries, most of which have not survived, tended to be much simpler, while those erected in the late colonial period were much more elaborate. One particularly Honduran characteristic in colonial church architecture is the use of folded or pleated patterns on exterior columns.
The interiors of larger churches and cathedrals are invariably decorated with elaborate paintings and sculptures and are dominated by a carved and often gilded retablo (altarpiece). Smaller churches, especially in rural areas, are often painted in a more rustic style.
The traditional indigenous music of the Lenca, Pech, Tolupán, and Maya has dwindled in importance over the centuries and is infrequently played, outside of special ceremonies. In many rural areas of Honduras, the venerable conjunto de cuerda, or string group, is always around to strike up a tune with guitars, bass, and violin.
One native Honduran music of note on the north coast is punta, the traditional music of the Garífuna. Original punta is a stripped-down music form based around a thumping drum accompanied by singing, blowing a conch shell, and dancers performing physics-defying miracles with their hips.
Honduran pop music consists primarily of Caribbean merengue, salsa, and cumbia, with a dash of American pop thrown in. Islanders and many of the Garífuna on the north coast also listen to a lot of Jamaican reggae.
A handful of singers are maintaining Honduran ballads and folkloric music, the most widely known being Guillermo Anderson and Karla Lara. Guillermo Anderson is from the north coast, and his albums always include a healthy dash of punta in their rhythms. Rising star Polache (short for Paul Hughes, born to a German father and Honduran mother) from La Ceiba seems to be following in their footsteps, with a bit of a rocker’s edge. In Olancho, Mexican-style ranchera music is the local favorite, particularly as sung by “El Charro” Velasquez from Juticalpa. CDs by any of these artists are usually available in any store that sells CDs (try the mall if you have to).
Reggaeton, rap in English and Spanish laid over a sort of slowed down, Caribbean-style techno music with a reggae bass line, is also wildly popular, particularly in the dance clubs, while standard American pop music seems to rule the airwaves. Don’t be surprised to hear plenty of Madonna, George Michael, Bon Jovi, and Guns N’ Roses, among others. Country music is also surprisingly popular, especially on the Bay Islands and the north coast.
© Chris Humphrey and Amy E. Robertson from Moon Honduras, 5th Edition