Lempira (Lenca ruler)

Francisco de Montejo Honduras Cares
Drawing of Lempira (Lenca de Honduras)

Lempira was a war chieftain of the Lencas of western Honduras in Central America during the 1530s, when he led resistance to Francisco de Montejo's attempts to conquer and incorporate the region into the province of Honduras. Mentioned as Lempira in documents written during the Spanish conquest, he is regarded by the people as a warrior hero.


Jorge Lardé y Larín argues that the name Lempira comes from the word lempira, derived from words of the Lenca language: lempa, meaning "lord" as a title of hierarchy, i meaning "of", and era, meaning "hill or mountain". Thus, Lempira, means "lord of the mountain" or "lord of the grass".[1] When the Spaniards arrived in Cerquin, Lempira was fighting against neighboring chiefs. Because of the Spanish threat, he allied with another Lenca subgroup, the Cares, and united the different Lenca tribes. Based at Cerquin hill, he organized resistance against the Spanish troops in 1537, managing to gather an army of almost 30,000 soldiers, from 200 villages. As a result, other groups in the valleys of Comayagua and Olancho also took up arms. Spanish attempts to stop him, led by Francisco de Montejo and Alonso de Cáceres, were unsuccessful until later in 1537.[2]


Historical accounts of Lempira differ. Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas, whose account was published in Historia general de los hechos de los castellanos ... (1626), in Sevilla, Spain, identifies Lempira as a war captain appointed by Entipica, leader of the Cares, a subgroup of the Lenca. Herrera reports that Lempira, whose name means something like "Lord of the Mountains" in Lenca, commanded over 30,000 soldiers from over 200 different Lenca towns. In 1537, there were widespread indigenous uprisings in Honduras, and the Cares were one group that revolted against Spanish rule.

The Spaniards, on instruction from their Governor, Francisco de Montejo, attacked Lempira at the Peñol de Cerquín, in what is now Lempira Department. According to Herrera, Lempira retreated to a fortified hilltop where he resisted the Spaniards for many months. Finally, the Spaniards lured him out to talk, and a concealed Spanish soldier with an arquebus shot and killed him. On seeing this, Herrera reports, the Lenca surrendered. This is essentially the official version that is taught to Honduran children in school.

In the 1980s, the Honduran historian Mario Felipe Martínez Castillo discovered a very different account of Lempira in a document entitled Méritos y Servicios: Rodrigo Ruiz, Nueva España, written in 1558 in Mexico City. The manuscript is located in the Archivo General de Indias in Sevilla, Spain.[3] That document, Patronato 69 R.5, tells the story of Rodrigo Ruiz and his service in the conquest of Honduras under Francisco Montejo. It includes his account of killing Lempira. The document is in the form of a series of questions, answered by witnesses to the conquest which Rodrigo Ruiz gave to the Spanish king. It is his effort to gain a pension as payment for his services.

Ruiz wrote the questions, one of which is translated in part as follows:

"...after I cut off his head, they retreated and within 4 days we controlled all of their towns, and they gave obedience to your Majesty as they were obligated to do... and later we founded the town of Gracias a Dios. Ask them to say what they know and if its true that I served in said war, all the time it lasted, serving with myself, my weapons, my horse, at my cost, and was not rewarded for it." – Archivo General de Indias, Méritos y Servicios: Rodrigo Ruiz, Nueva España.[4]

Rodrigo Ruiz described his other service to the Spanish Crown. Witnesses to this 100-page document attested that Ruiz recounted his service accurately and told the truth. Ruiz asked for a pension of 1000 pesos for his service. The modern Honduran Lenca preserved in their oral history Lempira elements that match the Ruiz story, such as Lempira's belief that wearing Spanish clothing made him impervious to Spanish bullets, and that the chief died in combat, not through ambush.

Legacy and honors

In 1931, Honduras renamed its currency in honor of Lempira.[5] In 1943, Honduras renamed the Gracias Department as the Lempira Department.[6]

Representation in other media

In 1957 the Honduran writer Ramón Amaya Amador wrote a novel featuring Lempira, entitled El señor de la sierra (The Lord of the Mountains).[7]

See also


  1. ^ Peace Corps. "New Beginning". Peace Corps, Colombia. Archived from the original on 17 February 2013. Retrieved 14 January 2013.
  2. ^ Jaques, Tony (2007). Dictionary of Battles and Sieges: A Guide to 8,500 Battles from Antiquity Through the Twenty-First Century, Volume 1. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 217. ISBN 0313335370.
  3. ^ Martinez Castillo, Mario Felipe (2000). Los Últimos Días de Lempira: Rodrigo Ruiz, El conquistador Español que lo venció en combate. Tegucigalpa: Universidad Nacional Autonama, Editorial Universitaria.
  4. ^ Portal de Archivos Españoles. "Meritos y Servicios Rodrigo Ruiz, Nueva España". Ministerio de Cultura. Archived from the original on 16 December 2017. Retrieved 14 January 2013.
  5. ^ Famous Wonders. "Honduran Lempira". Retrieved 11 February 2013.
  6. ^ Mindat. "Coloal Mine, Lempira Department, Honduras". Mindat.org. Retrieved 11 February 2013.
  7. ^ Amador, Ramón Amaya (1993). El señor de la sierra. Carlos Raúl Amaya Fúnez. pp. x. ISBN 9992663367.