Transmutation of human knowledge about birds in 16th-century Honduras

Mark Bonta

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The period of initial contact between Old World and New World cultures in northern Latin America began with Columbus’s fourth voyage in 1502 and ended with the epidemic-caused indigenous collapses that left 1 to 2 per cent of the pre-1492 population alive by the early 1600s. In the interim, a brief ‘golden age’ of natural and cultural historical research and writing was fostered by educated Spaniards intent on understanding the indigenous world, the thirst for knowledge of the official chroniclers for the Spanish crown, a small market in travelogues and the need that the Indians felt to record their own disappearing cultural heritage. Writers such as Herrera, Oviedo, Sahagún and Hernández recorded from direct study, and from anecdotes, the knowledges of indigenous peoples and European and African settlers. Their works reflect the beginnings of melding the distinct traditions of three continents into one diverse but coherent body of knowledge about flora and fauna, best characterized today as ‘mestizo’, though containing, in many cases, a strong mulatto element as well.

Honduras, peripheral to Spain’s vast empire, was the focus of a small number of texts that included brief discussions of the avifauna of the 16th century. This chapter discusses what they reveal about both indigenous and Spanish relationships with each other and with birds, and how these relationships changed with the advent of new cultural, political and agro-ecological regimes. It helps to fill the void in pre-modern ornithological and natural historical knowledge about Latin America.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationEthno-ornithology
Subtitle of host publicationBirds, Indigenous Peoples, Culture and Society
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781136543845
ISBN (Print)9781844077830
StatePublished - Aug 6 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


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