Christopher Columbus landed on Guanaja on his fourth voyage in 1502. Notably, this was the first time he came across cacao, which is the core of chocolate. He landed on Soldado Beach on the north side of the island. In later years Cayman Islanders settled in the Bay Islands, which explains the diffusion of Spanish and English language.
Homer Hickam, author of Rocket Boys/October Sky, was one of the first scuba explorers of Guanaja, first visiting in 1973. Along with a team of other scuba explorers, he extensively mapped the reef system around the island for sport divers. He still owns property on the northeast end of the island.
In late October 1998, most of the buildings and homes on the island were destroyed by Hurricane Mitch. The islanders have since rebuilt, and although there are still repercussions to the economy from Mitch, tourism has been recovering. The majority of the mangrove and pine forests, which were destroyed as a direct consequence of the passage of the hurricane sweeping across the island for two days, are slowly making a comeback.
Guanaja, also known as:
- Caguamara 1600
- Isla Pinos 1600
- Guanaca 1601
- Guanaia 1657
- Guanaja 1749
- Bonaccao 1771
- Bonacca 1779
Inhabited by the Payans Indian, Christopher Columbus landed 30 July 1502, Pedro Moreno landed in 1524, Spanish slaves raids 1516–1526, buccaneering during 16th and 17th century and removal of Indians to Golfete Dulce. British Colony of Bay Islands 1852. Ceded to The Republic of Honduras 1861.
Brief History of the settlers of Guanaja
In 1502 Columbus came to this island and called it Isla de Los Pinos (Isle of Pines) although it already had a name, Guanaca, used by the natives that inhabited it. This name appears as early as 1511 on a map drawn by Peter Martyr but it later was corrupted by English pirates, privateers and settlers and was pronounced Bonacca. There has been other names for the island over the years before the Bay Islands were turned over to Honduras as the English, the Dutch and the Spaniards modified the name to their liking.
Upon gaining possession of the Bay Islands the Honduran government made Guanaja the official name of the island but the residents kept the old name for as long as they could and older inhabitants throughout the islands still call it Bonacca. The main settlement is called The Cay, an abbreviation of Lower Cays, the original name. It was first settled by the Haylocks who had moved to the two little cays that lay about a half kilometre off the south shore of the main island to get rid of the flies that plagued them during calm nights. They eventually stayed and later deeded the southernmost cay (Hog Cay) to the Kirkconnells. Many other families, among others the Boddens, the Phillips and the Woods, came later and by the 1880s a thriving community had developed.
The village of Savana Bight was founded by families from Olancho; they were the Escalantes, the Peraltas, and the Zunigas. Later the Watlers from the Cayman Islands took up residence there as well.
Later on and also from Grand Cayman came the Tatums, the Merrens, the Bennetts, the Forbes and others who set up residence east of Savana Bight, calling the area East End, while the Parchmonts settled in some of the upper Cays. The first families to settle in North East Bight were the Ebanks, the Hydes and the Greenwoods.
Angelo Elwin, son of the first magistrate of the Bay Island who resided in Roatan, was the first person to settle on the upper north side of the island. Elwin's bride was a Moore and three or four of her brothers followed her from Barbarat to Bonacca. The Moores like the Elwins had come to the Bay Islands from Belize. Unlike other settlers, Angelo Elwin was in possession of a deed signed by the authorities in Roatan which granted him the land between Michael's Rock and the lower end of the Bay. The Moores acquired properties from Elvin and built their homes in what is now called Mangrove Bight. They were joined later by the Powerys and much later by the Johnsons and the Jacksons.Section on the settlers of the island written by resident Alfonso B. Ebanks (published?)