The Island of Utila has a quality that forces the attentive observer sometimes to reconsider the natural order of things.

It might sound a little blasé, but wealth and education don’t carry here the same weight as it does in most other places. It’s an island that, apart from his tropical climate and beautiful nature, has little natural resources. Hence its historical population consisted mostly of fishermen and commercial sailors.

Once a week a boat was bringing provisions from the mainland and people used to live simple lives. Till tourism discovered the underwater beauty of this island. The first wave of tourists consisted, as it almost always does, out of backpackers and a couple of outcasts. This would have been nice if they would have managed to keep their social media boasting in check about their newly discovered paradise.

Very soon the first TV crews appeared, which launched Utila’s booming tourism industry. Before this, most islanders either aspired to emigrate to the US or “to work on the boats”. At that time, the traditional clans on the Island, the Coopers, the Howells, the Bushes, the Morgans, etc… used to have partitioned all the land of the island among themselves. They considered it of little value, till a US developer came around who bought all the land of a clan that emigrated to the US for 300 K.

Since the land was not cared for by its owners, the municipality had turned into a garbage belt. The new owner put a stop to this practice, cleared the property, divided it into lots of 1/3 acre, and sold them for 100 K each to eager middleclass North Americans.

Now, that caused a massive wake up call for the local landowners, and very soon you saw the first disputes flaring up to whom grandfather had bequeathed what land. Another weird concept was that the local tradition was cutting female heirs out of their parent´s heritage (they got a brides chest instead), but this averred to be not in line with Honduran law who doesn’t discriminate among male or female descendants.

Hence, a man whose father originated from a clan on Roatan (and thus didn’t have any land on Utila), managed to get hold of the biggest chunk of the island´s land by claiming his mother’s legal share when his maternal grandfather died. To his credit it must be said that he contributed generously to the islands environmental conscience. He made generous contributions to the community by donating land for a new city Hall, a new community clinic, a new airport, etc… He died last year and left to all his workers a piece of land whereupon they can build their own house.

Then some others who were gloating about the fact that they had managed to get hold of the fertile farm land in the middle of the island saw to their dismay that those who got the “worthless” and arid beachfront land could get a 10 fold more for their land from some giddy foreigner who wanted to build a house with a sea view then whatever they can ever aspire to ask for if they would subdivide their land and sell parcels to some “tourists” . That’s how the islanders design everybody who hasn’t been born here or at least has not some strong local family ties. It’s a label that you never can get rid off: even when you live here for more then 30 years.

Utila is still an island where flashing your dollars or education will not impress very much the aboriginals. Unless you can put said money and skills at use to improve the community as a whole. And they don’t want you to tell them what to do, but will expect you to do it while being attentive for local sensibilities. Remember that here some fish are hunting the fisher.

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