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Keywords:

  • demography;
  • Honduras;
  • indigenous peoples;
  • population;
  • Tawahka

ABSTRACT. Latin America's lowland indigenous groups have been characterized in contradictory ways. Are populations shrinking or growing? Do groups face cultural extinction, or are they increasingly asserting their ethnic identities? This article uses a case study of the Tawahka Amerindians of Honduras to show how basic demographic techniques can shed light on these issues. A multimethod approach resolves conflicting reports of population growth and ethnic admixture within the 1,000-strong population. Household surveys indicate a contemporary growth rate in excess of 4 percent; a review of historical sources suggests that this rapid growth has been building for more than fifty years. Although genealogical evidence shows high levels of interethnic mixing since 1900, the Tawahka retain their language and identity. The potentially negative effects of rapid population growth on local resources are likely to be mitigated as the Tawahka translate their renewed ethnic identity into political gains, which in turn have increased educational and economic opportunities. Closer attention to microdemographic processes is recommended for those involved in the long-term management of Latin America's indigenous homelands.