Roatan has an extensive history for such a small island. The Pre-Columbian residents of Roatan and the Bay Islands were believed to have been related to Paya, Maya, Lenca or Jicaque, all of which were the same cultures that were once found in Honduras. It wasn’t discovered by the western world until Christopher Columbus stumbled upon it during his fourth village (1502-1504), while he was visiting the neighbouring Bay Island of Guanaja. It wasn’t long after this that the Spanish began using the island for slaving purposes, and as a result no original Roatan Native American communities survive today.
The country has attracted all number of different communities to its shores over the course of history: individual settlers, pirates, traders, and military men, all engaged in various different economic, political, and cultural activities. The island was a frequent resting point for sea travellers, and this also made it a great location for military occupation during the struggles between European powers – typically Britain and Spain.
Interestingly, in 1797, the British defeated the French in a battle for control of St. Vincent island, and then rounded up all the St. Vincent Black Caribs – the native culture who sided with the French – and deported them to Roatan. The Black Caribs became the first permanent settlers on the island, and their ancestry of Native American, African, and European laid the foundations of the modern-day Garifuna culture.