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Money Order Economy: Remittances in the Island of Utila

Re-published from the original David George Lord 1975 doctoral dissertation of the same title and with the permission of the Author
Adapted by AboutUtila.com WebMaster to facilitated on-line navigation and reading.

Copyright by David George Lord 1975

Table of Contents Chapter 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 References ●  Appendices

Table of Contents

Entire Original Paper - Microsoft Word format (832KB)


Title Page



Chapter 1 - Introduction

Economic Studies in the Caribbean

Remittances and Economic Studies in the Caribbean

Migration and Characteristics of a Remittance Economy

Specific Aims of the Study

Chapter 2 - Preadaptations for a Remittance Economy: Historical Factors


The Agricultural Phase

The Remittance Phase


Chapter 3 - Preadaptations for a Remittance Economy: The Physical Setting and its Limitations

Department of the Bay Islands

Utila's Maritime Setting and Shoreline





Flora and Fauna


Chapter 4 - Remittance System Interrelationships: Economics

The Agricultural Phase: 1836-1941

Production and Consumption Bases


Land Ownership and Utilization

The Distribution of Wealth


The Remittance Phase: 1941 to Date

Production and Consumption Patterns

Land Ownership and Utilization



Chapter 5 - Remittance System Interrelationships: Social Organization


Social Groupings

Religious Groups

Educational Groups

Economic Groups

Residential Groups

Informal Groups

Status and Role


Chapter 6 - Remittance System Interrelationships: Political Organization

Local Level Politics

Utila's Larger Political Involvements


Chapter 7 - Summary and Conclusions

Economic Studies in the Caribbean

The Interface between Economy, Society, and Polity

Contributions of the Study



Appendix A - A-1 1859 Treaty between Great Britain and the Government of Honduras ceding the Bay Islands and the British territory of the Mosquitia to the Republic of Honduras
A-2 1861 Honduras Decree in which the Bay-Islands and territory of the Mosquitia are declared to be under the Dominion and Sovereignty of the Republic of Honduras

Appendix B - Table B-1: Population of The Bay Islands 1881-1961
Table B-2: Population of Utila 1958-1974

List of Tables

Table 1 - Chronology of Events important in Utila's History

Table 1.1 - Utila Exports 1876

Table 1.2 - Land Area of individual Utila Cays

Table 2 - Guanaja meteorological  observations 1970

Table 3 - List of Ships owned by Utilians and sailing out of East Harbor 1875-1900

Table 4 - Comparision per Capita Income Figures from Central American and Caribbean Countries 1960-1971

Table 5 - Visas issued by the United States Embassy, Tegucigalpa, Honduras 1962-1975

Table B-1 - Population of The Bay Islands 1881-1961

Table B-2 - Population of Utila 1958-1974

▲Top of Page  Abstract

Utila, one of the Bay Islands off the north coast of Honduras, is representative of many societies throughout the world; it is an economically dependent society supported largely or entirely by remittance monies. Remittances, funds sent home by people who have emigrated or are sojourning out of country, have given rise to a socio-cultural system resting heavily on traditional aspects of Utilian society and culture.

The contemporary interface between economy, society and polity shows that Utila was pre-adapted to requirements of a remittance style economy. Such things as the traditional importance of the nuclear family as the production and consumption unit, and a heritage of maritime activity in shipping and fishing are just two pre-adaptive features. Underlying these and other pre-adaptations were the extremely important orientations of individualism, commercialism, consumerism, and community atomism or non-cooperation.

Utila's remittance economy depends on males serving in United States or Scandinavian merchant marines, and therefore being absent for nine or ten months of every year. On the one hand, therefore, individualism fosters the independent action needed in shipping out and selling one's skills and labor. On the other hand, individualism allows continued nuclear family functioning even in the absence of males. Commercialism and community atomism have allowed loose social and political organization that easily accommodate male absenteeism. Finally, consumerism provides the impetus to continue in the remittance economy in order to acquire the various symbols of the good life such as land, a private dwelling, nice clothes and furniture, and so on.

Beyond consumerism men on leave are indulged in their heavy drinking and partying behavior; laws and social norms are not strictly enforced if they are breached by the men, and women generally tend to pamper male whims in order to make their stay at home enjoyable. This "rest and recreation" atmosphere in the island provides encouragement for men to participate in the remittance economy throughout their productive years (generally from age 18 to 55). Such an atmosphere serves as an intermediary reward for men until they can retire and reap the full benefits of the remittance system. Women and other stay-at-home islanders benefit from providing a relaxed environment through the continued flow of money into the island.

Social organization itself helps to perpetuate the remittance economy by providing motivation either to maintain the status quo by white Utilians, to try to move within the various social strata by "Spaniards," or to change social organization by Utila's colored population. In each case it is money, and what can be accomplished with money, that islanders believe would affect social organization; only through the remittance system could funds be obtained.

The underlying orientations noted above originally combined with an image of limited good (i.e., of diminishing opportunities for the good life) that arose during times of economic recession and depression. Assessing their social and economic condition from the resulting perspective, Utilians opted for a remittance economy when that opportunity arose at the start of the Second World War.

The option for a remittance economy was, and continues to be, the most logical and viable economic alternative open to islanders. Support for the remittance economy has subsequently derived both from the traditional society and culture, and from the new benefits accruing to those who participate in the overall remittance system. Ultimately, a system such as Utila's may prove to answer the needs of many underdeveloped countries throughout the world.

▲Top of Page  Acknowledgements

I first became acquainted with the Bay Islands of Honduras while doing field research in a British Honduran fishing village in the summer of 1966. Sacasa Gough, a good friend and informant in Ambergris Caye, interested me in his home island of Roatan. Subsequently, I spent four months in 1972 surveying various sites throughout the Bay Islands as future research areas. Utila seemed especially suited to investigating a number of economic phenomena, and research was conducted there during September and October, 1973; and January through May, 1974, while I was on academic leave of absence from California State Polytechnic University.

Information employed in this study includes both quantitative and qualitative data obtained from a wide variety of sources through a variety of collection techniques. A major portion of the qualitative data were gathered via participant observation in the island where I lived first as a single male in a boarding house, and subsequently as a householder and family head in my own dwelling. I spent nearly five months of the research period as a secondary school teacher at the Methodist parochial "college," thus giving both my wife and myself a definite position within the community.

Data for Chapter 2 on historical background have been derived from literary sources and from many "old heads"--the elder generation of Utilians, aged 70 and up--who provided information on the island's past. Among those to whom I am indebted for their assistance in my study are Rev. F. Gideon Cooper, Mr. Edward Senhouse Rose, Mrs. Sarah Ann Bodden (all octogenarians), Mr. L. Dempsey Thompson, and approximately twenty other sometime informants who gave valuable information through life histories and open-ended interviews. In order to preserve their privacy, pseudonyms have been used except where such disguise would clearly be useless (e.g., Miss Hester, Chief of Police in Utila). To all of these people I tender a sincere thanks not only for the necessary temporal perspective of Chapter 2, but also for the substance of Chapters 4, 5, and 6.

Thanks are also extended to my colleagues Dr. Joan Greenway and Dr. Thomas Blackburn at California State Polytechnic University for their encouragement and criticisms in bringing this study to completion.  Dr. Robert Thorne of Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Gardens, Claremont, gave the invaluable identification of plant materials referenced in Chapter 3.

To the members of my committee I am deeply indebted for the guidance and nurturance they provided throughout the preparation of this study.  I am especially grateful to Dr. Eugene Anderson, Jr., who was involved in every facet of the study and unselfishly gave an inordinate amount of time and energy to the project.

Finally, to my wife and helpmate Judith Bogdanoff-Lord, my daughter Christina, and to my parents, I gratefully acknowledge the tremendous support they have given me throughout the research and writing of this study.  To them and to the people of Utila this is lovingly dedicated.

▲Top of Page


Money Order Economy: Remittances in
the Island of Utila

A Dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction
of the requirements for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy



by David George Lord

December, 1975

Dissertation Committee:

Professor Eugene N. Anderson, Jr., Chairman

Professor Alan R. Beals

Professor Michael Kearney

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