|Regions with significant populations|
|Miskito, Spanish, Miskito Creole English|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Garifuna, Maroons, Afro-Caribbeans|
The Miskito are a Native American ethnic group in Central America, of whom many are mixed race. In the northern end of their territory, the people are primarily of African-Native American ancestry; others are of mixed African-Native American and British descent. Their territory extends from Cape Camarón, Honduras, to Río Grande, Nicaragua along the Mosquito Coast, in the Western Caribbean Zone.
The indigenous people speak a native Miskito language, but large groups also speak Miskito creole English, Spanish, which is the language of education and government, and other languages. The creole English came about through frequent contact with the British for trading, as they predominated along this coast. Many are Christians.
The name "Miskito" derives from the Miskito-language ethnonym Mískitu, their name for themselves. It is not related to the Spanish word mosquito, which derives from the word mosca, meaning "fly", also used in Spanish for the insect.
Before the arrival of Europeans in the region, the area was divided into numerous small, egalitarian indigenous groups, possibly speaking languages related to Sumu. The Spanish listed 30 "nations" in Taguzgalpa and Tologalpa provinces, as the Spanish understood their geography. Karl Offen's analysis of this historic data suggests there were about a half dozen entities, groups who were distinct by their language dialects, who were situated in the river basins.
The Spanish were unable to conquer this region during the sixteenth century. Much of the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua and northeastern Honduras was outside any Spanish authority. The region became a haven for northern Europeans, especially Dutch and English privateers during the early seventeenth century (for example Morgan, Montbars and Dampier).
A number of Africans reached the coast from shipwrecked slave ships, notably one in the mid-seventeenth century. The survivors of shipwrecks, and/or escaped slaves from the Providence Island colony, settled around Cape Gracias a Dios. They intermarried with the indigenous people.
The Spanish referred to their mixed-race descendants as Mosquito Zambos (Mosquito was their transliteration of Miskito). Those Miskito living in the southern (Nicaraguan) region were less racially mixed. Modern scholars have classified them as Tawira Miskito. Rivalries between these two groups and competition for territory often led to wars, which were divisive in the eighteenth century.
English privateers working through the Providence Island Company made informal alliances with the Miskito. These English began to crown Miskito leaders as kings (or chiefs); their territory was called the Mosquito Kingdom (the English adopted the Spanish term for the indigenous people). A 1699 written account of the kingdom described it as spread out in various communities along the coast but not including all the territory. It probably did not include the settlements of English traders. The king did not have total power. The 1699 description noted that the kings and governors had no power except in war time, even in matters of justice. Otherwise the people were all equal. Their superior leaders were named by the English as the king, a governor, a general and, by the 1750s, an admiral. Historical information on kings is often obscure as many of the kings were semi-mythical.
In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the Miskito Zambo began a series of raids attacking Spanish-held territories and the still independent indigenous groups in the area. Miskito raiders reached as far north as the Yucatan, and as far south as Costa Rica. They sold many of their captives as slaves to English merchants, who generally shipped them to Jamaica sugar plantations for work. In addition, from 1720 in Jamaica, the British commissioned the Miskito to capture Maroons in the Blue Mountains, as they could trail people.
The Miskito king and the British concluded a formal Treaty of Friendship and Alliance in 1740. The British Crown appointed John Hodgson as Superintendent of the Shore. The British established a protectorate over the Miskito Nation, often called the Mosquito Coast (related to the original Spanish name).
The Miskito kingdom aided Britain during the American Revolutionary War by attacking Spanish colonies to draw off their forces. It gained several victories alongside the British. But, at the conclusion of the peace in 1783, Britain had to cede control over the coast to Spain. The British withdrawal was completed at the end of June 1787. To compensate Loyalist supporters, the British re-settled 537 free people, together with their 1,677 slaves, from Mosquitia to the Bay settlement in British Honduras, present-day Belize. Despite their official withdrawal, Britain maintained an unofficial protectorate over the kingdom. They often intervened to protect Miskito interests against Spanish encroachments.
In addition to the area's geographic isolation, the Miskito military capacity and British support allowed the people to retain their independence when Spain controlled the Pacific side of Central America. The Miskito Coast remained independent throughout much of the period of the Federation of Central American States, but Nicaragua finally absorbed the territory in 1894.
Once the Central American republics became independent in the early to mid-nineteenth century, they had less power in relation to other nations than did Spain, and struggled to protect their own territorial interests against the more powerful Great Britain and the United States, which took an increasing strategic interest in the area.
Great Britain took an interest in the affairs on the Mosquito Coast, as it had trade positions in Belize/British Honduras and Jamaica. In addition, US trading interests began to develop in the region. British governors in Belize began issuing commissions and appointments to Miskito kings and other officials, such as King Robert Charles Frederick, crowned in Belize in 1825. British officials regularly officially recognized the various Miskito offices; it worked to protect Miskito interests against the Central American republics and against the United States.
The latter protested British interference under the Monroe Doctrine. The United States involvement in war with Mexico prevented it from much support of the republics. As England gradually became less aggressive in its commissioning of Miskito nobility, the people effectively began to operate as an independent state.
Due to British economic interest in Central America (particularly British Honduras, now Belize), they sold guns and other modern weapons to the Miskito. After Nicaragua declared independence in 1821, combined Miskito-Zambo raiders began to attack Honduran settlements. They sometimes rescued enslaved Miskito before transport to Europe. At other times, they conducted raids to enslave Amerindians to sell to the British for work in Jamaica. They also enslaved women from other tribes for use as sexual partners.
Their society allowed polygamy. The Miskito population boomed as the men had more children with their slave women. These raids continued for many years after animosity between Britain and Spain ended at the international level. For a long time, the Miskito considered themselves superior to other indigenous tribes of the area, whom they referred to as "wild". The Miskito commonly adopted European dress and English names.
In 1847, Moravian Church missionaries came to the Miskito Coast from Herrnhut, Saxony. Working among the Miskito and Creoles, by the end of the century, they had converted almost all of the inhabitants to a Protestant form of Christianity. The Moravian Church missionaries built a hospital and established schools in their settlements.
From the middle of the nineteenth century, British interest in the region began to wane. At the Treaty of Managua in 1860, Great Britain allowed Nicaragua to have uncontested claim over the Mosquito Coast. The treaty provided for a Miskitu reserve, a self-governing entity that enjoyed semi-sovereign rights. Nicaraguan forces occupied the area in 1894 and took over the state. The British restored the Miskito Reserve in July, but Nicaraguan forces reoccupied in August 1894 and ended its independence.
Various major American fruit companies, which had begun large-scale production of bananas in the Miskito reserve, supported Nicaragua's takeover of power in the area. The American companies preferred Nicaraguan authority to the Miskito, especially as the Miskito elite was more prepared to protect the rights of small landholders than was the Nicaragua government.
During the 20th century
The Miskito who lived in the Jinotega Department, west of the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, were much different from the Miskito who lived along the Caribbean coast. The Miskito in Jinotega were Catholic as a result of Spanish colonial influence, were not allied with the British, and often traded with the Spanish-speaking mestizos from the Pacific coast.
During the conflict in 1927–1933 between Augusto Sandino and the United States over the U.S. occupation of Nicaragua, both sides tried to enlist the Miskito in providing food and transport. In 1926, many Miskito in the Jinotega region joined Augusto Sandino and his troops. The Miskito of Jinotega had closer ties with Sandino as well as the FSLN, which organized agricultural cooperatives and built schools and health centers in the area.
During the 1960s and the 1970s, Nicaragua began to expropriate native-held land for nationalization. During these decades, the mainstream of Nicaraguan national politics recognized the Miskito only when asking them to vote for the Nicaraguan National Liberal Party.
In the 1980s, the Sandinista government extended their influence over the region via its Comités de Defensa Sandinista. In response, several Miskito groups formed guerrilla forces, who carried on armed struggle against the central government. On 25 February 1982, Steadman Fagoth, one of the guerrilla leaders, took refuge in Honduras along with 3,000 Miskito, while the Sandinistas began to denounce the activities of Contras in the Río Coco zone.
(CPDH)> they lived as refugees in a difficult state of exile. In 1983, the government proclaimed a state of emergency in the Río Coco zone, which was maintained until 1988. In 1983 the Misurasata movement, led by Brooklyn Rivera, split. The breakaway Misura group of Stedman Fagoth allied more closely with the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN), one of the first Contra groups commanded by Enrique Bermúdez.
A 1986 documentary called Nicaragua Was Our Home documented the persecution of the Miskito at the hands of the Nicaraguan government. The film features interviews with Miskito Indian people and some non-Miskito clergy who lived among them; they recounted actions of the government against them, including bombing of villages, shootings, and forced removal of people from their homes. The film was shown on some PBS stations and at the 1986 Sundance Film Festival.
In September 1987 the Nicaraguan legislature passed a statute providing autonomy to the Miskito. This essentially defused Miskito resistance.
In 1990 the Sandinistas were defeated in the elections. The Miskitos signed an agreement with the newly appointed Minister of the Interior, Carlos Hurtado, to create "security zones," prepare the return of the national police forces to the region, and integrate 50 Miskito into the police force.
Brooklyn Rivera, one of the Miskito guerrilla leaders, became the director of the INDERA (Nicaraguan Institute of Development of Autonomous Regions), an illegal structure under the 1987 law on autonomy. The government suppressed the INDERA a few years later, allegedly because of conflict between the Miskito and other native groups
In 1998, Hurricane Mitch heavily damaged coastal regions where the Miskito live. On 4 September 2007, Category 5 Hurricane Felix with peak sustained winds of 160 mph struck the coast near Punta Gorda, Nicaragua. Damage and death toll estimates are around 100 at this time[update] but are likely to be higher.
Declaration of Independence
In April 2009 the Miskito announced a unilateral declaration of independence from Nicaragua under the name Community Nation of Moskitia (The Today (BBC Radio 4) feature on this included a rendering of their "National Anthem", which shares its tune with Patriots of Micronesia, etc.). This declaration has not been met with any formal response from the government of Nicaragua nor has it been recognised by any other state. The independence movement is led by Hector Williams, who is described as the leader of the Miskito and uses the title Wihta Tara, or Great Judge. They cited as reasons for their renewed desire for independence the serious economic problems damaging their traditional fishing industry and the recent election of Daniel Ortega as president of Nicaragua. Many of them had fought as Contras against him during the Nicaraguan Civil War and still opposed him.
The majority of the Miskito men and male youths in the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve coastal communities work or have worked, in the lobster export industry. In Honduras, estimates range from 1,500 to 4,000 males in the industry. In Nicaragua, it has been estimated that commercial lobster diving employs over 5,000 people and affects the livelihoods of 50,000 men, women and children. The documentary film, MY VILLAGE, MY LOBSTER (2012) investigated the individuals and communities involved in this fishing industry. The film features testimony from divers who have been injured from the bends, boat owners and captains who are responsible for the divers' safety, and a hyperbaric medicine specialist who treats injured divers. In addition, the film includes footage from aboard a commercial lobster diving vessel and from the remote Miskito Keys (or Miskito Cays), the noted turtle-hunting grounds of the Miskito.
Since 1960, the Miskito have used breath-hold diving techniques to harvest lobsters as their primary source of income. Scuba diving techniques were introduced around 1980 to enable the Miskito to expand their area for harvesting following the depletion of lobster populations in areas they could reach by breath alone. Risks of such diving are decompression sickness or death.
Miskito Indians living on the coast of Nicaragua once hunted green turtles as part of their traditional subsistence economy. Turtle fishing was combined with agriculture, hunting, fishing and gathering. Subsistence activities depended on what was available seasonally and fluctuated according to the resources. In the 17th century, the buccaneer William Dampier wrote that the Moskito Indians were "esteemed and coveted by all privateers" because of their skill at hunting turtle or manatee, "for one or two of them [the animals] in a ship will maintain 100 men".
They traditionally caught the turtles by using harpoons. The harpoon was eight to ten feet in length and attached to a strong line. the turtle hunters traveled in a small, seagoing canoe, often in hazardous weather conditions, using complex mental maps and systems of navigation to locate the turtles. A hunting party consisted of two men: a "strikerman" in the bow, and the "captain" in the stern. The hunters intercepted the turtles in the area between their sleeping shoals and feeding banks as they surfaced for air. After being harpooned, the turtle would try to swim away. They were capable of pulling a canoe along at high speeds until eventually tiring. The hunters could then pull the turtle alongside the canoe and kill it.
Increased demand from international markets led to changes in hunting methods. The activities became market-focused instead of subsistence-focused. Foreign companies established commercial enterprises and hired Miskito turtlemen to facilitate intensive harvesting of green turtles. A series of economic booms and busts led to serious depletion of green turtle populations, and villagers were confronted with rising social tensions due to increased dependence on a scarce resource
- 1625–1687 Oldman
- 1687–1718 Jeremy I, King of the Miskito Nation
- 1718–1729 H.M. Jeremy II, King of the Miskito Nation
- 1729–1739 H.M. Peter I, King of the Miskito Nation
- 1739–1755 H.M. Edward I, King of the Miskito Nation
- 1755–1776 H.M. George I, King of the Miskito Nation
- 1776–1801 H.M. George II Frederic, King of the Miskito Nation
- 1801–1824 H.M. George Frederic Augustus I, King of the Miskito Nation
- 1824–1842 H.M. Robert Charles Frederic, King of the Miskito Nation
- 1842–1865 H.M. George Augustus Frederic II, King of the Miskito Nation
- 1865–1879 H.E. William Henry Clarence, Hereditary Chief of Miskito
- 1879–1888 H.E. George William Albert Hendy, Hereditary Chief of Miskito
- 1888–1889 H.E. Andrew Hendy, Hereditary Chief of Miskito
- 1889–1890 H.E. Jonathan Charles Frederick, Hereditary Chief of Miskito
- 1890–1908 H.E. Robert Henry Clarence, Hereditary Chief of Miskito
- 1908–1928 Robert Frederick, Heir Apparent to the Miskito Kingdom and hereditary chief of the Miskito Nation
- Since 1978 Norton Cuthbert Clarence, Pretender to the Miskito Kingdom and hereditary chief of the Miskito Nation
- citation needed] [
The Miskito people have been able to resist the influence of outside cultures for the most part. Contact with the English has created the position of a king who is seen as the figurehead of the tribes; however, the modern king has little power and generally does not affect the different tribes.
The gender roles within the Miskito culture are affected more by the “boom and bust” of the local economy than by any ruler. When there are few job opportunities men rely on agricultural work and they spend time within their respective communities. There is evidence that the society followed a patriarchal set up during these “bust” times; however, when the economy is “booming” men generally get jobs that force them to travel. Since the 1990s men have been traveling as a result of an increase in job opportunities, and they spend significant amounts of time away from their villages.
Currently, most men work on fishing boats diving for lobsters. Since men spend eight months out of the year away from their families, communities have a matrilocal arrangement. Typically men over age 13 are rarely present during daily life in a village.
Men are considered the breadwinners of a household and contribute the majority of a family’s income, but women have the ability to make all economic decisions. Some women do housekeeping or sell small crafts to make extra money, but it is not enough by itself to support a family. Girls inherit the right to settle on their mother’s land, and although men clear farmland women have full ownership of it.
It is extremely difficult for women to find jobs, and most rely on men and their incomes to support their children. Many women practice magia amorosa (love magic), and they believe that it helps attract men and their money. This love magic can also be used to help save one’s marriage. Women have the greatest input in how their households are run, but they are unable to do anything without the money that their husbands provide. Love magic highlights the importance of keeping a man interested within Miskito society.
Women usually begin forming relationships at age 15, and most become mothers by 18. Most women have six to eight children with their husband, but since men are not around that often there are high abandonment and divorce rates. Men often feel no moral obligation to take care of children because of a high illegitimacy rate. Abandoned children are generally adopted by women within the child’s matrilocal group and taken care of by an aunt or grandmother. As women become older they also gain status within their community. In each society women who are respected elders, kukas, are considered local experts and enforcers of correct behavior in their village.
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- Grisi siknis
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- Matrilocal residence
- Miskito Sambu
- Mosquito Coast
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- Letter of Benito Garret y Arlovi to King of Spain, 30 November 1711, in Manuel de Peralta, ed., Costa Rica y Costa de Mosquitos. Documentos para la historia de la jurisdicción territorial de Costa Rica y Colombia (Paris, 1898), pp. 57–58 Garret y Arlovi had gotten his information from missionaries near Segovia and Chontales, who reported what the indigenous people said. In addition, he interviewed Juan Ramón, an ancient African (negro). By these sources, Garret y Arlovi dated the shipwreck to 1641.
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- Merrill, Tim L., ed. Honduras: a country study. 3rd ed., 1995.
- The Miskito Indians, described by William Dampier Athena Review, Vol.1, no.2 (1681 account by William Dampier)
- Miskito artwork, National Museum of the American Indian