Miskito

Miskito

[muh-skee-toh]

The Miskitos are a group of Native Americans in Central America. Their territory extends from Cape Camarón, Honduras, to Rio Grande, Nicaragua along the Mosquito Coast. There is a native Miskito language, but large groups speak Miskito creole English, Spanish, and other languages. The creole English came about through frequent contact with the British. Many are Christians.

There are few (if any) pure-blooded Miskitos alive today, as over the centuries, escaped slaves have sought refuge, and intermarried with the Miskitos. Traditional Miskito society was highly structured, with a defined political structure. There was a king but he did not have total power. Instead, the power was split between him, a governor, a general, and by the 1750s, an admiral. Historical information on kings is often obscured by the fact that many of the kings were semi-mythical.

Spanish settlers first began to arrive in Miskito land in 1787, but the Miskitos continued to dominate the area because of their numbers and the experienced military. Also, the Miskito territory is very inaccessible, and was therefore little affected by the Spanish conquest of the area. Their political structure allowed the Miskito people to retain their independence all through Spanish rule and through the Federation of Central American States. However, they were absorbed into Nicaragua in 1894.

Due to British economic interest in Central America (particularly British Honduras, now called Belize), the Miskitos were able to acquire guns and other modern weapons. After Nicaragua was declared in 1821, combined Miskito-Zambo raiders began to attack Spanish settlements in Honduras, often to rescue enslaved Miskitos before they were shipped to Europe, but often also to enslave other Amerindians to sell to the British to work in Jamaica. They also enslaved women from other tribes. Due to the allowance of polygamy and the added number of women from these slave raids, the Miskito population boomed. These raids continued for many years after any animosity between Britain and Spain ended. The Miskitos, for a long time, considered themselves superior to other tribes of the area, whom they referred to as "wild". European dress and English names were popular among the Miskitos.

The Miskito king and the British concluded a formal Treaty of Friendship and Alliance in 1740 followed by the appointment of a resident Superintendent in 1749. A protectorate was established over the Miskito Nation, often called the Mosquito Coast.

The Miskito kingdom aided Britain during the American Revolutionary War by attacking Spanish colonies and gained several victories alongside the British. However, at the conclusion of the peace in 1783, Britain had to relinquish control over the coast. The British withdrawal was completed at the end of June 1787. Despite the withdrawal, Britain maintained an unofficial protectorate over the kingdom, often intervening to protect Miskito interests against Spanish encroachments.

From the middle of the nineteenth century onwards, British interest in the region began to wane. The state ceased to exist in 1894 when it was occupied by Nicaragua. It was restored by the British in July that same year but reoccupied by Nicaragua in August.

During the 20th century

The Miskitos who lived in the Jinotega department, west of the Región Autónoma del Atlántico Norte, were much different from the Miskitos who lived along the Caribbean coast. The Miskitos in Jinotega were Catholic and were not influenced by the British, they 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, the Miskitos were asked by both sides to provide food and transport. Many Miskitos in the Jinotega region joined Augusto Sandino and his troops in 1926. As opposed to the Miskitos of the Caribbean coast, the Miskitos 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. The presence of the state in the regions where Miskitos lived was reinforced during the 1960s and the 1970s, leading to expropriation of native-held land. During these decades, the Miskitos' only encounter with national politics was to be firmly asked to vote for the National Liberal Party.

In the 1980s, the Communist Sandinista regime extended totalitarian influence over the region via its Comités de Defensa Sandinista. In response, several Miskito groups eventually formed guerrillas in the 1980s, which 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 Miskitos, while the Sandinistas began to denounce the activities of Contras in the Rio Coco zone. The Miskitos occupied the village of San Carlos during the "Red December" (20-21 December 1982) during which several Sandinista soldiers were killed. In retaliation, the state massacred 30 Miskitos in the following days, prompting many of them to escape to Honduras to live in a difficult state of exile. The state of emergency in the Rio Coco zone was proclaimed in 1983, and lasted until 1988. In 1983 the Misurasata movement, led by Brooklyn Rivera, split, with the breakaway Misura group of Stedman Fagoth allying itself more closely with the FDN, one of the first Contra commanded by Enrique Bermúdez. A subsequent autonomy statute in September 1987 largely defused Miskito resistance.

In 1992, after the Sandinistas' defeat during the elections, the Miskitos signed an agreement with the Minister of the Interior, Carlos Hurtado, creating "security zones," preparing the return of the police forces to the region and the integration of 50 Miskitos to 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 regarding the 1987 law on autonomy still in force in Nicaragua. The INDERA was suppressed a few years later, allegedly because of opposition between Miskitos and other native groups

In 1998, Hurricane Mitch heavily affected regions where Miskitos 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 but are likely more considerable.

Turtle Harvesting and Miskito Economy

Miskito Indians living on the coast of Nicaragua once hunted green turtles in the context of a traditional subsistence economy. Turtle fishing was combined with agriculture, hunting, fishing and gathering. Subsistence activities were timed to harmonize with seasonal fluctuations and resource availability.

Turtles were traditionally harpooned. The harpoon was eight to ten feet in length and attached to a strong line. Turtlemen 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. Turtles were intercepted in the area between their sleeping shoals and feeding banks as they surfaced for air. When the turtle had been harpooned, it would pull the canoe along at high speeds in an effort to escape, until it tired and could be pulled alongside the canoe.

Exposure to international markets led to a change in hunting methods. Hunting activities became market focused instead of subsistence focused. Commercial enterprises were established by foreign companies, and the skills of Miskito turtlemen were utilized to facilitate intensive harvesting of green turtle populations. A series of economic booms and busts led to serious depletion of green turtle populations, and villagers were confronted with rising social tensions and an increased dependence on a scarce resource

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