Miskito the Future Indigenous Muslims of Nicaragua
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.
Before the arrival of Europeans in the region, the area was divided into numerous small, egalitarian indigenous groups, possibly speaking languages related toSumu. 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 exampleMorgan, 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 captureMaroons 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 inBritish 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 Statesover 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 theNicaraguan 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 5Hurricane 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 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.