Along the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua and Honduras there is a small indigenous tribe of people numbering around 300,000 known as the Miskito people. The Miskito people have their own language, traditions, lifestyle, and customs that culminate into a special type of culture known as “Miskito Culture”. Despite the small number of the Miskito tribe, they have had an impact on Nicaragua and Honduras through adaptation of their lifestyle and folklore. The Miskito people have brought an air of family and sense of community to the inhospitable rainforests through the development of their small village communities that center around friendship and unity. These people have come to share their food, clothes, housing with one another as brothers and sisters of humanity overcoming the burdens of competitiveness to embrace a simpler lifestyle.

Yet there lies an air of contradiction surrounding the Miskito people. The Miskito people live, surrounded by immense natural beauty, within a tightly woven family community composed of loving, caring individuals. Nevertheless, they face borderline starvation, a total and utter lack of modern conveniences and devastating poverty. All Miskito people face a choice, a choice between leaving their communities and traditional way of life or breaking away from their heritage and encompassing modern life and society. Yet not everyone can leave and go to the urban cities and successfully find work while, at the same time, not everyone can stay in the jungle and continue their current traditional way of life either. A choice between these two options must be made by every family and individual and sacrifices are faced on both sides of the dilemma.

The Miskito people show an inner goodness that radiates about them, stemming from their respect and appreciation of their fellow man. These people live what many would consider a meager existence. Instead, the Miskito people choose to live close to nature, the land, and the wild animals of the rain forest, living a truly sustenance based lifestyle, relying solely on what they themselves can produce and dominate. In many ways, the Miskito people live a life of yesterday. They do not face the pressure to advance, compete with one another or exceed their current circumstances.

Foods of the Miskito people include a diet of mostly boiled fish and bananas. On their small plots of cleared land, the Miskito tribes grow rice, beans, cassava, and bananas. Rather than speak the Spanish language as most of Nicaragua does, the Miskito people speak their own dialect. The Miskito people are a tribe native to Nicaragua; they are an indigenous group that lived in this same area before the Spaniards arrived from Spain and colonized the area.

Along the coastal villages of the Caribbean, coconut, cassava, mango, and oranges grow. Along with these, a plentitude of fish are available from the sea. Inland, the rivers offer lush rainforest jungle for growing rice, beans and bananas. The children of the Miskito tribe learn early in childhood how to clear and farm the land as their survival depends on it. All farming is done manually using traditional methods. The only tools available to them are axes, machetes, and hoes. A small group of men from a village usually sets out on foot to clear a small plot of one or two hectares. The men begin by chopping down all the trees and foliage. After waiting several days for the left over foliage to dry, they set the remnants on fire. The ashes produced are used as a type of fertilizer. Women and children from the village plant the seeds and cultivate the crops. Everyone from the family and village play a role in the production of food. If enough food is produced to last from one harvest to the next, families consider themselves fortunate and are happy. If the families of the village are fortunate enough to grow enough food to produce a surplus, they then take it to the city to sell and consider themselves truly fortunate.

The Miskito people are a minority ethnic group of people in Nicaragua. They have been oppressed, misused, and deceived by their government and others. Because of these experiences, they have grown to mistrust outsiders and the larger community, particularly the government authority figures that rule the rest of the country. As a result of these negative experiences and fears, the Miskito people, for the most part, have not become heavily involved with the national and political life of the country as a whole. Nevertheless, in 1989, a group of Miskito people did come together to form “Yatama” a political party comprised of Miskito ethnicity individuals that elect some local officials such as mayors and council representatives. Yet many of the Miskito people do not trust this political party or feel that it represents their views or interests properly.

Education continues to evolve in the lives of the Miskito people, as they have come to realize the important role it will play in their children’s futures. Opportunities for education beyond sixth grade did not exist during the 1960s and 1970s within the Miskito villages. This limited exposure was enough to give some children the ability to read and write at a basic level. A few of the children during this period were fortunate enough to receive scholarships or sponsorship to go to the cities and receive a high school education. For some fortunate individuals, work as a teacher, police officer or nurse was possible through the government.

Unfortunately, this situation became worse before it got better. During the 1980s there was a civil war and virtually all schools were closed in the communities.  Fortunately, now and throughout much of the 1990s, high school education, as well as the opportunity for college, have become more available through government and outside funding for those willing and able to move. Some Miskito families have gone to the city of Bilwi (Puerto Cabezas), where they built a small house for their children of high school and college age to live in while they attend school. The families travel each week to bring the children food from their small farms in the rainforests. Other families have sent their children to live with relatives or acquaintances who live near cities with schools for their children to attend. In the actual villages of the Miskito people found in the rainforests, many public elementary schools have been erected that go up to the fourth or sixth grade. Some of the larger villages of the Miskito people even have public Junior High schools. In 1995, an extension program was started in the city of Bilwi offering college level course work to individuals who can secure funding to attend.

Outside of subsistence farming, there are few opportunities available to the Miskito people.  Job opportunities are scarce in Nicaragua as mentioned earlier. If fortunate, the men may be able to leave their village and find work in a sawmill, sugar-cane plant, copper mine, reforestation project, or one of the various types of fisheries (lobster, turtle trapping, etc.) These are the only available industries to choose from for the under educated. Those who are fortunate enough to have received some college education may be able to find work as a teacher, healthcare worker or a clerical position working for the government. Some individuals choose to leave their villages and live in the capital, Managua, to find work as housekeepers, cooks or mechanics. Others find work on the cruise ships as part of the service industry related to Nicaragua’s growing popularity as a tourist destination.

Regardless of the lack of opportunities available and the grave poverty in which the Miskito people live, the greatest aspect of their culture is their willingness to share with one another what little they do have. The individuals, who do leave their villages and find work elsewhere, most always send money back home to their parents or relatives. This is their way of continuing to support the Miskito traditions and life style.


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