Nicaragua has the largest population of African descent in Central America and approximately two-thirds of that group resides in and around Bluefields.The city at the mouth of the Escondido River and the Caribbean Sea, Bluefields is home to a large black settlement on the east coast of Nicaragua and is strongly associated with Black Creole culture.
Nicaragua - Ms. Vilma combs the hair of Koreth Reid McCoy, 17, in her home in Pearl Lagoon. Koreth is preparing for a beauty pageant celebrating their African roots in the local carnival.
The Atlantic coast of Nicaragua was explored by Columbus during his fourth voyage in 1502. The Spanish returned again in 1522, led by the Conquistador Gil Gonzalez de Avila. Two years latter, the governor of Panama sent out Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba and Hernando de Soto to permanently conquer the country for Spain. Cordoba established the cities of Granada and Leon in 1524. Managua did not become Nicaragua’s capital until 1857.
Nicaragua - From right, dancers Scharllette Allen and Jennifer Fredricks, both 15, wear traditional African dresses. They will preform in a local Afro cultural festival in the town of Pearl Lagoon.
The population of Nicaragua is highly mixed, but not so much as found in El Salvador and Honduras. The mixed “native-African-European” population known as mestizo makes up 69% of the population. This population group is concentrated in the western portion of the country where nine out of ten persons in Nicaragua live. Native Americans, who make up 5% of the population, are found mostly in the remote jungle areas of the west. African descended persons such as Afro-Antilleans, make up 9% (379,000) of the population and are found in the eastern coastal areas of the country. They live manly along the “Atlantic” or “Mosquito Coast”. In recent years they have also moved to the larger cities of the country, such as Managua.
Afro-Nicaraguan Scharllette Allen Moses, Miss Nicaragua 2010
Persons of European ancestry are rather numerous at 17% of the population, and live in the larger cities and towns of the country. In addition to being of Spanish ancestry, the 19th century immigration of Germans, French, English and Italians added to Nicaragua’s diverse mix of peoples. There are also small numbers of Arabic speaking persons, as well as Chinese living mostly in the cities.
As in Honduras, Nicaragua has four major groups of African descended peoples which include: Afro-mestizos, Afro-Antilleans, Garifuna and Miskitos.
Afromestizos in Nicaragua live primarily in the densely populated western regions of the country where nine-tenths of the population of Nicaragua is concentrated. Their history and way of life follows closely that which is found among the other Afromestizo peoples of Central America. During the colonial era (1524-1821) the working of large ranches and fincas was largely in the hands of African slaves. A small population of European women (probably no more then 10% of the European population of Central American during colonial times) resulted in most Spanish men taking native and African common law wives and concubines.
Shortly after the conquest, the native population found itself working in the gold mines of the Spanish conquerors . Others were rounded up and transported to Panama City where they were sold off into slavery, some being sent to work in mines as far off Bolivia. As in the other Central American colonies, the native American population was almost completely decimated within two generations. Just as in Honduras, El Salvador and parts of Guatemala, natives were replaced during the 1540’s by African slaves sent out from Hispaniola, Cuba and Puerto Rico. They took the place of the natives in the fields, mines and homes of the Spanish. In and around the city of Granada large sugar, cocoa and indigo plantations were worked by large numbers of Africans. Within a few generations the amalgamation of Spanish, African and native American was well on its way in creating the Nicaraguan mestizo of today.
Garifuna Day in Orinoco, Nicaragua, 19 November, 2011
One example of a well known Nicaraguan Afromestizo is the poet Ruben Dario (1867-1916). As one of the greatest poets in the history of Latin-America, he played an important role as a leader in the literary movement called modernism. He became world famous for his poems Blue (1888), Profane Prose (1896) and Songs of Life and Hope (1905). Dario (Felix Ruben Garcia Sarmiento) was born in the town of Metapa of mixed native, African and European ancestry. For more information on Dario’s African heritage see Sex and Race (Vol. II) by J.A. Rogers (1942). Dario was not unlike millions of Afromestizos in Central America, who simply know they are of a “mixed race” background and often have little specific knowledge of their highly diverse “blood lines”.
Miskitos and Garifuna:
The settlement of the Afro-Amerindian Miskito population of Nicaragua parallels that which is found in neighboring Honduras. In fact the Mosquito Coast extends into Nicaragua from Honduras and the Miskitos living in Nicaragua are closely linked to those on the other side of the border. Located along the “Atlantic Coast” the Miskitos are concentrated in the northeastern part of Nicaragua, as well as along the entire coast. Their population is estimated to be about 75,000. The English, and briefly the Dutch, established settlements here and mixed their blood lines with the local Afro-Amerindian population creating a new “tribe” known as Miskito.
Garifuna women dancing in Nicaragua
During the late 17th and early 18th centuries escaped African slaves from the West Indies landed along the “Atlantic” (also known as the “Mosquito Coast”) of eastern Nicaragua. They mixed freely with the native peoples living here and just as in Honduras, an Afro-Amerindian population developed. The region was never colonized by Spain and between 1687 and 1860 the so called “Miskito Kingdom” became a British “protectorate” which included the Nicaraguan coast as well as parts of the Honduran. From 1783 until 1816 the British were forced to abandon their “protectorate” but with the crowning of Miskito King George Frederick II in 1816 the British re-established their “protectorate”. In 1860 a 7,000 sq. mi. “Miskito Reservation” was set up by the Nicaraguan government and the British relinquished all of their claims to the Coast.
Afro-Nicaraguan SCHARLLETTE ALLEN MOSES Age: 18. Height: 5'11"
was a Miss Nicaragua 2010 on February 27, 2010 at the Ruben Dario Theater in Managua, Nicaragua. Scharllette made history as the first ever black woman to ever win Miss Nicaragua.
The Mosquito Coast continued to maintain its autonomy from Nicaraguan authorities until 1894, when the Nicaraguan government finally took complete control over the region after one final British encroachment into its territory. American agricultural, logging and mining interests became strong in the region after the departure of the British, and from the 1890’s until the 1960’s North Americans played an important role in the economy the Coast. Not until the 1960s’ did a sizable Spanish speaking population start to settle in the area. The English language, as well as the Protestant faith, mark this region as a cultural extension of the Afro-Anglo Caribbean. However this is changing as more Spanish speaking mestizos come to live and work here as well as the younger generations of African descent who adopt the Spanish language as the majority of Afro-Antilleans have already done.
During the years of the British “protectorate” several towns along the Coast were established. Bluefields (pop. 35,000) was named for the Dutch pirate Abraham Blauwveld who founded the town in 1662. It is the largest town in the area. Other major settlements along the coast include Puerto Cabezas (Bragman’s Bluff) (pop. 30,000) which also has a sizable Miskito community. In 1987 the Nicaraguan government divided the Coast into two “autonomous regions”: Region Autonomista Atlantico Norte (RAAN) and Region Autonomista Altantico Sur (RAAS).
Many Miskitos live in the northern department, along the Coco (Wanghi) river. Their “capital” is located at Waspam. During the early 1980’s over 10,000 Miskitos living on the Nicaraguan side of the river were forced from their homes by Sandinista government troops. Fleeing across the river into neighboring Honduras, most did not return until after 1985. The Sandinistas feared the Miskitos might join the anti-Sandinista Contras in a war against them. As a “security measure” the Sandinistas evacuated the area of its Miskito population. This provoked a widespread armed revolt by the Miskitos and fighting continued off and on in the region until 1992. Other important areas of Miskito settlement include Bluefields, Prinzapolka and several villages in the Pearl Lagoon (Laguna de Perlas) area north of Bluefields.
The Garifuna community numbers around 1,500 native speakers, having migrated to Nicaragua during the 19th century from the North Coast of Honduras. They live in Bluefields as well as in Puerto Cabezas. The Garifuna village of Orinoco is located in the Pearl Lagoon area. Here a faith-healing festival called Gara-Wala is sometimes still held here.
The Afro-Antilleans of Nicaragua make up 23% of the population of the “Atlantic Coast”. They also live in the Las Minas region of northeastern Nicaragua as well as on the Corn Islands and the larger urban centers of the country. Representing 9% (379,000) of the population, the Afro-Antillean community has had a strong influence on the communities in which they have settled. Many Afro-Antilleans still refer to themselves as Creoles, having arrived with the British and Dutch as slaves during 17th century. They have played an important roll in establishing the coastal areas two largest communities Bluefields and Puerto Cabezas (Bragman’s Bluff).
Nicaragua - Creole farmers and Indians conduct business in boats on
the dock in the city of Bluefields.
Nicaraguan Creoles speak a variety of English called Western Caribbean Creole, a dialect closely related to Jamaican Creole. There were still 30,000 native speakers of this variety of Creole living along the Coast in 1986, up from 10,400 in 1950. Many thousands of Creoles or Costenos as they are sometimes called, speak only Spanish. The younger generations have adopted the Spanish language and much of the culture of the Hispanic mainstream. All three languages (Creole English, Spanish and Miskito) are spoken in the eastern coastal areas of Nicaragua.
Nicaragua - Two Afro-Nicaraguan school kids walk home from school in a Creole neighborhood of Bluefields.
Many of the Afro-Antilleans who arrived with the British during colonial times were from Jamaica. In 1740 several colonies of Afro-Jamaicans were settled by the British along the Coast around Bluefields. They provided labor for British owned plantations and lumber interests in the area, and helped to establish a stronger “British presence” in the region. Afro-Antilleans also settled in the inland region of Las Minas located in the northeastern part of Nicaragua. This was a gold mining area where there are still communities of Afro-Antilleans living in remote villages such as Bonanza, La Rosita and Siuna. Some have migrated in recent years to Puerto Cabezas.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries Afro-Antilleans from Belize, Honduras, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands arrived to work on American owned banana plantations and in the local lumber and mining industries. At the turn of the century United Fruit Company opened banana plantations inland from Puerto Cabezas and Jamaican labor was recruited and brought to the area. During the 1960’s United Fruit abandoned the region after an outbreak of “Panama disease” which devastated and killed off much of the banana crop. Exports of the fruit today are small in comparison with Honduras and Costa Rica.
Miss Nicaragua Scharllette Allen Moses poses in her national costume at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada August 16, 2010. The Miss Universe 2010 pageant will take place in Las Vegas on August 23. REUTERS/Patrick Prather/Miss Universe Organization LP, LLLP/Handout
The towns of Bluefields and Puerto Cabezas have the largest communities of Creoles. During the last week of May a week long festival called Mayo Ya! takes place in Bluefields. Elements of the English Maypole tradition can be seen, as well as lots of Raggae music and dancing. The Afro-Antilleans of the Coast are today among the best educated and most successful persons living in the region. Many hold white-collar positions and continue to maintain a distinct economic advantage over the indigenous and mestizo communities in the area. They see themselves as being at the “top” of the regions “ethnic hierarchy” and take great pride in their West Indian background.
Loria Raquel Dixon Brautigam (The first black person elected to the Nicaraguan National Assembly, Loria Raquel Dixon Brautigam was elected to represent the North Atlantic Autonomous Region of Nicaragua in 2006. Before entering politics, Brautigam worked as a nurse in Bilwiskana, Río Coco and served as director of the Unidad Policlínica de Puerto Cabeza y Enfermera from 1978 to 1990. In 1996, she received her bachelor's degree in business administration from Universidad Centroamericana in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. After receiving her degree, she assumed responsibility for the marketing division of her family's business, operating gas stations in an around Bluefields, Nicaragua.
Brautigam joined Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) in 1983. FSLN, whose members are known as Sandinistas, is a socialist political party formed in 1961. They became a guerrilla revolutionary organization in the late 1960s and succeeded in overthrowing the Nicaraguan government and assuming power in 1979. In 1984, the Sandinistas held national elections, and the leader of FSLN, Daniel Ortega, was elected president. In 1990, he lost the election, but was reelected in 2006.
Brautigam gained prominence within the party in 1987. By serving as part of the Sandinistas' departmental leadership team, she gained both political experience and national exposure. She was also a member of Mor de Mujeres in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region of Nicaragua. In 2006, Brautigam was elected to the National Assembly along with many other Sandinistas. Their election coincided with Daniel Ortega's return to power.
Besides holding an assembly seat, Brautigam currently serves in the Nicaraguan government as First Vice President for the Ethnic Affairs, Autonomy Regimes, and Indigenous Communities Commission and Second Vice President for the Health and Social Security Commission.)
Garifuna in Nicaragua
There are other Afro-Antillean communities up and down the Coast. In the Pearl Lagoon area there are Creole settlements. The coastal village of Greytown (San Juan del Norte) has its Creole community as well. Greytown, located on the Nicaraguan/Costa Rican border, was founded originally by the Spanish. Latter it was seized by the British (in 1848) and they named it Greytown. During the California gold rush of 1849 Greytown was used by American and European gold prospectors as a stop on their journey to the gold fields of California. Landing at Greytown, prospectors sailed up the San Juan River, crossed Lake Nicaragua and then took stagecoaches to the Pacific coast to sail on to California.
Another interesting area of Afro-Antillean settlement is on the Corn Islands (Islas del Maiz). These small islands are located about five hours east of Bluefields by boat. A community of Creole fishermen and artisans live here, and the islands continue to be a popular holiday spot for Nicaraguans.
A rising voice
A rising voice
Black populations in Latin America are undergoing a cultural and civil-rights awakening
PEARL LAGOON, Nicaragua -- In hidden fishing villages straddling the wide, muddy Kukra River along the Atlantic Coast, a quiet cultural and civil-rights movement flickers:
Almost six feet and dark-skinned, a 17-year-old whirls in her kitchen, enchanted by the intricate African beading on the gown she will wear in the village's first black beauty pageant.
A 47-year-old reggae artist who chronicles the pain and hope of his people in song makes history as the first black to win his country's highest cultural award.
A 30-year-old activist finally liberates her hair, lets it grow naturally, an act that screams race more than complexion ever could.
These stories are part of a slow but dramatic shift in consciousness among blacks here and throughout Latin America. In something akin to the civil-rights movement in the United States -- without the lynchings, bombings and mass arrests -- blacks are pushing for more rights and reclaiming their cultural identity.
"For years, it was just so much easier to not 'be' black, to call yourself something else," says Michael Campbell, who grew up 18 miles downriver in Bluefields. "But the key to our future is to strengthen our identity, to say we are black, and we are proud."
Latin American governments are listening and have finally begun to address racial inequities that have simmered since slavery.
Just four years ago, Brazil created a Cabinet-level position to deal with race. In Colombia, activists have won legislation legally recognizing blacks and their history. In Cuba, increasing numbers of non-political groups are forming to tackle race issues, including the Martin Luther King Movement for Civil Rights. And in the nearby Dominican Republic, some blacks are fighting state authorities for the right to be categorized as "black'' on their passports.
Statistics show that blacks in the region are more likely to be born into poverty, to die young, to read poorly and to live in substandard housing.
Authorities are only now starting to count the black population, but the World Bank estimates that it numbers anywhere from 80 million to 150 million, compared with 40.2 million in the United States.
The new push for change is fueled by support from African-American politicians and civil rights groups through globalization -- the technological ability to share common human experiences. Indeed, once isolated Latin American countries now have access to pop-cultural channels such as MTV and BET, which broadcast social messages worldwide.
Just last week, U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., led members of the Congressional Black Caucus in a nationally televised townhall discussion in Colombia with President Alvaro Uribe about the living conditions of Afro-Colombians.
"[Afro-descendants] can see what the outside world is doing. That's caused a consciousness where they say, ‘We can do it, too,' '' says Meeks, who is also working with blacks in Peru and Bolivia. "They can see what the civil-rights movement did in the United States and know that they have the ability to benefit also."
The movement challenges a widely held belief that Latin America comfortably witnessed the civil-rights movement in the United States from afar because the region was not racist, and blacks were already integrated.
"The black movements have been able to get people to question that notion, and to acknowledge that racial democracy is a great idea and kind of wonderful dream, but it really doesn't exist on the ground yet," says George Reid Andrews, author of Afro-Latin Americans and a professor of comparative race at the University of Pittsburgh. "That, I think, is a real achievement."
Nicaragua's black population is the largest in Central America, but there is only one black member in its National Assembly, Raquel Dixon Brautigam, who was elected last year.
Only about one in five residents in Nicaragua's predominantly black neighborhoods have access to clean water, versus the national average of three in five. Between 4 percent and 17 percent have electricity, compared with the national average of 49 percent.
Twenty years ago, the country recognized blacks and indigenous people through autonomy laws, making it possible for them to claim natural resources, demarcate communal lands, govern themselves and reclaim their ancestral identity.
For years, the struggle has been framed largely in regional terms -- the Atlantic Coast, led by towns such as Bluefields and Puerto Cabezas, versus the Pacific Coast -- English versus Spanish, Creole versus Spanish-indigenous mestizo. Creoles, descendents of English masters and their Caribbean slaves, often identify themselves as black.
"Race and region are inextricably linked," says Juliet Hooker, a native of Bluefields and assistant professor of government at the University of Texas. "We have never really been acknowledged in the national narrative about identity. Much of the discrimination has been through the lens of the coast we live on."
Now, for blacks -- about 477,000, or 9 percent of the 5.3 million Nicaraguans -- the movement is largely about visibility.
Black leaders and activists say they are collectively defining, and redefining, what it means to be black here. They are working on an ambitious agenda that includes redistricting for better political representation, bilingual education and a black-history curriculum for public schools. And in March, the National Assembly passed a reform measure to include race issues in the new penal code.
Before now, there were no anti-discrimination or affirmative-action laws. Still, a bill that would outlaw institutional racism has languished in the assembly for more than two years, with not enough backers to push it through.
This isn't the first time blacks have mobilized.
Afro-Nicaraguan Scharllette Allen Moses, Miss Nicaragua 2010
A black-power movement started along the coast as early as the 1920s through the nationalist message of Marcus Garvey.
In the 1960s, as the civil-rights movement was unfolding in the United States, blacks formed a coalition to negotiate better living conditions. That effort fell apart with the start of the Sandinista revolution in 1979. After the war, the Sandinistas promised to end racial discrimination and to promote regional cultures. At the same time, they were accused of precisely the opposite -- oppressing groups already disenfranchised.
It would be almost three decades before meaningful steps were taken under the Sandinista regimes. Now, there is cautious hope with the return of that government.
Although the Atlantic Coast has been settled since the 17th century, the first road connecting the coast to the rest of the country opened only 50 years ago. It is still impassable during the rainy season and still doesn't go all the way.
The last leg to Bluefields from Managua is by boat, along the Escondido River. Despite the remoteness, it has not been closed entirely to the outside world. Some residents talk on the telephone, listen to the radio, watch foreign programs on television and a few have access to the Internet. Much of the contemporary movement along the coast came from men who died long ago -- Martin Luther King Jr. and Bob Marley. King's unyielding message of equality and Marley's social lyrics were delivered here starting in the 1970s by kids who got jobs on cruise ships and brought back books and music.
Pearl Lagoon's unofficial leader, William Wesley, a warm guy with an easy smile, lives on the main road with a view of the village. Just inside his living room, a picture of King hangs near the phone.
"The kids came home, and they kept talking about these people," says Wesley, a retired teacher. "I knew a little bit already. But I wanted to know more. I found myself in the teachings of King and Malcolm X. I discovered my Afro heritage. We have to take what they said to help us create a direction that we can all follow."
In Bluefields, Carmen Joseph, more comfortably ‘‘Miss Carmen," a caterer who is said to make the best potato salad in town, quickly steps outside a neighbor's house. She sits on the front porch, this racial business too touchy for inside talk.
"Yes," she whispers, never making eye contact. "Some folks don't say they are what they are. You see, I am black, and I raised my family up knowing they were black."
With eight children, Joseph has spent a lifetime trudging up and down the hills of Bluefields, establishing her place as one of the town's matriarchs. "I am not ashamed. I never turned on my color, but some people do."
To appreciate the story of race here, is to understand the kaleidoscopic legacy of slavery, the historic demonization and denial of blackness and the practice of racial mixing.
This portrait is complicated by the lack of reliable census data because of traditional undercounting and because some blacks decline to identify themselves as such.
The dynamic along the coast is a layered quilt of Miskitos, mestizos and blacks. The ancestors of other Afro-Nicaraguans were free blacks who immigrated from Jamaica and other Caribbbean countries, lured by the good, steady jobs available for English speakers.
Stories abound about people who have hidden behind ambiguously brown complexions, "passing'' for Miskito Indians, or mestizo.
"It's hard to mobilize when you are still recouping the identity and just starting to openly use the term black," says Hooker, the University of Texas professor whose father was a regional councilman.
A year ago, Shirlene Green Newball, who grew up in Puerto Cabezas, allowed her perm to grow out. "I really wanted to show and know who I am," says Newball, who works for a women's organization.
Newball had thought for a while about what it meant to be black here. She considered all the terms morena, coolie, afro, chocolate, la negra. Then she decided that natural hair -- an enduring barometer of ethnicity was the purest expression of blackness.
"You are seeing an authentic black movement along the coast, but things are moving slowly," says Kwame Dixon, an assistant professor of African American Studies at Syracuse University.
SYMBOL OF CULTURE
In Pearl Lagoon, population 3,000, the dogs sleep on the dock, the main drag is more dusty path than street, the country-western music drifts from open windows and doors, and Koreth Reid McCoy rushes home from school.
She floats the whole way, more than a mile, to behold the lovely lavender gown with beads she is to wear at the beauty pageant. In the last decade, the coast has held annual black beauty pageants, but this is the first one -- along with an African cultural festival -- in Pearl Lagoon.
"I love the way it falls. I love the colors. I love the style," Koreth says, her voice falling into a lullaby. "It reminds me of Africa. I'm so proud of my heritage and my ancestry."
Leaving her house, Koreth steps into the road, and, carried by the giggles of barefoot little girls, makes her way toward the river and back, as poised and glamorous as she would be on anybody's runway. All of a sudden, and maybe not so suddenly, she is more than a pretty girl in a pretty dress. Koreth is a symbol of cultural possibilities.
"I want people to know where we are from."
MESSAGE IN MUSIC
For as long as he can remember, and certainly when times were bad, Philip Montalban Ellis -- beautiful dreadlocks to his waist and a guitar that rarely leaves his side -- has been singing about the black experience.
. . . We gotta fight or we will die. . . . Lord knows we need liberation, Lord knows it's the only solution. . . .
Today, Montalban sits on an old, rusted chair under a lime tree in his backyard, strumming away.
"I been trying to sing songs that say something and that uplift my people. We have struggled so long," he says. "I have been charged with carrying the message of my people."
Earlier this year, the Nicaraguan government recognized Montalban's art, awarding him its highest cultural honor. Before now, the idea of an unapologetically black man even being considered was unthinkable.
"I feel like I am accepting the award for a whole race of people," Montalban says. "I hope this means something."
Nicaragua - Marjorie Joseph Cash weighs some rice in the store attached to her house in Bluefields. The store helps her with her living expenses. The unemployment rate is very high in the area.
Miami Herald staff writer Pablo Bachelet and special correspondent Tim Rogers contributed to this report.
Click on this link:http://www.miamiherald.com/multimedia/news/afrolatin/multimedia/vid2.html to watch a video on Afro-Nicaraguans.
Afro-Nicaraguans welcomes Miss Moses at her hometown in Bluefields,Nicaragua.
Miss Nicaragua 2010, A garifuna from Bluefields.
Miss Nicaragua 2010
Afro-Nicaraguan woman cooking with firewood
Miss Nicaragua 2010,
Miss Nicaragua 2010