Creoles of Nicaragua - History and Cultural Relations



Many of the Creoles' ancestors arrived on the Nicaraguan/Honduran Caribbean coast (the Mosquitia) from Africa as slaves in the period between the mid-seventeenth and the late eighteenth centuries. They were brought there by the British to labor in forestry, plantation agriculture, and the transisthmus trade with the Spanish colonies. Over time this African population transformed its cultural and physical traits by combining elements of its African culture with those of its European masters and those of local Amerindian peoples, to create a new culture; simultaneously, miscegenation among these three peoples was common.

In 1787 the British settlers were forced by treaty obligations to evacuate the Mosquito Coast. Many slaves who revolted against, ran away from, or were abandoned by their masters stayed on the Coast, where they created African American communities at Bluefields and at Pearl Lagoon. Subsequently, free Black merchants, turtle fishers, adventurers from Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, escaped slaves from throughout the western Caribbean, and, after Emancipation (1833), freed slaves from the Anglophone Caribbean augmented this population. In 1860 Great Britain signed the Treaty of Managua, under the terms of which Nicaragua recognized Britain's nominal sovereignty over Mosquitia. The treaty also designated a portion of the area as a self-governing "Mosquito Reserve." In the absence of direct colonial control during the first three-quarters of the nineteenth century, this African American community flourished. Their culture solidified and the community began to consolidate economic, political, and social control over the Mosquito Coast. They began referring to themselves as "Creoles," signifying the emergence of a specific racial/cultural group identity.

In the 1880s North American capitalist interests became active in lumber, mining, and bananas and transformed Nicaraguan Mosquitia into an enclave of the U.S. economy. This transformation initiated crucial changes in the Creole political economy. North Americans and other Whites now assumed the top positions in the Coast's socioeconomic hierarchy. A significant portion of the Creole population was transformed into an urban wage-labor force. Creoles went to work for the new companies as laborers, growers, contractors, and clerks.

The enclave's increasing labor requirements were also met by Blacks from other areas of the Caribbean. Although distinctions of color, religion, and class initially served to separate these immigrants from the Creoles, they eventually blended into the Creole group through a process of intermarriage and cultural assimilation. The Creole group was also augmented by the assimilation of Miskito and Garifuna populations with whom they were living in the small biethnic villages of the Pearl Lagoon area.

In 1894 the Nicaraguan national government militarily seized and "Reincorporated" the Mosquito Coast. Mestizos from the Pacific replaced Creoles in the top political positions in the region. Very bitter feelings emerged between Mosquitian Blacks and Nicaraguan mestizos. One response of the Black population to the mounting racial conflict was vigorous participation in the local branches of Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association. Important sectors of the Creole community also actively fomented regional separation from the Pacific portion of the nation.

North American capital began to withdraw from the Coast during the world depression of the 1930s. In search of better economic opportunities, many Blacks abandoned the hinterland for the Coast's urban areas, Managua, and the United States.

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During the second half of the twentieth century, the Coast was increasingly integrated, economically and socially, into the rest of Nicaragua. Commerce with western Nicaragua increased, especially after the completion of a road connecting the two halves of the country, and many Pacific-coast mestizos migrated to the Mosquito Coast. The Creole population became a minority in many of the areas in which it had previously been demographically dominant, and it experienced further erosion in its increasingly tenuous political and economic position. As a result, Creoles have been increasingly drawn into the Pacific mestizo social and cultural orbit. Most Creoles now speak Spanish as well as Creole and consider themselves to be Nicaraguan. Many have even intermarried with mestizos. Intermittently, however, they continue to protest their loss of political and economic power to mestizos.


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