Creoles of Nicaragua - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practitioners. Religion plays a central role in Creole social life and identity. Creoles are mostly Protestant, and the Creole church leaders are the leaders of the Creole community. The largest number of Creoles belong to the Moravian church, but others belong to Anglican, Baptist, Seventh Day Adventist, or "Tabernacle" (Pentecostal) churches. Still others are Catholics or members of the new evangelical sects that were established in the late 1980s. Most of these churches were founded by North American missionaries. As a result, for many years the principal religious practitioners were Anglo pastors. Since the mid-twentieth century, however, Creole men have gradually taken over most of these positions. The majority of these churches remain as they were introduced by the missionaries, with little or no syncretism.

Nonetheless, African features of Creole religious expression lie hidden just beneath the surface in the Creole community. In the 1980s the Creole churches that included in their worship such elements as spirit possession, call-and-response preaching, religious music featuring African rhythms, and clapping and dancing all grew in popularity. Other vestiges of what historical sources indicate was once a well-developed, African-based belief system are still evident in Creole culture. These vestiges include participation in secret semireligious societies and widespread belief in and practice of obeah and necromancy, as well as a number of beliefs and ceremonies surrounding death.

Ceremonies. The most important Creole religious ceremonies are those commemorating death, marriage, harvest, the end of slavery, the new year, and Christian holidays (Christmas, Easter).

Arts. Creoles dress in clothing styles that are inspired by North American Black fashion. Their cuisine is based on local and Afro-Caribbean elements such as coconut oil, eddo (taro root), and cassava (manioc) and on Anglo elements such as wheat flour and imported processed foods. Creoles have developed their own musical style, which is closely related to West Indian calypso, and a "May Pole" dance style that is associated with it. They also enjoy performing, listening, and dancing to Afro-Caribbean reggae, soca, and calypso and to Afro-American soul music. The U.S. form of country-and-western music is likewise popular. Afro-Caribbean oral traditions, such as stories about Anancy (the West African spider-trickster figure), remain extant, although they are diminishing in importance to the Creole community.

Medicine. Most Creoles believe in and utilize medical care based on Western science. Nevertheless, herbal medicine is widely practiced in the community, and there are a few herbal experts who are the respected repositories of traditional practices in this area.

Death and Afterlife. Many Creoles believe in spirits; malevolent spirits of the dead are known as duppys. African-influenced Creole ritual surrounding death features participation in wakes and nine-night observations, during which spirits are appeased, call-and-response singing is performed, and, occasionally, stories are told about Anancy. Nevertheless, the Christian belief in heaven and hell is central to Creole ideas about the afterlife.

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