Miskito - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The indigenous tribes combined cultivation of manioc and other root crops, plantains, and maize with hunting and fishing. Pigs, cattle, horses, chickens, and various agricultural foods, especially rice, beans, and bananas, were introduced after European contact. The Miskito also worked for Europeans for barter or wages. The coastal economy in general has been characterized by boom-and-bust cycles; foreign entrepreneurs have periodically invested in rubber, timber, gold, or bananas. When foreign companies were hiring, the Miskito sought labor opportunities; when depressions struck, the Miskito relied on their continuing subsistence agriculture and fishing for support.

Industrial Arts. Aboriginal pottery is no longer produced, but many other traditional household utensils and furniture are still woven of strips of tree fibers or carved of wood. Traditional dugout canoes are still made, as is bark cloth, formerly used for clothing but now used as bed covering. European-style clothing has been worn since contact.

Trade. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Miskito flourished as middlemen between interior Sumu and English traders. The Miskito also became feared slave raiders throughout much of eastern and interior Central America during the period when Indian slaves were bought by English plantation owners in Jamaica. The Miskito have always eagerly participated in trade with Europeans, exchanging coastal raw materials for manufactured goods. They have readily adopted English styles of clothing, home furnishings, foods, tools, and weapons.

Division of Labor. Miskito women have always tended agricultural plots, though men clear plots and help with planting and harvesting seed crops (rice, beans). Men have traditionally fished and hunted and taken jobs with Europeans. Within the family, women and men share childrearing responsibilites, although most of the day-to-day domestic work falls to women. When men are away performing wage-labor, perhaps for several months, women ably conduct all necessary household, agricultural, and fishing activities.

Land Tenure. The Miskito have never had a concept of landownership, but they do recognize family use of agricultural plots. During the latter half of the twentieth century, the intrusion from the west of Hispanic frontier farmers has begun to threaten the availability of land to Miskito in some areas. Miskito claims to territory as an essential future resource have become a critical issue in relations between the Miskito and the Nicaraguan government.

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