Miskito - Orientation

Identification. The name "Miskito" is of foreign origin. It may be derived from various European spellings for "musket," because the population in question was originally distinguished from its neighbors as a literally musket-bearing group. "Miskitu" emerged as an ethnonym for the ethnic identity of the Miskito people following the Sandinista Revolution. The other terms are no longer commonly used but are found in historical literature by English, North American, and Spanish writers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Location. The Miskito inhabit the eastern regions of the Central American republics of Nicaragua and Honduras, a territory bordering the Caribbean coast and known historically as the Miskito (or Mosquito) Coast, La Mosquitia, or La Costa Atlántica. Much of this region is hot, low-lying savanna, crossed by numerous rivers and lined with gallery forests that extend from the interior mountains to the Caribbean. The heartland of the Miskito territory is the Río Coco or Wangks River, which today delineates the border between Nicaragua and Honduras.

Demography. The population has expanded more or less constantly over the last 300 years and numbered at least 75,000 as of 1985.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Miskito language is related to the Macro-Chibchan Language Family of northern South America. As a result of over three hundred years of continued European contact, many foreign words have been added, and significant grammatical changes have occurred. Historically, three major linguistic divisions have been recognized, all mutually intelligible but differing somewhat in vocabulary and pronunciation; one is characteristic of the Miskito living along the coast of eastern Nicaragua, another of the Miskito living along the Río Coco, the third of the Miskito of eastern Honduras.

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