Nicaragua has had two “colonisation” processes —the Spanish and English— which forged the current socio-cultural and linguistic reality of t...

The Spanish and English Nicaragua

Nicaragua has had two “colonisation” processes —the Spanish and English— which forged the current socio-cultural and linguistic reality of the country, which is why, from the Caribbean to the Pacific Coast, the cosmovision, history, culture, customs, traditions, beliefs, and languages of the Indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples are different from one coast to another.

Spanish Nicaragua

With the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492, pre-colonial America changed drastically in such a way that it was the beginning of a racial fusion, cultural migration, Spanish ideologies and subjugation. The Portuguese, French, Dutch and British also played their part in the conquest of the native peoples, each differently.

On 12 September 1502, 10 years after Columbus arrived at the islands of Guanahan, today the Bahamas, the Italian navigator reached the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua, specifically Cabo Gracias a Dios, seeking refuge from a storm that caught him on high seas on his fourth and last voyage. This event led him to accidentally discover the existence of what is known today as Nicaragua.

He did not mention much in his writings about the places he spotted during his passage along the eastern coast of the country, in comparison to other lands he visited, but he did write down the names of several places that he renamed, for example, the current Escondido River he called Rio del Desastre or Disaster River, after losing one of his ships there and also two of his crew members who drowned. The islands of Great Corn Island and Little Corn Island were christened Islas Limonares by Columbus on 17 September 1492 after he observed numerous lemonade trees after sailing between both of them. The border between Honduras from Nicaragua in the Caribbean, called Cabo Gracias a Dios, was also named by Columbus since it was there where he took refuge from the hurricane that led him to Central America.

Gil González Dávila was the first explorer of the Spanish conquest to visit the Pacific Region of Nicaragua, this took place between 1522 and 1523. He had interaction with the Cacique or Chief Macuil Miquiztli, better known as Nicarao. According to historical records, González took the opportunity to baptise under the Catholic faith some 9,017 people belonging to the Nicarao tribe, and he also collected 18,506 pesos (coins) of gold under the name of Nicarao.

He moved on to other parts of the Nicaraguan region, where he also baptised other indigenous people and took the gold they had. There were several clashes with some tribes, which resulted in the death of hundreds of them and several of Gil González's men.

In 1524, Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, sent by the governor of Castilla de Oro, Pedro Arias Dávila, founded the first three cities in what is now Nicaragua; Granada, on the shores of Lake Cocibolca; Santiago de los Caballeros de León, on the shores of Lake Xolotlán; and Ciudad Antigua in Nueva Segovia Region. As a result, the Spanish Kingdom began the process of imposing and migrating its policies and form of government, customs, beliefs and traditions to these settlements.

From this moment on, the ideologies and beliefs of the native peoples were disrespected, and they were forced to adapt to the system imposed by the Spaniards. Many women were raped, many people were killed or enslaved and most were forced to reject their ancestral beliefs to appropriate the Christian faith through the Catholic Church. This is how the Pacific part of Nicaragua was conquered by the Spaniards, giving birth to Spanish Nicaragua.

English Nicaragua

The British began to unofficially occupy the Mosquitia, now the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua, as early as 1633, with linguistic and political repercussions for the indigenous and later brought African descendant groups living in the area.

English settlers arrived in Nicaragua and settled on Providence Island, now Colombian territory, which was formerly part of the Mosquitia, in 1633, on the Caribbean shores, and engaged in a kind of primitive trade, exchanging goods with the Miskito Indians and to a lesser extent, also with the Mayangna-Ulwa and Ramas. Before the first settlers, this region was already visited by English, Scottish, French and Dutch pirates like William Dampier and Reveneau de Lussan.

Settled specifically at Cabo Gracias a Dios and Bluefields, the English traded manufactured goods such as guns, machetes, beds, and mirrors, among others, to the native people in exchange for cocoa, animal skins, sarsaparilla, rubber, wood, and turtle shells.

The presence of the British in the region caused Spain to protest, but even so, England managed to unofficially create a colony on the Mosquitia Coast—now the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua.

With the arrival of the British, the monarchical system or self-government that the indigenous people had created long ago was strengthened, with the first king being the Miskito Indian known as Old Man, according to accounts. In this way, the Kingdom of the Mosquitia, which extended from the east of Cape Honduras southwards, along the entire Central American Caribbean Coast, to the San Juan River or Bocas del Toro in Panama, became a sort of hereditary indigenous kingdom and protectorate of the British Crown.

The British imported enslaved Africans, who were used to working the fields and doing chores in households. In August 1841, all slaves in the Mosquito Kingdom were freed by order of Queen Victoria I of England, and it was Colonel Alexander McDonald's, the English Superintendent in British Honduras, now Belize, who had the task of communicating this message to all slave owners. Pearl Lagoon and Bluefields were the first places in the Mosquitia was to be emancipated, while Corn Island was the last.

On March 14, 1849, the first missionaries of the Moravian Church, a Christian branch that originated in the Bohemia Region of today's Czech Republic, arrived in Bluefields, the capital of the Mosquitia. The missionaries included nurses, carpenters and teachers, who began to build schools, health centres and a hospital.

The Moravians took it upon themselves to educate and evangelise the residents of the Caribbean, and with the permission of the Miskito Crown and the approval of the British, they began evangelisation and formal education in what is now known as the Caribbean of Nicaragua.

The offspring of the king of the Mosquitia were sent to study in England, Jamaica or Belize, to later return and serve in the monarchy. Languages such as Miskito, Rama, Mayangna-Ulwa were preserved and respected, as were ancestral and spiritual traditions, which for a time were forbidden by the Moravians themselves.

The Mosquitia was incorporated into Nicaragua on 12 February 1894, after the militarisation of Bluefields by General Rigoberto Cabezas, who was ordered by the Liberal President José Santos Zelaya to return to Nicaragua the region which, according to the Zeledón-Wyke Treaty of 28 January 1860, was subject to Nicaraguan sovereignty.

Spanish conquest in Nicaragua was violent and sweeping, forcing the native people of the Pacific Region of today's Nicaragua to submit to their mandates and beliefs, while in the Caribbean, the English established trade relations and even offered protection, they did not bring their beliefs with them, nor did they force the people of the Caribbean of Nicaragua to obey them or believe in what they believed in, and if they did, it may have not been as violent as the Spaniards.

These are what provoked the cultural and linguistic differences we know today between the two areas of Nicaragua; in the Caribbean, English and Creole are widely spoken and most of the indigenous peoples still preserve their languages and customs, while in the Pacific, it is the opposite, especially with the language and ancestral rituals, as their ancestors were forced to adapt to the Spanish ones.

The important thing is not what happened, but what we are doing today for the well-being of our nation and to preserve our ancestral heritage.