People, Ethnic Groups
mestizos, Miskito, Garifuna, Creoles, dominant group
Nicaragua has a diverse ethnic mix. The majority, 69 percent, are mestizos; 17 percent are classified as white; 9 percent are of African descent; and 5 percent are Native American. The African and Native American populations are concentrated in the thinly settled eastern lowlands, where they are the dominant group.
The major Native American group is the Miskito. Concentrated in the northeast, they live on both sides of the border with Honduras. Although many Miskito have some African ancestry, they have preserved their language and much of their culture. Many Miskito speak English, because the area was under British influence from the late 17th until the late 19th century. Most are Protestants, in part due to the activity of Moravian Church missionaries. There are much smaller Native American groups of Sumo and Rama, and a very small group of mixed African-indigenous ancestry known as Garifuna.
Nicaraguans of African descent, known as Creoles, dominate the towns along the Caribbean coast. Coming from the British West Indies, notably Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, they speak English and are largely Protestants. Although relations between Creoles and Miskito have been strained, they share a common dislike of the mestizo population of western Nicaragua, a population that is predominantly Spanish-speaking and Roman Catholic. In response to rising discontent among ethnic groups, Nicaragua’s 1987 constitution established two autonomous zones on the east coast, giving greater powers and freedom to local governments. Reversing a history of exploitation and discrimination, Nicaragua’s governments have begun efforts to recognize and strengthen indigenous cultures.
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