Thursday, August 26, 2010

Animals of Nicaragua

As we have been preparing mentally, emotionally, and spiritually for the Lord to use us in Nicaragua, we have been learning as much as possible for what to expect. One of the questions that has come up, is "What type of wildlife are we going to see there?" Are there going to be snakes, monkeys, jaguars or what? So, today's topic is on the "Animals of Nicaragua," which gives us an excuse to do a little research on the topic.
Iguanas- From what I gather, green iguanas are quite common (not the little ones in pet shops). An average adult green iguana is about 6.5 feet long and can weigh up to 20 lbs! In various places, there are "iguana crossing" signs, because the iguanas will lay on the warm road at the end of the day. People say they can be aggressive if you approach them on foot. On our honeymoon, I found some big ones in the Bahamas, and I've actually fed one a hot dog! The Nicaraguans hunt them, eat them, and sell them. They are popular to eat during the Nicaraguan "Holy Week," which is a week long festival of Nicaragua.
Illustration: Green iguana compared with adult man
Jaguars, Cougars, Jaguarondis, Margays, and Ocelots- The largest cat found in Nicaragua is the Jaguar, which is the largest, most powerful feline in the western hemisphere (3rd in the world behind tiger and lion). They are supposed to be extinct on the pacific side, and mostly found in the protected rainforests. Then there are cougars, which I'm a little less concerned about. The jaguarondis are even smaller, followed by Margays (which look fairly cute), and the Ocelots, which have even been kept as pets! Maybe it would keep the rodents away?

Monkeys! Nicaragua is home to at least a few different kinds of monkeys. The type I have found the most information on is the mantled howler monkey, referred to by some as the "loud-mouths of Nicaragua". These are found throughout Nicaragua. Monkeys are considered the loudest animals on earth, only behind the blue whale. These monkeys live in families of up to 50 and howl, grunt, and bark like you wouldn't believe. I've also read that the indigenous Indians weren't interested in keeping them as pets because of their noise level and melancholy attitude after being captured. Then there are also white-faced Capuchin monkeys and black-handed spider monkeys. I doubt I would run into any of them.

Birds- Nicaragua has some really cool birds. There are many types of eagles, owls, parrots, toucans... the list goes on and on. I would like to come across some of these...

Other animals- there are way too many to count, but what I am gathering is that there is a whole lot of things we're not used to, such as tarantulas, three-toed sloths, anteaters, strange frogs, and boa constrictor snakes! That being said, a machete will be one of the first things I buy when we get there! Realistically, I probably won't come across most of this stuff, but doing this post has helped me realize what can be found in Nicaragua!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The "other" side of Nicaragua

While we were in Nicaragua, we stayed in 2 very different parts of the country. First, we stayed in the capital city of Managua. Managua is relatively developed. While Managua is still a very poor area by American standards, it has many modern conveniences. For example, there are at least a few different McDonalds throughout the city (which is how Americans measure how similar a place is), other fast food restaurants, La Union (which is a modern grocery store), and Michelle even pointed out that they had a Payless shoe store (which she made me visit). The second place we stayed in was Puerto Cabezas (Caribbean Coast) . Puerto Cabezas was much less developed. The people here seemed much poorer. I don't believe there were any McDonalds or fast food restaurants. There was a relatively modern grocery store (similar to an old, dim lighted Dollar General store). Most houses probably didn't have running water, and the houses were built on poles to keep them off the ground. These 2 sides of Nicaragua were very different.

When we returned to Managua from Puerto Cabezas, a guard in the hotel began to ask Michelle questions, such as "Why were you in Puerto Cabezas?" and "What were you doing there?". I think brother Dayton cleared everything up. Later, we discovered that these two sides of the country are politically separate. In the map below, there are two large pink regions: North Atlantic Autonomous Region (R.A.A.N) and South Atlantic Autonomous Region (R.A.A.S). Both of these regions have their own autonomous government with governors and regional councils. Defense is the responsibility of the Central Government of Managua.

Much of the R.A.A.N is called the Mosquito (or Miskito) coast, named after the Miskito Indians that reside here. You can see this area highlighted in red in the map above. The R.A.A.N. has never fully been incorporated into the nation of Nicaragua. It is isolated from Western Nicaragua by rugged mountains and dense tropical rain forest. There are no paved roads from coast to coast. The Miskito Indians are a different people from the Mestizos of the West, whom they call "the Spanish." The primary language is Miskito, and many speak Spanish as a secondary language. Traditionally, the natives do not regard themselves as Nicaraguans, and some see Nicaraguan rule as a foreign imposition.

The five major cities of R.A.A.N. are Puerto Cabezas (capital), Waspam (by Honduran border), and the "mining triangle towns" of Bonanza, Rosita, and Suina. There are also many towns and villages along the rivers. As we learn more about the geography and people of Nicaragua, we can gain a better understanding of which of these areas do and do not have a gospel witness. The picture below is one such town called Layasiksa, which in 2004, was described as having no running water, electricity, or phones and having 136 families. It is easy to get so caught up in our own world, and forget that there are those who still have not yet heard the name of Christ. They do not know that there is a mediator between God and man who has shed their blood for their sins. "How then shall they call on Him whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe on Him whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?"
Entering Layasiksa

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Miskito Role of Shamans

Throughout my research, I haven't found too many good sources on the religion of the Miskito Indians. Many sources seem quick to categorize them as evangelized. From what I have gathered, this is not exactly the case. While there was a Moravian missionary movement in the 1800's that "reached" a good potion of Miskitos, they now acknowledge both the Christian God and parts of their indigenous religion as well. I know that shamans are an important part of their society, and I have always wondered how this ties together. I came across an excellent article explaining this, and I will try to summarize the issue.

First, as I said, the Miskito people recognize the Christian God. In their language, He is called "Daiwan" or "Dawan," which means "owner" or "master" in an unlimited sense, as in "Owner or God of everything." This is the God of the Bible. However,they believe that between man and God/"Dawan" are mythical beings called "Dawanka." Dawanka are masters/owners of something specific such as fish, game, cotton, etc. For example, Duwindu is master of game animals and Merry Maid (Liwa Mairin) is master of animals of river and sea. In fact, I've read that Miskito children often wear amulets to protect them from mermaids/liwa who might drag them into the sea. Anyways, these Dawanka (who you could think of as spirits) are believed control the things of nature. Interestingly, Dawan/God blesses the good/upright and gives misfortune to the bad/sinful. Dawanka/Spirits, however, give out their blessings much more randomly.

Apparently, humans have little or no influence over the dawanka/spirits, therefore needing a mediator to ensure they receive the blessings from the dawanka. This is where shamans come in. Shamans act as intermediates between the people and the dawanka/spirits. If somebody wants to be blessed with game, fish, or fortune with the opposite sex, they may consult a shaman, who will then entreat the dawanka/spirit. In this process, there is an understanding similar to a contract, that there is a price for this blessing. Sometimes this may be in the form of the dawanka's claiming of the persons next child, whom the person may care little about. This end of the bargain inevetably comes into play as the person is unable to keep their end of the bargain. If the person does not hold up their end of the deal, the dawanka can then come harm or kill a person. So essentially, the dawanka are viewed as having two natures- one of blessing which is necessary, and the other of opportunities for the greedy and unwise. They are viewed as dangerous- so dangerous that only the shamans can entreat them without being ensnared. Because of this, the dawanka/spirits are sometimes called "Setan nani" or "satans." The Dar, which is a vine or sometimes a bird, found in the legend of the invisible hunters (also posted on the discussion board), is also considered a dawanka. The dawanka/spirits are also believed to be able to take human form. Sometimes if a wealthy person has a sudden death, people will believe they have been dealing with dawankas/spirits.

As you can tell, this is very interesting and will present a challenge for reaching the Miskito people. The people acknowledge the God of the Bible, yet they still consult with shamans, who make deals with the dawanka, who are essentially called devils. This also reveals how important it is to reach them with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am sure I will learn much more about all of this in the future.

If you want to read the article, I have attached a link below: