THE MISKITUS' CELEBRATION OF LIFE AND DEATH

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The Miskitu people’s ancestral territory in the North Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua is a site of magic and wisdom. Here, Avelino Cox, a native of the Wangky or Coco River, was born.

As a boy, he accompanied his grandparents all over the territory where he heard stories and learned about the life and traditions of his people. He lived his youth in the 80s in the midst of war, a time of great suffering for his people. Many  sought refuge in Bilwi. For him, migrating meant leaving ancestral customs, making him wonder: “What should I do to maintain the cultural practices of my people?” This tormented him because all he knew was to share what he learned from the elders and leaders of the communities.  

He vowed not to lose his culture. In the midst of conflict, he found a way to continue transmitting the ancestral Miskitu knowledge and wisdom to the future generation. "If children no longer grow up in communities near their grandparents, how will they learn? We, the knowledge bearers of the Miskitu history must share it."

When the Autonomous Regional Government of the North Caribbean Coast inaugurated the Integrated Cultural Center (Cultural House) in Bilwi, Avelino met with other knowledge holders and they joined him in sharing the culture with the children and youth, transmitting the Miskitu people’s ancestral knowledge and spirituality, and practicing the celebrations of life cycles.

Several institutions and the elders visited schools, neighborhoods and  communities to share stories, traditions and ancestral culture. Avelino said, "We can now share with the youth and children cultural values, good practices, dances, and songs. There’s still much to do  to revitalize our culture. Children in the communities still practice the culture, but those in the city who interact with people of other cultural identities are often absorbed culturally. They attend monolingual schools. It’s good that we started the Intercultural Bilingual Education program in schools. It is said that, indigenous peoples without a language, are indigenous peoples with half of their culture lost."

Leoncio Alfred from the Community of Tuapi shared the importance of the Miskitu People’s life cycles as the birth and death of human beings and have spiritual significance. “When a person dies, his soul is sent to the "Mother of All" or "Yapti Misri" to enjoy eternal happiness; it’s the celebration of the Sihkru, with songs, dances, and fermented beverages. Spiritually, it is  the unity of our people maintained "in the beyond." Today, the Sihkru is celebrated in schools and communities to teach children and youth to enjoy  communicating with their ancestors.

The communities celebrate the end of the old year and the coming of the New Year or "mani raya." The elders transmit the traditions to the youth and children through meals, dances and songs.  The most famous Urale is where everyone sings in one voice and dance the circle of life and this can last up to three days. Avelino says, "My greatest pleasure is seeing them reaffirming their identity, pride in singing in their language."   

The King Pulanka is the oral expression of the  communities’ traditional heritage, where different generations gather to demonstrate the Miskitu resilience and the rebirth of the Miskitu Nation after British colonial rule. It reproduces the history of the Miskitu monarchy, the military intervention of the Zelaya government, and the consequent annexation of Mosquitia to Nicaragua in February 1894.

Yahaira Rivera is a wihta (customary judge) who organized a group of children who learned to dance and sing in Miskitu. She saw this as an  appropriate strategy to strengthen the mother tongue.

Community leader Rufina Breakston  says that  strengthening  cultural identity through traditional games is effective. "We share experiences and  knowledge, because we take into account that each community has a different form of cultural expression, and their own celebrations. The knowledge bearers did not try to change our way of living or our customs, beliefs and spiritual practices. Our worldview is expressed through mutual coexistence, respect and traditional values." An enthusiastic youth, Marvin Taylor, expressed that "The best thing was that the elderly continue transmitting their knowledge, and it's up to us now to preserve our customs, culture and natural resources so that the generations after  us do not lose it. It’s our responsibility to teach children about the celebrations of the life cycles.”

Teodoro Felipe, Krukira community leader saw the importance of the participation of the whole community and this enriched him. “I learned about our ancestors' food and indigenous spirituality."

Alguina Bushi, an indigenous teacher of Krukira community, said, "Our participation in the celebrations and dialogues taught us the tasks that women and men do. In the Sihkru ceremony, the young and old women weave the thread which is the path the spirit of the deceased person follows on his journey to the afterlife, but it is the men who accompany him to the home of Misri Yapti, the Great Mother. Learning about these things allows us to exercise our rights as indigenous peoples, and strengthens the autonomy we enjoy in our region."

Genovevo Centeno, Wihta of El Cocal Community said the dialogues "have greatly contributed to the policies on the rights that indigenous peoples contained in the Constitution of Nicaragua, as well as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. These focus on the preservation and promotion of the rights, wealth, and cultural diversity of indigenous peoples, and the preservation of the language and its forms of free expression without discrimination to other peoples."

After the ceremonies, communities and schools gathered around the circle of Miskitu spirituality with the knowledge bearers and practitioners, and regional authorities. Avelino saw the value of promoting culture and  revitalizing the traditions of indigenous peoples as vital  to the strengthening of the multi-ethnic regional autonomy and for peaceful intercultural coexistence among peoples of different cultures.

 

The project "Cycles of Life of the Miskitu People" was implemented by  the House of Culture of Bilwi with the Autonomous Regional Government of the North Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua in 2016 with the support of Pawanka Fund.