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The Awakening Coast

An Anthology of Moravian Writings from Mosquitia and Eastern Nicaragua, 1849-1899

Karl Offen

Publication Year: 2014

The indigenous and Creole inhabitants (Mosquitians of African descent) of the Mosquito Reserve in present-day Nicaragua underwent a key transformation when two Moravian missionaries arrived in 1849. Within a few short generations, the new faith became so firmly established there that eastern Nicaragua to this day remains one of world’s strongest Moravian enclaves.
The Awakening Coast offers the first comprehensive English-language selection of the writings of the multinational missionaries who established the Moravian faith among the indigenous and Afro-descendant populations through the turbulent years of the Great Awakening of 1881 to 1882, when converts flocked to the church and the mission’s membership more than doubled. The anthology tracks the intersection of religious, political, and economic forces that led to this dynamic religious shift and illustrates how the mission’s first fifty years turned a relatively obscure branch of Protestantism into the most important political and spiritual institution in the region by contextualizing the Great Awakening, Protestant evangelism, and indigenous identity during this time of dramatic social change.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page, Copyright

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This project would not have been possible without the professional assistance provided by Olaf Nippe at the Unitätsarchiv der Evangelischen Brüder- Unität in Herrnhut, Germany, and by Lanie Graf at the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. During an earlier trip to Bethlehem...

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Translator’s Note

Terry Rugeley

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Seventeen of the entries of this text are direct reproductions of English- language sources. The remaining fourteen entries, constituting approximately two- thirds of the total material, are drawn directly from the original nineteenth- century German. While the actual prose translates..

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Karl Offen

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pp. 1-40

In 1849 two Moravian missionaries disembarked at Bluefields, the capital of a British protectorate along the Mosquito Coast and today part of eastern Nicaragua, to establish a new mission among the sparsely settled black, Creole (Afro- descendant Mosquitians), and indigenous inhabitants...

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1. Extract of a Letter from H. G. Pfeiffer, 1849

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pp. 41-45

This short letter “comes from the first superintendent of the Moravian mission in Mosquitia, H. G. Pfeiffer. Born in 1798 in Magdeburg, Germany, Pfeiffer was trained as a cobbler and had been a missionary in Jamaica for twenty- two years before coming to Bluefields. Moravian...

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2. Extract from the Diary of Bluefields, 1854

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pp. 46-49

This short diary composite outlines the mundane nature of mission affairs in the year 1854. The mission site at southern Pearl Key Lagoon is being established, and the missionaries visit the Corn Islands for the first time. Overall, however, the diary presents a picture of a young...

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3. Establishing a Mission at Rama Key

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pp. 50-84

This seven- chapter memoir was written in German by the Dane Jean Paul Jürgensen and edited by Moravian historian and professional writer Hermann Schneider for publication in 1885. It was reprinted in 1891, and this is the version we have elected to translate into English...

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4. Report on a Journey North in 1859

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pp. 85-101

This report combines the narratives of Moravian carpenter Ernst Kandler and the black lay minister and schoolteacher Peter Blair, detailing their trip to the northern portion of Mosquitia and along the lower Wangki River. This was the second exploratory trip that laid the foundation for...

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5. The Hurricane of October 1865

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pp. 102-109

Fall hurricanes are a predictable and destructive reality in the northern Caribbean basin. As shallow seas heat up by the end of summer, upward drafts of warm air create convective cells that pull in cooler air from the east. If conditions are right, intense tropical weather systems...

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6. A Visit to the Tungla Indians of Walpasiksa River, 1869

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pp. 110-115

Friedrich Edward Grunewald was born in Germany in 1828 and came to Mosquitia in 1857 as a language specialist, another outcome of the visit by mission director Wullschlägel in 1855 (see no. 1). He was ordained in 1869 and remained in Mosquitia until 1876. He was best known for...

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7. Trade among the Miskito Indians, 1870s

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pp. 116-120

This paper was written by missionary Christian August Martin and originally published in the German- language geographic journal Globus. 1 It is not clear why Martin chose to publish this account, but it is probable that the Globus staff contacted him upon retirement to...

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8. Mythology of the Miskito Indians

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pp. 121-128

This paper was written by missionary Heinrich Ziock, a German born to missionary parents in St. Croix in 1846. He and his wife arrived in Mosquitia in 1876. Mrs. Ziock died around 1880 while the couple was at Wounta Haulover. Ziock remained in Mosquitia for more than twenty-five...

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9. Sorcery at Kukalaya, 1877

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pp. 129-131

The sukia, or traditional spiritual doctor, was the missionary’s strongest competitor for indigenous souls. When an epidemic struck the Tawira village of Kukalaya in 1877, people naturally sought relief with a sukia. This short piece is Wilhelm Siebörger’s effort to describe the practices...

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10. Trading with the Sumu Indians, 1878

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pp. 132-135

Ephrata was the center of the rubber trade from 1860 until the end of the nineteenth century. Like Brother Martin before him, Wilhelm Siebörger used his position as a trader and governmental representative to evangelize among the Sumu who came down the Bambana, Prinzapolka...

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11. Life in Tasbapauni (Bethany), 1870s

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pp. 136-143

Frederic Smith was a black man born in Westmoreland, Jamaica, in 1838. He came to Bluefields with his wife in 1870 to work as a teacher and took over the Bethany (Tasbapauni) station in early 1871. Smith uses the collective “we” to refer to himself and his wife throughout...

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12. An Early Awakening at Karata, 1879

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pp. 144-148

The founding of the mission at Karata by the Jamaican Frederic Smith and his wife in 1875 opened up what the missionaries called “a circuit” of Tawira Miskito communities on the savanna lands in the northern portion of the Mosquito Reserve. These villages included Kamla...

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13. Bluefields Coup and Kukalaya Awakening, 1881– 1882

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pp. 149-154

Heinrich Ziock penned this document five years after coming to Mosquitia and about a year after his wife died at Wounta Haulover. The letter provides unique historical details about an attempted coup d’état in the Mosquito Reserve. The plot, apparently, intended to overthrow...

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14. The Awakening at Karata, 1883

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pp. 155-159

By July 1883, Brother Smith and his Karata mission attended to a flock of 659. This is a sharp increase from the seventeen he worked with less than two years earlier (see no. 12).1 In describing the effects of the Great Awakening, Smith notes that people felt a power drawing them to the...

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15. Visit to Nicaraguan Territory, 1883

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pp. 160-171

I had long wished to see the villages that Brother Smith, working out of Karata, had assumed the duty of tending. And since I myself had baptized individuals from Dakura and Awastara, this wish stirred ever stronger in me and became for me a duty. I therefore rode out on May 15, accompanied...

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16. Kaisa! Travel to Nicaragua, 1886

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pp. 172-226

This seven- chapter pamphlet is among the most important large Moravian texts not previously available in English. As Hermann Schneider documents in his editorial introduction, the work is derived from the experiences of Wilhelm Siebörger during an evangelical trip to...

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17. Proposing Timber over Gold, 1889

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pp. 227-228

This short appeal by Br. Anton Arbeiter written from Ephrata on November 20, 1889, demonstrates the increasing awareness among younger, newly arrived missionaries that if they could address their flock’s economic needs, or at least reduce temptations brought about...

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18. Pictures Tell the Story, 1891

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pp. 229-232

After almost a decade stationed at Wounta Haulover, Mr. and Mrs. Siebörger traveled home to Germany. On their return to Mosquitia they passed through New York City in May 1890 and started a friendship with the Reverend W. H. Rice of the German Moravian Church...

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19. Christian Law, 1891

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pp. 233-238

This short report comes from missionary Heinrich Ziock, who had been newly stationed at Twappi. It highlights an important dimension of Miskito cultural and political life, the concept of la, a Miskito word borrowed from the English law. Historical records show that...

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20. Visions of the Prophet Wima, 1891

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pp. 239-247

In these two articles published two years apart, Ziock describes the prophetic visions and behavior of Wima, a Miskito sukia and spirit uplika (spirit person). We readers are fortunate that the two articles were published immediately after Ziock experienced the events described...

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21. The Sambo and Tawira Miskito, 1892

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pp. 248-256

This report, which makes use of testimony by more than one “trustworthy,” meaning Christian, Miskito is among the most ethnographically significant of all the Moravian texts included in this anthology. The story is recounted by missionary Heinrich Ziock, a German who was born...

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22. Political Disturbances at Sandy Bay, 1892

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pp. 257-262

The editor of Periodical Accounts reveals a great deal about the changing political economy of Mosquitia two years before Nicaragua’s annexation of the region. Rapid economic changes associated with expanding resource economies were affecting all Mosquitia peoples, but especially...

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23. The Indians of Dakura and the Wangki River, 1893– 1894

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pp. 263-277

This article relies on the writings of Ernst G. Gebhardt to tell the history of the Dakura mission, and on the journals of Frederic Smith to describe recent evangelical efforts along the Wangki River. Smith has been introduced in earlier documents, but missionary Gebhardt has not. Gebhardt...

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24. Nicaraguan Occupation of the Mosquito Reserve, 1894

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pp. 278-293

In February 1894, Nicaraguan troops landed at Bluefields with the intent of annexing the Mosquito Reserve. Tensions had been building for some time, and with the 1893 election of José Santos Zelaya to the office of president, such a move was all but inevitable. Many events happened...

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25. Commencing Work along the Wangki River, 1896

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pp. 294-297

Benjamin Garth was a native son of Pearl Lagoon. He was ordained in 1899, the first Creole and Nicaraguan to become a deacon in the Brethren’s Church. It is not clear when Garth became a missionary, but earlier he had been a rubber trader in Pearl Lagoon and, as a consequence...

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26. A New Mission at Sandy Bay, 1897

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pp. 298-302

The Periodical Accounts editor used multiple letters from missionary Ernst Paul Colditz to produce this article. Colditz was born in Germany in 1863 and trained as a cabinetmaker before coming to Mosquitia with his wife in 1889. The couple was at Wounta Haulover in the early...

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27. Sandy Bay and Wasla, 1898

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pp. 303-311

This letter updates the Sandy Bay activities described in no. 26. Colditz describes the love feast at the dedication of the new church. Attended by missionaries, their spouses, and their children from the surrounding stations, the love feast was a celebration, but it also served to consolidate...

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28. The Gospel in Miskito Territory, 1881– 1882

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pp. 312-321

It was in the year 1882 that a great throng of dark- skinned Christians assembled for Sunday preaching in the church at Bluefields, the principal town of the tiny Moskitoland of Middle America. The organ began to play, the hymnbooks were opened, the service began at once. At that moment...

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29. Changes in Dakura, 1890s

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pp. 322-333

Hermann Kluge states that the details of this story derive from the notes of missionary Ernst Gottlieb Gebhardt. Born in Germany in 1860, Gebhardt came to Mosquitia as a missionary in 1888. Along with the Jamaican schoolteacher John A. Fischer, Gebhardt co- founded...

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30. The Sumu Indians of Prinzapolka River, 1899

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pp. 334-345

Using the notes of missionary Gottfried D. Carlson, Moravian Church writer Hermann Kluge narrates the story of a trip to the Sumu, or Mayangna, Indians of the upper Prinzapolka River. Although Kluge spells the missionary’s name “Carleson” in the title of his tract, he uses...

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31. Quamwatla

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pp. 346-376

Moravian Church writer Hermann Schneider uses the missionary reports of Wilhelm Siebörger to describe the founding of the Quamwatla station. After serving twenty- five years in Mosquitia and almost a decade as mission superintendent, Siebörger retired in 1899, and Schneider...


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pp. 377-418

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 419-422


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pp. 423-430

E-ISBN-13: 9780803254497
E-ISBN-10: 0803254490
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803248960

Page Count: 456
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Moravian Church -- Missions -- Mosquitia (Nicaragua and Honduras) -- History -- 19th century.
  • Moravian Church -- Missions -- Nicaragua -- History -- 19th century.
  • Mosquitia (Nicaragua and Honduras) -- Church history -- 19th century.
  • Nicaragua -- Church history -- 19th century.
  • Moravians -- Mosquitia (Nicaragua and Honduras) -- Diaries.
  • Moravians -- Nicaragua -- Diaries.
  • Missionaries -- Mosquitia (Nicaragua and Honduras) -- Diaries.
  • Missionaries -- Nicaragua -- Diaries.
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