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Imprints on Native Lands

The Miskito-Moravian Settlement Landscape in Honduras

Benjamin F. Tillman

Publication Year: 2011

More than one hundred fifty years ago, Moravian missionaries first landed along a so-called isolated stretch of Honduras’s Mosquito Coast bordering the western Caribbean Sea. The missionaries were sent, with the strong encouragement of German political leaders and in the context of German attempts at colonization, to “spread the word” of Protestantism in Central America. Upon their arrival, the missionar-ies employed a three-pronged approach consisting of proselytizing, medical treatment, and education to convert the majority of the indige-nous population.

Much like the Spanish and English attempts before them, German colonizing efforts in the region never complete-ly took hold. Still, as Benjamin Tillman shows, for the region’s indigenous inhabitants, the Miskito people, the arrival of the Moravian missionaries marked the beginning of an important cultural interface.

Imprints on Native Lands documents Moravian contributions to the Miskito settlement landscape in sixty-four villages of eastern Honduras through field observations of material culture, interviews with village residents, and research in primary sources in the Moravian Church archives. Tillman employs the resulting data to map a hierarchy of Moravian centers, illustrating spatially varying degrees of Moravian influence on the Miskito settlement landscape.

Tillman reinforces Miskito claims to ancestral lands by identifying and mapping their created ethnic landscape, as well as supporting earlier efforts at land-use mapping in the region. This book has broad implications, providing a methodology that will be of help to those with an interest in geography, anthropology, or Latin American studies, and to anyone interested in documenting and strengthening indigenous land claims.

Published by: University of Arizona Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi

I express my gratitude to all those who, in one way or another, aided in the publication of this book. I am especially indebted to the many Miskito who welcomed me into their homes, provided food and shelter, guided me on trips to their villages, and patiently answered my many questions. To them I say tengki pali. I also express appreciation to the...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-9

On March 14, 1849, a German couple sailed into the lagoon of Bluefields, Nicaragua. Unlike other Europeans of that era, they did not come to the Caribbean coast of Central America in search of riches. They were Moravian missionaries, the first in Central America, and their purpose was to “spread the word.” The Moravian missionary effort among the...

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2. The Setting: Mosquito Coast Geography and the Moravian Missionary Impetus

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pp. 10-35

The Miskito of Eastern Honduras occupy the northern portion of the Mosquito Coast known as La Mosquitia, an area roughly equivalent to the modern Honduran political unit of the Department of Gracias a Dios. Both the Miskito and the Hispanic population of the “interior” recognize La Mosquitia to be a region distinct from the rest of...

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3. Miskito Settlements: Change and Continuity

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pp. 36-64

Geographers study settlement patterns because they are a significant part of the cultural landscape and because they represent a fundamental type of human–environment interaction (Jordan 1966; Stouse 1970; Roberts 1996). Physical geography and culture combine to affect a settlement’s morphology (form). Though nature may draw the first line in...

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4. The Overt Moravian Landscape: Churches and Compounds

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pp. 65-85

The geography of religion encompasses a variety of cultural– geographic themes (Sopher 1967; Kong 1990). For example, geographers study religious regions and map the distribution and spatial diffusion of religious groups over time (Zelinsky 1961; Meinig 1965; Shortridge 1976; Stump 1984). Geographers also examine religion’s influence on the...

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5. From Top to Bottom: Moravian Modification of Miskito Housing

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pp. 86-103

Folk housing is perhaps the most distinguishing and important feature of the cultural landscape. Folk house builders construct their preferred house types and floor plans from mental images, not blueprints. Their dwellings reflect a society’s collective memory, values, and cultural history. The physical environment can influence dwelling types, but...

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6. Missionaries for Christ, or Early Prophets of Sustainability? Moravian Influence on Miskito Agriculture

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pp. 104-116

Moravian missionaries significantly influenced Miskito food production by introducing or otherwise promoting agricultural techniques and varieties of crops that they believed suitable for the Mosquito Coast environment. They also persuaded the Miskito to produce more food by encouraging them to increase the size of their dooryard gardens...

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7. Uncommon Ground: The Material Culture of Miskito Cemeteries

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pp. 117-144

Why study cemeteries? Cemeteries are important components of the religious landscape, and scholars classify them as sacred space (Tuan 1978). According to Fred Kniffen (1967), cemeteries preserve past traditions and folkways because they are space that is set apart and used very little by the living. They reflect traditional values and religious...

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pp. 145-149

The first Moravians to arrive on the Mosquito Coast could not have envisioned the profound changes that they and subsequent missionaries would have on the region. Moravians did much more than change Miskito religious beliefs. This book demonstrates that Moravians made significant alterations to the Miskito settlement landscape in eastern...

Appendix A: 2001 Census Population of Selected Settlements in the Department of Gracias a Dios, Honduras

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pp. 151-152

Appendix B: Scientific Names of Selected Vegetation

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pp. 153

Appendix C: Settlements with Catholic, Baptist, and Church of God Congregations

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pp. 155-157

Appendix D: Settlement Names

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pp. 159-163

Appendix E: Names of Selected Miskito House Parts and Construction Materials

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pp. 165-166


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pp. 167-168


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pp. 169-181


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pp. 183-186

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About the Author

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pp. 187

Benjamin F. Tillman is an associate professor of geography at Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas. He received his PhD in Geography from Louisiana State University in 1999. He is the author of La Influencia Morava en el Paisaje de la Mosquitia Hondureña (2004). His research interests are centered on the cultural and historical geograph...

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780816503339
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816524549

Publication Year: 2011