Miskito: A Forgotten Early Modern Kingdom January 30, 2013Posted by Beachcombing in : Modern , trackback
***Dedicated to Alan***
A very long trivia question. Where in the world would an early modern traveller have found an Episcopalian non-European kingdom with monarchs with English names, many of whom died by violence, whose tax base depended on raiding neighbouring territories and which survived the best part of three hundred years? No idea? Well, Beach would have been stumped too until a week ago he started reading about the Kingdom of Miskito. Miskito refers to the area known by many readers of this blog as the Mosquito Coast on the Atlantic side of Central America and from 1638-1894 a native dynasty propped up by British survived in these impenetrable lands: their entire geo-political purpose being to irritate the representatives of Spanish imperial government.
We say in the last paragraph ‘native’: perhaps non-European would have been more accurate? The Miskitos (Miskito predictably enough has nothing to do with mosquitoes) were a creole people. A native population had merged, off the stage of history, with escaped or liberated or ship-wrecked African slaves. Even non-European might be inaccurate as many pirate bases were set up here and later a large English community must have shaken up some fascinating DNA cocktails. The Mikitos were able to resist the Spanish: the jungled mountainous coasts were just too difficult to penetrate and had too few prizes to justify a proper full-on Hispanic invasion. (‘Your Majesty, we disembarked, the natives ran into the interior and then half of our men died of malaria’.) And the Spanish, in truth, had enough problems in the rest of troublesome Central America.
The British on the other hand could try soft love. They had no need to occupy these places, particularly once British Honduras was established, and there seems to have been something about the Miskitos that appealed to the English: an Anglo-Saxon-friendly version of the noble savage, intent on constantly kicking the Spanish in the googlies. The Miskitos reciprocated this affection and a gloss of Anglicization convinced them that they were the fairest Indios of them all. They certainly came to believe that they had a God given right to slave and raid their neighbours.
The kings of Miskito were tribal elders who were made into monarchs through their contact with the English. The early phase of this contact is extremely obscure and possibly legendary. It is unsure whether it was the English state or English pirates (perhaps working in sympathy with the English state) who made these kings in said early phase. And as to the kings themselves we do not even have a properly established list of names. The English did though play up the ceremonial: a lace hat was given by Charles II of England as a kind of Miskito crown. Miskito royalty was sent to England and Jamaica for their education and they were crowned in British territory, either Jamaica or, later, Belize. And the Miskitos employed English names for their kings including Edward, George and Robert Charles Frederic (who dressed in the uniform of an English admiral). One, George I, even sent a barrel of soil in tribute to London: wonder what Parliament made of that?
Any other forgotten kingdoms? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com