History, Language & Culture Nicaragua
The oldest confirmed evidence of humans in Nicaragua dates back 8,000 years to a site close to Bluefields, on the Caribbean coast. By around 1,500 BC, the whole of what is now Nicaragua was settled. As the years went on, agriculture took over and the rise of mini-states become commonplace. Although Nicaragua was far south of the large Mayan and Aztec civilizations, they did not completely miss out on their influence. Aztec calendars and carvings of the Mayan god Quetzalcoatl have been discovered in Nicaragua. The Spanish also found tribes speaking dialects of the Mayan and Aztec languages.
The first European to set eyes on what is now Nicaragua was Christopher Columbus on his final voyage in 1502. Sailing south from Honduras, Columbus got stuck in the mouth of the Rio Coco that today borders Nicaragua and Honduras. Local indigenous led his fleet to safety in canoes. There is no evidence that Columbus and his crew never came ashore in Nicaragua. It was left to Gil Gonzalez Davila and his conquistadors traveling north from Panama in 1522 to actually set foot in Nicaragua and start conquering the country for the Spanish. Gonzalez Davila entered Nicaragua along the west coast, where the city of Rivas now stands. There he met a local cacique (chief) named Nicarao who welcomed Davila and his men with open arms. Davila repaid Nicarao’s hospitality by forcing the chief to convert to Christianity. The land known as Nicaragua was named after Nicarao, the word agua (water) tacked onto the end, in honor of the region’s many lakes and rivers.
Music and religious icons find their roots in Iberian culture and Amerindian sounds and flavors. The west of Nicaragua was colonized by Spain and has a similar culture to other Spanish-speaking American countries. The eastern half of the country, on the other hand, was once a British protectorate, and English is spoken domestically along with Spanish and indigenous languages. Its culture is similar to that of former and present British colonies in the Caribbean, such as Jamaica, Belize, the Cayman Islands, etc. Recent immigration by Spanish speakers has largely influenced younger generations, and an increasing number of people are either bilingual at home or speak Spanish only. There is a relatively large population of people of mixed African descent, as well as a smaller Garifuna population.
Due to the African influence in the East Coast, there exists a different kind of music. It is the popular dance music called 'Palo de Mayo', or Maypole, which is celebrated during the Maypole Festival, during the month of May. The music is sensual with intense rhythms. The celebration is derived from the British Maypole for May Day celebration, as adapted and transformed by the Afro-Nicaraguans on the Caribbean or Mosquito Coast.
Of the many cultures that were present before European colonization, the Nahuatl-speaking peoples who populated the west of the country have essentially been assimilated into the mainstream culture. In the east, however, several indigenous groups have maintained a distinct identity. The Miskito, Sumo, Garifuna, and Rama people still use their original languages, and also usually speak Spanish and English.