The Rama Indians of Nicaragua

Rama indians
The Offices of the Rama Creole territorial government

The remote Caribbean coast of Nicaragua is home to the Rama Indians. This is a small ethnic group that lives in a territory between the Bay of Bluefields and the San Juan River. There are only about 3500 ethnic Rama’s left. Most of them live on a small cay in the middle of the shallow bay of Bluefields. The Rama Indians of Nicaragua coexist with the Creole population in the same area. They both use English as their mother tongue.

Together they own and govern a large piece of land known as the Rama Creole Territory. The territory includes all the land from the southern half of the Bay of Bluefields to the San Juan River. When this territory was titled to the community, there was little interest in it. Yet, the proposed Nicaragua Inter Oceanic Canal has changed perspectives. Today, the land is very valuable, as the Canal will have to cut through this territory at some point.

The Rama Indian Communities

Although the largest community is in Rama Cay, there are other important communities. Most of them are on the Coast. Monkey Point and Ban Ku Kuk are two examples. Others are right on rivers. Such is the case of Tik Tik Kanu, Corn River, and Indian River. Together, these six communities are the core of the Rama Indians in Nicaragua.

The only way to get to The Rama Creole territory is by boat. It is and is thus  quite inaccessible. I had the opportunity to make a flash trip to the area, which I am happy to share! My starting point was Bluefields. There I met with the Rama Creol territorial government leaders. We planned our trip planned the day before. We agreed to meet at a dock at 6:00 a.m. for an early departure. When traveling in the ocean, the earlier you leave, the smoother your ride will be! We planned our trip to visit four rama communities: Ban Ku Kuk, Monkey Point, Tik Tik Kanu and Rama Cay.  After fueling our “panga” we were ready to go! We had a glorious day at sea, clear skies, smooth sea with virtually no swells.

The Rama Communities on the Caribbean Coast

Rama Indians
Kids at beach in Baan Ku Kuk Rama Indian Community

Our first stop, the community of Baan Ku Kuk, which translated means Eagle Wings. This is a small community right on the coast. A nice beach and a rolling hill where most of the homes are behind the beach. Although the beach is nice, there is nothing much to see. A nice set of cays is just off the coast. Roughly between this community and Monkey Point. These Cays offer great coral reefs to dive and snorkel. Unfortunately, there is nowhere to rent equipment here.  A playful group of kids that were enjoying the beach met us upon arrival. One of them was using an old ice cooler top as a surf board! Amazing how poor kids in the middle of nowhere always find something to turn into a toy![themify_hr color=”light-gray” width=”1px”]

Rama Indians
A view of the Caribbean

Next on our trip was Monkey Point. Despite much talk about a port facility here, the village is small. Development is almost null. A small fishing facility to refrigerate their fishing catch before they take it to the markets in Bluefields is the only modern facility here! A century ago there was an attempt to build a railroad and port here. Some old railroad wheels are all that is left of this effort. The rest of the steel was scrapped and used to build whatever they could.  Monkey Point offers beautiful beaches, close access to reefs and outstanding views from high bluffs overlooking the Caribbean. But total lack of infrastructure is the main deterrent for development.[themify_hr color=”light-gray” width=”1px”]

Rama Cay, the largest Rama Indian Community in the World

Rama Indians
Panga arriving at Rama Cay loaded with goods from the mainland.

Back in Bluefields Bay, the most interesting site was Rama Cay. This community was originally established in two small cays that were near to each other. Over the years, the space between the two cays was filled in and is now used as a soccer or baseball field. Today there is only one bigger cay. The Rama Indians are Christian. They were evangelized many years ago by the Moravian Church. Thus, the only religious temple on Rama Cay is the Moravian Church.

There are schools and facilities here. However, most of the agriculture and cattle raising take place back on the mainland. There are communal plots in land around the bay. There is not much do to or see in Rama Cay. Despite this, I wholeheartedly encourage a trip to the small island during your time in Bluefields. Don’t expect to spend more than two or three hours here.  The pastor at the church is a good source of information. If need be, accommodations can be arranged at the communal center. Take care of your goods and documents though! There are members of the community that have a habit to get into other persons things. Keep your cash and jewelry with you at all times!

Concerns About Long Term Subsistence of the Rama Indians of Nicaragua

The Rama people are friendly. There is concern about their long term subsistence as an ethnic group. Their reduced size, and the encroachment into their territory are a big threat. The biggest threat, is without doubt, the construction of the Nicaragua Canal through their land.