Mosquito Coast

views updated Jun 08 2018

Mosquito Coast

Historically, the Mosquito Coast (or Mosquito Shore) was an ill-defined, isolated strip of the Caribbean coast of Central America that occasionally became a focus of international confrontation. Centering on Cape Gracias a Dios, where the Coco River bisects the hump of the Central American isthmus, the Mosquito Coast stretched in endless monotony west to Black River in Honduras and south to Bluefields Lagoon in Nicaragua. The partly alluvial and partly coralline, low shoreline was fringed with coconut palms and mangrove trees, dotted with many small islands and reefs, and protected by treacherous shoals and sandbars. Hot and humid, the desolate region was infested with black sand flies, drenched with heavy rains, interrupted by swamps, heavily overgrown, and rife with yellow fever and malaria, to which Europeans proved highly susceptible. Behind the coastal barrier the land rose slightly and opened into a series of broad savannas and heavily wooded pine barrens that were eventually swallowed up by mountains.

The Mosquito Coast was inhabited by a number of Sumu peoples of obscure origins who were basically hunters. The men pursued game, fished the rivers and coastal waters, and harpooned turtles from dugout canoes. The women gathered wild fruits and coconuts and tended rudimentary garden plots of cassava and plantains. Polygynous, basically egalitarian, and lacking formal government, the Sumu peoples lived in scattered clusters.

The Mosquito people were one of the smaller but more aggressive communities living at Cape Gracias a Dios. Some of them absorbed the African survivors of a slave ship wrecked off the coast. These Sambo-Mosquitos emerged as the dominant element on the shore and responded positively to European interlopers in the seventeenth century.

The Spanish did not establish themselves on the Mosquito Coast. Settled on the Pacific side of the isthmus, separated from the Caribbean coast by rugged terrain and hostile indigenous peoples, they lacked any incentive to penetrate the isolated region. During the heyday of buccaneering, European freebooters coasting the region were seen by the Mosquitos as allies against the Spanish. Eventually a few Englishmen settled at Black River on the Honduran coast and provided a refuge for British trespassers in neighboring Belize whenever they were forced by the Spanish to suspend their illegal woodcutting activities. The security of the Black River settlement relied on the Sambo-Mosquitos, who had expanded into that area from Cape Gracias a Dios. Wars with Spain prompted the British to strengthen their position in the Bay of Honduras by forging an interdependent commercial, military, and political triangle linking Jamaica, Belize, and the Mosquito Coast.

From 1749 to 1786 the governors of Jamaica maintained a formal protectorate over the Mosquito Coast to better defend the Belize dye-wood and mahogany cutters from Spanish attack. British superintendents befriended the Sumus and Mosquitos and encouraged their resistance to Spanish incursions. Attempting to systematize relations with the various headmen competing for British favor, the superintendents designated one of the numerous chiefs as "king of Mosquitia" and the others as "admirals, governors, and generals." But the nature of the Indian society made this hierarchical organization artificial and ineffective. After a long struggle, the Spanish and British signed the Convention of London on 14 July 1786, whereby the British evacuated the Mosquito Coast in return for permission to cut wood in Belize. Spanish attempts to occupy the region failed because of poor planning, ignorance, and resistance by the local inhabitants.

For the next fifty years, the British government was indifferent to the Mosquito Coast. Some Belize residents, however, continued to maintain ties with the Sumus or Mosquitos, and in 1816 they arranged for the crowning in Belize of Jamaica-educated George Frederick as the "king" of the Mosquito Nation. But the new "nation" continued to complain of British neglect. The Mosquito Coast was unaffected by Central American independence in 1823. Although the new republic presumed sovereignty over the region, it made no attempt to exercise it despite a brief flurry of canal talk. For the next twenty-five years British interest in the Mosquito Coast was limited to various private schemes, beginning with Gregor McGregor's futile attempt to establish a tropical Eden at Black River.

As the mahogany trade became more competitive following a series of reforms in England that challenged the restrictive policies of mercantilism, enterprising Belize cutters in 1836 resurrected the position of Mosquito "king" in order to receive from him permission to cut wood on the Honduran coast. This maneuver raised questions in international circles regarding the nature and extent of the so-called Mosquito Kingdom. Persuaded by local interests of historic British ties with the region, the British government upheld Mosquito sovereignty, thereby encouraging an assortment of mahogany cutters, marginal traders, land speculators, and naive colonizers to secure concessions from the king, Robert Charles Frederick. The anarchy that followed his death in 1842 prompted the British government to appoint an agent, Patrick Walker, to administer the region behind the facade of an underage Mosquito king.

The Mosquito Coast was a mere geographic convenience serving private British interests. Actually, there were two Mosquito Coasts that overlapped at Cape Gracias a Dios. The north coast, oriented toward Belize, was dominated by Sambo-Mosquitos and served the interests of mahogany cutters and land speculators. The eastern coast, oriented toward Jamaica, was inhabited by pure Mosquitos and black Creoles settled around Bluefields, and served the interests of itinerant traders and canal promoters. British attention focused on the western extremity beyond Black River and the southern extremity below Bluefields, two areas that were never an integral part of the Mosquito Coast either historically or culturally.

War between the United States and Mexico had repercussions for the Mosquito Coast. The California gold rush of 1849 flooded Nicaragua with transients en route to California and revived interest in an oceanic canal. The United States rejected Mosquito claims to the San Juan River outlet as a British ploy to control the Caribbean terminus. The United States and England clashed over the nature and extent of the Mosquito nation, the former denying and the latter reaffirming its existence. Finally persuaded that neither was seeking to monopolize the canal project, the two nations signed the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty in 1850, agreeing that neither party would build, operate, or fortify a canal on its own or for its own purposes. Over the next decade England gradually disengaged from the Mosquito Coast and terminated its protectorate. Treaties were signed with Nicaragua and Honduras recognizing their sovereignty over the Coast. Nicaragua accepted responsibility for the welfare of the region's people and recognized the Mosquito king as a tribal chief over an autonomous reservation.

For the next thirty years the Mosquitos remained isolated and ignored by everyone. Local government was monopolized by the Anglicized blacks at Bluefields. Incoming Americans generated a brief boom with the banana industry in the 1880s, but it was confined to the Bluefields area and bypassed native peoples. Britain accepted the Americanization of its former protectorate and the incorporation of the Mosquito reservation into Nicaragua by President José Zelaya in 1894. After 200 years the Mosquito Coast ceased to exist as a separate political entity. In the twentieth century the Mosquitos remained outside the mainstream and were still resisting assimilation in the 1980s, when they were involuntarily drawn into the Contra/Sandinista war. In that war the English-speaking Mosquitos were aligned with the Contras, or were perceived to be aligned with the Contras. This perception led the Sandinista government to respond with a relocation campaign that was devastating to the Mosquito people. The Sandinistas later apologized for their error.

See alsoClayton-Bulwer Treaty (1850) .


Charles N. Bell, "Remarks on the Mosquito Territory, Its Climate, People, Productions etc., with a Map," in Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 32 (1862): 242-268.

Eduard Conzemius, Ethnographical Survey of the Miskito and Sumu Indians of Honduras and Nicaragua (1932).

José Dolores Gámez, Historia de la costa de Mosquitos (hasta 1894). (1939).

V. Wolfgang Von Hagen, "The Mosquito Coast of Honduras and Its Inhabitants," in Geographical Review 30 (1940): 238-259.

Troy Floyd, The Anglo-Spanish Struggle for Mosquitia (1967).

William S. Sorsby, "Spanish Colonization of the Mosquito Coast, 1787–1800," in Revista de historia de América no. 73-74 (1972): 145-153.

Bernard Nietschmann, Between Land and Water: The Subsistence Ecology of the Miskito Indians, Eastern Nicaragua (1973).

Mary W. Helms, "Negro or Indian?: The Changing Identity of a Frontier Population," in Old Roots in New Lands, edited by Ann M. Pescatello (1977), 157-172.

Philip Dennis, "The Costeños and the Revolution in Nicaragua," in Journal of Inter-American Studies and World Affairs 23, no. 3 (1981): 271-296.

Craig Dozier, Nicaragua's Mosquito Shore: The Years of British and American Presence (1985).

Robert A. Naylor, Penny Ante Imperialism: The Mosquito Shore and the Bay of Honduras, 1600–1914 (1989).

Carlos Maria Vilas, State, Class, and Ethnicity in Nicaragua: Capitalist Modernization and Revolutionary Change on the Atlantic Coast, translated by Susan Norwood (1989).

Additional Bibliography

Frazier, Samuel Vincent. Commerce, Contraband, and Control: Illicit Trade on Nicaragua's Mosquito Coast, 1860–1910. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005.

Pineda, Baron L. The "Port People" of Bilwi: Ideologies of Race, Lexicons of Identity, and the Politics of Peoplehood in the Mosquito Coast. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Pineda, Baron L. Shipwrecked Identities: Navigating Race on Nicaragua's Mosquito Coast. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2006.

Waterfield, Robin, and Paul Theroux. The Mosquito Coast. Harlow, U.K.: Pearson Education, 1999.

                                     Robert A. Naylor


views updated May 21 2018


Order: Diptera (2 winged insects)

Life Cycle: complete

Four Stage Metamorphosis: egg, larva, pupa, and adult

Mosquitoes sit with their hind legs in the air. (Midges sit with their forelegs raised up in the air.)


Body Description

Larva is similar to the midge larva except they have 10 segments instead of 9.


Body Description

Mosquito pupa is similar to the midge except they have a respiratory tube and have a 2-3 day life span at the surface film.


Body Description

Adult mosquitoes are like the midge except the female has a needle to bite. Their body colors are: black white, and tan white.



views updated May 23 2018

mos·qui·to / məˈskētō/ • n. (pl. -toes or -tos) a slender long-legged fly with aquatic larvae. The bite of the bloodsucking female can transmit a number of serious diseases including malaria and encephalitis. • Culex, Anopheles, and other genera, family Culicidae.DERIVATIVES: mos·qui·to·ey / məˈskētəwē/ adj.


views updated May 23 2018

mosquito Long-legged, slender-winged insect found throughout the world. The female sucks blood from warm-blooded animals. Some species carry the parasites of diseases, including malaria, yellow fever, dengue, viral encephalitis, and filariasis. The larvae are aquatic. Adult length: 3–9mm (0.12–0.36in) Family Culicidae.

Mosquito Coast

views updated May 23 2018

Mosquito Coast (Mosquitia) Coastal region bordering on the Caribbean Sea, c.65km (40mi) wide, now divided between Nicaragua and Honduras. A British protectorate from 1740, it returned to its original inhabitants (the Miskito) in 1860. In 1894, it became part of Nicaragua. International arbitration awarded the n part to Honduras in 1960. The region, which consists mainly of tropical forest, swamp and lagoons, is only thinly populated.


views updated Jun 11 2018

Mosquito ★ 1995 (R)

Alien forces transform the annoying insects into monstrous mutants. Schlocky special effects are good for laughs. 92m/C VHS, DVD . Gunnar Hansen, Ron Asheton, Steve Dixon, Rachel Loiselle, Tim Loveface; D: Gary Jones; W: Gary Jones, Steve Hodge, Tom Chaney; C: Tom Chaney; M: Allen Lynch, Randall Lynch.


views updated May 23 2018

mosquito (mos-kee-toh) n. a small winged bloodsucking insect belonging to a large group – the Diptera. Female mosquitoes transmit the parasites responsible for several major infectious diseases, such as malaria. See Anopheles, Aëdes.


views updated May 29 2018

Mos·qui·to • n. (pl. -tos) & adj. variant spelling of Miskito.


views updated May 23 2018

mosquito XVI. — Sp., Pg. mosquito, dim. of mosca :- L. musca fly (see MIDGE).


views updated May 14 2018

mosquito See CULICIDAE.

About this article


All Sources -
Updated Aug 13 2018 About content Print Topic