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Indigenous perspectives and resource management contexts: the case of northeastern Nicaragua Caddy, Emma 1998

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Indigenous Perspectives and Resource Management Contexts: The Case of Northeastern Nicaragua By Emma Caddy B.A., University of Oxford, 1994 A Thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfilment of The Requirements for The Degree Of Master of Arts in The Faculty of Graduate Studies Department of Resource Management and Environmental Studies We accept this thesis as conforming to the required standards The University of British Columbia September 1998 © Emma Caddy, 1998 In presenting this thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an advanced degree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make it freely available for reference and study. 1 further agree that permission for extensive copying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of my department or by his or her representatives. It is understood that copying or publication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my written permission. Department of / l~£S^) O P~C (§~ M f t \ M 6 F . M € r \ J T A l s l & , The University of British Columbia Vancouver, Canada Date yy^- O C A vw, DE-6 (2/88) Abstract As natural resources become scarcer, stakeholder competition over them has grown both more frequent and intense. Resource conflicts between indigenous peoples and nation-states can prove particularly problematic, since these stakeholders often perceive their respective management interests as being mutually incompatible. However, since inter-stakeholder competition invariably fosters destructive and short-termist patterns of environmental use, resource conflicts have to be addressed and resolved. The potential of co-management arrangements - whereby competing stakeholders become partners in the development and implementation of management policies - to resolve conflicts between nation-states and indigenous peoples, is currently enjoying increasing cross-disciplinary support. Joint stewardship arrangements are not, however, always easily established. Incorporating the perspectives of those indigenous peoples who have historically been marginalised from management processes, and who must now be integrated within them, represents an essential precondition of co-management success. This thesis analyses indigenous environmental perspectives in northeastern Nicaragua - with particular reference to the Miskitu Indians and forestry resources - to determine the types of cultural and context-specific considerations which genuine and sustainable co-management arrangements in this particular region would need to accommodate. Four principal spheres of indigenous experience, which inform Miskitu environmental perspectives, shapes the analytical framework: indigenous communities; institutions; global economies; political negotiation and leadership. By employing a multi-level, interdisciplinary and dialectic analysis, the thesis presents an alternative theoretical approach to resource managers attempting to understand and resolve comparative instances of inter-stakeholder conflict. It also strongly urges managers to appreciate the complexity and uniqueness of respective indigenous perspectives and management contexts, and the need to reject stereotypical representations of indigenous peoples, communities and institutions, when attempting to develop co-management agreements. Whilst joint stewardship remains an important goal for resolving resource-conflicts between indigenous peoples and nation-states, it might not prove immediately viable in every management context. Locally-specific obstacles can indeed thwart the development of sustainable co-management regimes. In the particular case of northeastern Nicaragua, governance systems wi l l need to be strengthened, inter-stakeholder trust fostered, and communities closely facilitated, before regional co-management initiatives can become effective. i i Table of Contents Abstract. H List of Figures and Table iv Introductory Maps v ; viii Acknowledgements vi Chapter 1 Thesis Objectives, Analytical Framework, Case Study and Research Methodology 1 Chapter 2 Policy Reform, Institutional Uncertainty and Community Alienation in the R A A N 33 Chapter 3 Indigenous Community Perspectives Through History: Livelihoods, Values and Organisation 52 Chapter 4 Indigenous Cosmology, Religious Conversion and Miskitu Christian Lifestyles 80 Chapter 5 Contemporary Community Perspectives: The Case of Asang 108 Chapter 6 The Regional Forestry Industry 1880s-1960s: Historical Foundations of Resource Mismangement 133 Chapter 7 Indigenous Identities, Leadership and Political Agendas 154 Chapter 8 State Institutions, Commercial Forestry and Indigenous Perspectives Today 192 Chapter 9 Summary, Implications and Recommendations 228 Bibliography 249 Appendix 1. Acronyms 268 Appendix 2. Glossary 271 Appendix 3. Typology of Informants 273 Table of Contents Abstract » List of Figures and Table iv Introductory Maps v; vm Acknowledgements vi Chapter 1 Thesis Objectives, Analytical Framework, Case Study and Research Methodology 1 Chapter 2 Policy Reform, Institutional Uncertainty and Community Alienation in the R A A N 33 Chapter 3 Indigenous Community Perspectives Through History: Livelihoods, Values and Organisation 52 Chapter 4 Indigenous Cosmology, Religious Conversion and Miskitu Christian Lifestyles 80 Chapter 5 Contemporary Community Perspectives: The Case of Asang 108 Chapter 6 The Regional Forestry Industry 1880s-1960s: Historical Foundations of Resource Mismangement 133 Chapter 7 Indigenous Identities, Leadership and Political Agendas 154 Chapter 8 State Institutions, Commercial Forestry and Indigenous Perspectives Today 192 Chapter 9 Summary, Implications and Recommendations 228 Bibliography 249 Appendix 1. Acronyms 268 Appendix 2. Glossary 271 Appendix 3. Typology of Informants 273 List of Figures and Table Figure 1 Map of North and Central America v Figure 2 Map of Central America viii Figure 3 Map of Nicaragua 14 Figure 4 Map of the R A A N 16 Figure 5 Map of Various Settlements & Indigenous Communities in the R A A N 18 Figure 6 Institutions and Principal Stakeholders 32 Figure 7 Schematic Diagram of upper River Wangki region 107 Figure 8 Map by Awas Tingni, showing location of community, neighbouring Miskitu villages & SOLCARSA concession 211 Table 1 Historical Chronology of Major Political Events 1600s-1998 153 iv Fig.l Map of North and Central America ASIA g S e a P A C I r : c OCEAN BERMUDA :UNIT£D ^INGOOI-'J ""1 B A H A M A S . . . ^ ^ a s s i u PUERTO R» ~> ~ DOMINICAN f •> REPUBLIC : C U 6 A HAITI « • S » M O bomngs J A M A I C A ^ a * ^ ^ C A ft < fl 3 IF A .V S E A G U A T E M A L A — - A J H Gu«Uims la ^ M L g S a n S a t v a d o ^ ^ „ „ E L S A L V A D O R "1 C O S T A R I C A — S 5n«i J o a o ^HONDURAS NICARAGUA i r i lNIDAC TOE SOUTH AMEL Source: National Geographic Picture Atlas of Our World, 1993 V Acknowledgments This thesis would never have been possible without the help of so many generous people that I am unfortunately unable to recognise them all by name here. However, I would like acknowledge the contribution of those individuals and organisations who most directly made this research possible. I am particularly indebted to my supervisor, Tony Dorcey, and my first reader, Blanca Muratorio. Both have given me invaluable advice, support and encouragement throughout the various stages of this research. Whenever I strayed off track, they always got me back to my central thesis concerns and objectives; i f it weren't for them, I'd probably be currently wrestling with the thirty-fifth draft of my thesis proposal.... Thanks also to Les Lavkulich for having faith in me and encouraging me to go my own way; and to Nancy Dick, for helping me out in so many different ways over the past few years. I would also like to recognise the support given me by all my fellow RMES students, especially Gary Kofinas, for the vital technical, moral and theoretical services provided, and Angela Crampton, for sharing my frustrations, and for encouraging me through example to get the thesis done! Particular thanks and recognition are due to Karl Offen, "my last resort", for being such an invaluable and ready source of information and resources on the Atlantic Coast over the last couple of years. I would also like to acknowledge the crucial contribution made by Luis Silva, not only for first getting me interested in the Miskitus and northeastern Nicaragua, but also for giving me the contacts I needed with which to launch my fieldwork. I also very much appreciate the financial support and independence given me by the U B C Graduate Fellowship and Centre for Human Settlements, without which my fieldwork and therefore thesis, would never have been possible. In Nicaragua itself, I am greatly indebted to the Cunninghams, particularly Miss Judith Kain Cunningham, her daughter Mirna and granddaughter Judith: for giving me a home, for making my research possible, and for sharing it all with me. I would also like to thank CIDCA for so generously providing me with full access to their bibliographical resources, and to the faculty and students of U R A C C A N , for all their moral and logistical support. Special thanks is definitely owed to the members, supporters and advisors of the Elders' Council - the Consejo de Ancianos or Almuk nani - for welcoming me among them, and for helping and supporting my research in so many different ways. I would also like to thank all those people in the Regional Council, Regional Government, M A R E N A , M A D E N S A and S O L C A R S A who gave me their time, and helped me appreciate the complexities of this region. I would especially like to recognise the great assistance given me by Maria Luisa Acosta, who not only facilitated my research in Awas Tingni, but also provided me with insights and information on many related regional issues. Thanks also to Avelino Cox, for hoarding so much knowledge on Miskitu culture, and for being willing to share it with me. To Rev. Santos Cleiban, for his insights on Asang and the Moravian Church, I am also extremely grateful. Many thanks also to Georgina v i Muller and Artilio Thomas, for being my friends and interpreters during community research, and to Jerry Lopez, for getting me started with Miskitu. Thanks also to Dave, my much abused, self-appointed personal organiser, and to Wayne, for his company and support. Special thanks are due to Seamus, who has borne more grumpy and depressive thesis-induced behaviour than anyone should reasonably take, but has nevertheless stuck around to the bitter end; this thesis would never have been possible without you. Many thanks also to my family for their much appreciated (if long-distance!) support. To the communities of Awas Tingni and Asang, and indeed to all the people I interviewed in the communities, I extend the deepest and sincerest gratitude. Tingki pali to all. vii Fig 2. Map of Central America and Nicaragua p E r e « » T , f c" m nelle islands LakoPoteo Itza t= BELIZE CARIBBEAN SEA Pi.cirr: !J=':III: . GUATEMALA u*o Rio M3, Sr0 Cuban " P 8 * •:• PEST- * ,;i .-'tins • Quolz«|ltenango Zacapa* uailo Curies , . .«Jela S a n Pedro-f f i i fa /li • B Prixjreso oS1 La Coioa AS' Capon - j f Irfa^atonango^ -•(Escuinlla Swa.ewsLt,* HONDURAS SO 8 ' ft* M S ji.licaec.i , Santa A n . ^ ^ ? ^ " " _ ^Tegucigalpa 5o.nsftF t^t.( r-Jueva'-San Saivactor • EL S ALVA DOR commaoua a 1rv.„< PACIFIC OCEAN ,»'Sftn S a i v o d o f • UMwrMr.: , San.Min.uei Ctioluioca {j ) • S 5 , 0 " V O China!ic:c:ga>.:o Leon;* f NICARAGUA 5 i.lmotoga . . ' ' -Matagalpa V ^ J I M I I I J ^ Managua M a n a g u a ^ • I****. ^ irriaijaral Hivas'V, CAFtiBSEMi i S e v e n s m a l l n a i i o n s c r o w d o n t o i h e t a p e r i n g i s t h m u s that l i n k s M e x i c o to S o u l h A m e r i c a . T o -g e t h e r t h e y a r e k n o w n C e n t r a l A m e r i c a . S i x o i : . t e m s h a r e a S p a n i s h c o l o n i a l a n d I n d i a n h e r i -t a g e . B e l i z e , a f o r m e r B r i t i s h c o l o n y , h a s g r c a l e r c u l t u r a l t i e s l o t h e c n g l i s h - s p e a k i n g C a r i b b e a n i s l a n d s . San Carlos r f t?£t t r L i h c n a Aietiat- 1" C O S T A R I C A Ai,'i|UOlP. (hVftSsin Jose Canago _ Mount Clmum .J ' j .'.'c.'er-fS Osa P-etmnsa ... 3j I •• 0 Source: National Geographic Picture Atlas of Our World, 1993 Chapter 1 Thesis Objectives, Analytical Framework, Case Study and Research Methodology Thesis Objectives and Theoretical Concerns Conflicts over natural resources have been an historical feature of human societies. However, in the present day, the combination of finite natural resources and multiple, competing interests over them has made resource management conflicts arguably both more frequent and intense. Since inter-stakeholder competition tends to make the already weighty task of sustainable environmental management all the more complex, by promoting short-termist, sectoral and self-interested patterns of resource use, resource conflicts inevitably have to be addressed and resolved. Among the various types of conflicts currently being witnessed by the global community are those which develop when indigenous peoples, residing within the boundaries of nation-states, are affected by and implicated in, the management of natural resources. In order to resolve inter-stakeholder conflicts involving indigenous peoples and nation-states, and to promote collective management in their place, the environmental perspectives of the particular indigenous peoples involved, and the specific management contexts from which conflicts have arisen, must both be taken into account. The primary objective of this thesis is therefore to analyse the environmental perspectives of the indigenous peoples of northeastern Nicaragua, with particular reference to the Miskitu Indians and forestry resources, to determine the types of cultural and context-specific considerations which genuine and sustainable co-management arrangements in this particular region would need to accommodate. Although the focus is predominantly upon the Miskitu aboriginal peoples, the Mayangna Indians of this region will also feature in this inquiry. The management context of northeastern Nicaragua is marked by profound conflict between indigenous communities, regional authorities and the nation-state. To properly appreciate the nature of resource conflict in this particular management context, the analysis of indigenous environment perspectives in northeastern Nicaragua* will consider how indigenous relationships with the regional, national, and international economic and political systems in which they are situated, have over time, shaped contemporary inter-stakeholder dynamics and indigenous attitudes in this region. By employing a multi-level, interdisciplinary and dialectic approach, this thesis provides an important theoretical alternative for resource managers attempting to understand and resolve comparative instances of inter-stakeholder conflict. It also strongly urges managers to appreciate 1 An alternate term for northeastern Nicaragua which will be used in this thesis is the 'RAAN' or the North Atlantic Autonomous Region. The southeastern Atlantic region is known as the RAAS. The term "Atlantic Coast" refers to any part of the RAAN or RAAS. I. the complexity and uniqueness of respective indigenous perspectives and management contexts, and the need to reject stereotypical representations of indigenous peoples, communities and institutions, when attempting to develop collaborative management arrangements. By focusing upon the environmental perspectives held by a particular set of stakeholders from this region, the indigenous communities, this study moreover hopes to make a practical contribution towards improving regional stakeholder understanding. Lack of inter-stakeholder trust and communication arguably represents one of the greatest obstacles impeding the development of sustainable co-management approaches to resource use in the R A A N at present. The emphasis of this investigation is therefore upon indigenous peoples as environmental decision makers, looking at how their particular outlooks and circumstances condition their resource management strategies and agendas. To borrow from Nietschmann, a prominent authority on the Miskitus: "...we are considering the Miskito as a population within an ecosystem whose major adaptations are expressed through culturally guided behaviour" (Nietschmann, 1973: 9). Indigenous Perspectives and Management Contexts through History Indigenous cultures cannot be understood separately from the historical experiences from which they have emerged (Fenelon, 1997:1). Indigenous perspectives, as with all human societies, develop through experience and over time, in response to a number of factors, both local and external. This thesis therefore relies heavily on historical material to provide context and depth to the analysis of contemporary indigenous environmental perspectives in northeastern Nicaragua. This approach is supported by Novacek, who described indigenous ethnicity in this region as: "an historically constituted entity - one that does not exist separately from the social conditions in which it was formed, and continues to exist" (Novacek, 1988: 18). Contemporary Miskitu perspectives have indeed developed from a dense network of interwoven experiences, which are constantly being reexamined and renewed over time. Their collective historical experiences in turn provide, renew and maintain common cultural identities and shared management perspectives: "... when a particular society has had repeated experiences of successful collective actions and experiences in the past, positive attitudes towards co-operation tend to be conveyed to its members through myths, customs, sayings, and norms, which are all elements of their specific cultural endowment" (Baland and Platteau, 1996: 324) A dialectic analysis of indigenous environmental perspectives and management contexts in northeastern Nicaragua is therefore essential to this thesis. As Nietschmann argues: 2 "... a better understanding of the Miskito's present-day relationship with their environment and the nature of their subsistence system can be gained by looking at the historical and cultural antecedents." (Nietschmann, 1973: 73). Reconceptualising environmental problems and resource management research Although history, context and culture are integral to both the environmental perspectives and resource use practices pursued by human societies, the discipline of resource management^ has nevertheless traditionally neglected such concerns. Resource managers' reliance upon scientific, technical, and top-down approaches with which to analyse and resolve environmental problems, has moreover facilitated the exclusion of local peoples from management processes. The exclusion of cultural concerns and local participation has however become increasingly hard to justify, since Western science and states alike have quite an abysmal record of "sustainable"3 resource management. Whilst the ability of Western scientists to "manage" the natural environment has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, scientific approaches are moreover themselves being either modified or simply ignored by politicians, who ultimately determine state environmental policies. There is therefore a clear need for resource management processes and policies to be unconditionally recognised as human constructions, rather than impartial, absolute "scientific" truths (Howitt, 1996). As Usher pointed out almost fifteen years ago: "Management is a prerogative that flows from the system of property. Every system of resource management is based on certain assumptions, frequently unstated, those of social organisation, political authority and property rights, all of which are closely interrelated. As no two societies or cultures are identical in these respects, there can be no such thing as a scientifically or technically neutral management regime, that is equally applicable and acceptable to both. Consequently, where two social systems share an interest in the same resource, there must be some accommodation in the sphere of property, as of management, unless one is to obliterate the other" (Usher, 1984) The greatest contemporary challenge to resource managers, and arguably the area where their efforts are most likely to yield positive and predictable progress, is how to manage the people who use and compete over resources, rather than the environment itself. Since environmental degradation is primarily caused by human societies themselves; given that stakeholder use the phrase "resource management" reluctantly, since whether human beings can actually "manage" the environment or not remains a debatable issue. There is clearly a need for a new term which does not convey such a strong - and misplaced - sense of control over the environment as does "resource management." Perhaps resource stewardship could represent a useful alternative. In the absence of satisfactory and recognised alternatives, I will use "resource management" in this thesis, though with my stated reservations. 3 "Sustainability" is another extremely controversial concept, without a satisfactory definition. However, though I employ this term somewhat hesitantly, I remain sympathetic to the original meaning and intentions with which this concept was developed. My understanding of sustainable environmental use is best represented by the holistic, not strictly biophysical interpretation presented in the 1987 Brundtland report; extractive practices " ...that meet the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (WCED, 1987:43). 3 competition over natural resources moreover serves to exacerbate the rate and scale of ecological destruction; and in recognition of the inability of political and scientific approaches to resolve the contemporary ecological crisis; the wisdom of acknowledging and incorporating local environmental perspectives, and developing more horizontal and collaborative approaches from which to formulate and implement environmental policies, is compelling. Building inter-stakeholder consensus: the basis for sustainable management Making room in the policy process for local people whose material and cultural survival depends most closely upon the environment, and who have the longest and most intimate association with it, therefore makes both moral and practical sense. Sustainable resource management is, or should be, as much to do with the sustainability of resource-using groups as the ecosystem itself (Butz 1996). If we accept that environmental sustainability depends upon consensual human participation, the importance of incorporating local concerns into resource management plans and policies becomes apparent. When local communities are excluded from management processes, and when the complexities of management contexts and inter-stakeholder relations are ignored, the chances of management initiatives failing are simply much greater - irrespective of how scientifically coherent and ecologically sensitive they were designed to be: "..lack of attention to the relevant units of social organisation and their internal dynamics explains not only management failures and resource use inefficiencies but also increasing inequalities and socio-economic differentiation" (Baland and Platteau, 1996: 261) However, though management processes which exclude local participation and realities are inherently unstable, nation-states are nevertheless often reluctant to modify traditional top-down policy approaches to management. This is particularly true when the local people involved are indigenous, and have strong claims to own and use the same land and resources designated by state government for national development purposes. As Feit concluded from his research into the negotiations between the Cree and Quebec government over the proposed James Bay Hydroelectric project: "... negotiations over James Bay appear to confirm the common assertion that the most fundamental conflicts between indigenous people and liberal-democratic states with a capitalist economy centre around the use of land and resources, especially for development purposes, and around assertions of state sovereignty" (Feit, 1989) Historical experience of state oppression, and resistance to their rights and interests, means that many indigenous groups also come to perceive national interests as being fundamentally opposed to their own. The mirror conviction of mutual incompatibility therefore locks indigenous peoples and nation-states in a damaging war or attrition. 4 The many global instances of conflict between indigenous peoples and nation states have led some observers to assume that the cultures and concerns of these particular stakeholders are in fact polar opposites; contradictory frameworks of analysis and perspectives which could never be reconciled (Fernandes, 1993: 3). This misplaced, defeatist attitude means that concerted attempts to develop common approaches to shared problems are sometimes not even attempted. However, indigenous peoples rarely have all the requisite resources and experience required to develop and maintain management initiatives, in a modern context, on their own. They usually wil l require at least a minimum degree of support from regional and national institutions. Meanwhile, states cannot expect management regimes which ignore local interests to be successfully upheld at the localities - particularly i f state institutions are weak, and unable to maintain a permanent presence in outlying areas. Ultimately, neither the state nor indigenous communities can sustain a management approach without the other: feasible and sustainable management systems require some degree of inter-stakeholder collaboration. Particularly in settings with complex jurisdictions and multiple ethnicities, cross-system and cross-cultural accommodation are essential prerequisites of effective management systems. Co-management The potential of co-management arrangements to resolve conflicts over resources between indigenous peoples and nation-states has garnered increasing cross-disciplinary support in recent years. As Campbell has observed "...the principles of co-management as nonconfrontational, inclusionary, and consensus-based have been hailed by the academic community, industry leaders, government representatives, and First Nations alike as a viable means by which resource conflicts on aboriginal territory may be resolved." (Campbell, 1996: 3) Co-management agreements require nation-states and indigenous peoples to become partners, rather than competitors, in the development and implementation of resource managment policies. Since co-management systems theoretically involve the sharing of management responsibilities between stakeholders, they therefore actively encourage the devolution of responsibility to local communities. By increasing communication and co-operation between the parties involved, co-management initiatives moreover attempt to prevent resource conflicts from reemerging (Campbell. 1996: 2). According to Evelyn Pinkerton, co-management: "..involves genuine power sharing between community-based managers and government agencies, so that each can check the potential excesses of the other" (Pinkerton, 1993: 37) Accepting opposing stakeholders as legitimate parties in a collaborative approach to resolve management problems cannot in itself resolve the problem of environmental degradation or indigenous marginalisation. Nevertheless, the willingness to pursue management objectives collectively does represent an essential starting point from which progress towards sustainable -5 rather than fractured - management regimes can develop (Howitt, 1996; 21). However, despite the marked enthusiasm which surrounds the co-management concept in management circles at present, genuine and sustainable joint stewardship arrangements are not necessarily easily established. Each management context is likely to reveal specific dynamics and impediments which can potentially thwart the development of local co-management initiatives. Collaborative approaches to management have to be attempted, but we must also recognise that inter-stakeholder cooperation is not always readily achieved. The final objective of this thesis is therefore to assess the prospects for co-management in the R A A N , in light of the indigenous environmental perspectives analyzed, and the management context described. From this analysis, it wi l l be possible to identify major factors which might currently be inhibiting successful co-management initiatives from emerging in this region. This section has presented the major objectives and research concerns which have motivated this thesis. I would now like to move on to discuss the analytical and theoretical frameworks which have informed and structured it. Since this is a multi-level, interdisciplinary and dialectic study, an analytical framework able to address and reveal the complexity of indigenous perspectives, and by extension, local management contexts, was necessary. This framework will be reviewed in the ensuing section. Analytical and theoretical framework Four principal themes or categories of experience which have over time, influenced the development of indigenous environmental perspectives in northeastern Nicaragua were selected for my analytical framework Indigenous communities' relationship with the regional and national political systems within which they reside, whose institutional cultures impact and shape local experiences and perspectives, is a persistent theme of this thesis which will be introduced in Chapter 2. The second theme considers indigenous cultures and environmental perspectives at the community level. An historical examination of indigenous community life in Chapters 3 and 4 wil l be complemented by contemporary findings drawn from the community of Asang, River Wangki, in Chapter 5. The relationship between indigenous peoples and global economics represents the third theme. Through an historical examination of the regional forestry industry, Chapter 6 shows how that national and international economic policies have created traditions of environmental destruction and careless management in the region, which have inevitably restricted the range of options available to communities by which to use available forestry resources commercially. The fourth theme considers indigenous peoples from a political perspective. In Chapter 7, I analyse indigenous identities in relation to political contexts, considering not only how indigenous peoples represent their concerns in non-indigenous circles, but also how the experience of political representation and participation in management contexts itself, affects indigenous culture and identity. In Chapter 8, all the four spheres of indigenous experience discussed wil l all drawn upon to analyse contemporary examples of indigenous involvement in resource use, ownership, and management issues. Finally, in Chapter 9, the future prospects for co-management initiatives in the R A A N will be evaluated. Analysis of these four spheres of indigenous experience wil l each be informed by a complimentary field of theoretical literature. The specific application of these themes will be examined in ensuing parts of the thesis, in relation to the case study material itself. The salient analytical concepts being employed in this thesis nevertheless deserve some brief introduction. Indigenous peoples and institutions of the nation-state: Conflict and cooperation As already mentioned, conflicts between stakeholders over modes of use and rights over resources proliferate worldwide, and can be particularly intense between indigenous peoples and nation-states. Campbell, based on her research in the Canadian north, provided three general reasons to explain why resource conflicts between indigenous peoples and states are so prevalent and protracted. First of all, the principal location of "untapped" resources within nation-states frequently coincides with the main areas of habitation occupied by aboriginal communities. Secondly, resources targeted for national industrial development may also continue to provide indigenous communities with their essential subsistence needs. And thirdly, national governments and judicial systems regularly fail to clearly define and resolve indigenous rights to their traditional territories, and the natural resources found on them (Campbell, 1996: 1). Though in specifics, the local contexts and perspectives in northeastern Nicaragua are very different from those found in the Canadian north, as this thesis shows, the three major reasons for conflict between indigenous peoples and the state identified by Campbell are strikingly similar to those found in the case study area as well. The nature of the relationship between indigenous communities and the nation-state in which they reside is a crucial factor which either fosters or impedes co-management initiatives. Obviously, in order for a co-operative relationship to develop, a minimum of trust between the two parties must exist. In the absence of trust, local peoples are more likely to defy imposed resource management policies, however concerned they might be with local and ecological interests. When relations between indigenous peoples and nation-states are poor, communities are as likely to pursue confrontational as co-management strategies. This frequently occurs in the Canadian north, where slow or ineffective conflict resolution mechanisms can lead First Nations groups to reject dialogue, and adopt civil disobedience tactics (such as roadblocks or blockades) instead (Campbell, 1996: 1). The role of institutions and the nation-state in shaping indigenous environmental perspectives in the R A A N , and in encouraging or deterring Miskitus from co-management initiatives, will be introduced in Chapter 3, and pursued throughout the course of the thesis. 7 Indigenous cultures and environmental perspectives at the community level Community relations and community perspectives are integral to this thesis. Particular aspects of indigenous community culture - livelihood practices, forms of social organisation, value and belief systems - and how these affect local environmental perspectives, have shaped analysis at the local level. My approach in examining the local sphere of indigenous environmental decision making borrows from the theoretical framework developed by David Butz, from his research amongst the Shimshal pastoralists of Northern Pakistan. Butz's analysis is conceptually appropriate to this thesis given the special emphasis which he places upon the role of community as the primary locus for indigenous environmental decision making. Butz concluded that the Shimshal ultimately debated and determined resource management strategies at the community level: "ecological .... activities [are] symbolically and instrumentally embedded in the places and life worlds out of which they developed" (1996:52). Though competition might occur between families within the community, conflict remains within the confines of acceptable community behaviour, and would moreover be set aside when the community faced the outside world collectively. According to Butz, Shimshali community members feel they have a responsibility to support community initiatives, given their belief that "unified community support [is] indicative of a solidarity of purpose appropriate to the Shimshali" (Butz, 1996:43). Membership of a Shimshal community does not merely provide moral and cultural identity and support; it also affords Shimshali an array of practical rights, most importantly, access to land and resources. The livelihood strategies by which these land and resources are used, are determined collectively by community members, according to the material productivity, and the ideological appropriateness of the particular strategy being considered (Butz, 1996:40). These two realms of concern, which Butz calls instrumental and symbolical, are ultimately interwoven and operate simultaneously in indigenous consciousness. Butz provided a number of illustrations of how instrumental and symbolical concerns shape Shimshal decision-making processes in practical terms. For example, the Shimshal, who traditionally herd yak, have been eager to develop ways of making their livestock more materially profitable. Nevertheless, the Shimshali recently rejected an aid agency's offer to help them make livestock farming more viable, because the agency's plan was to replace yak with more marketable cattle. Although the Shimshali recognised that this route would bring greater profits to the community, their history and traditions were so bound up with their identity as yak herdsmen that the symbolical sacrifice which switching to cattle would have required was culturally unacceptable to them. The particular decisions faced by Miskitus in northeastern Nicaragua may be very different from 8 those of the Shimshali, but in general terms, there are similarities, since both need to reconcile instrumental or material imperatives with symbolical or ideological concerns, to achieve culturally-acceptable forms of environmental use. The local realm of indigenous environmental experience will therefore be examined with the following considerations in mind: the material and ideological significance of indigenous livelihood practices, and the community, as the forum in which environmental use strategies are debated and determined through time. Indigenous peoples within global political-economic systems Although indigenous societies today retain many distinct cultural features to set them apart from modern industrial societies, the likelihood of encountering an indigenous person or tribe without exposure to the outside world is nevertheless negligible. Many have indeed had contact with non-indigenous societies for centuries, from the early colonial times to the late twentieth century (such as is the case with the indigenous inhabitants of northeastern Nicaragua). So although indigenous peoples might occupy marginal areas and positions within global society, they do not live separately from it: "Indigenous peoples are no less a part of economic and social relations within a large context of multinational society than other groups of poor people, although the kinds of processes > that constitute the links must be specified in each case" (Fisher, 1994:221 - my italics). As the links between external forces and indigenous society come under increasing scrutiny, research which considers ethnic peoples abstracted from the wider world appears either incomplete or naive. As Wilmsen argues: "A sharp change of focus is essential. We need to examine the relations of community within these subordinated groups and their relations to the larger civic arena in which they interact with dominant powers, to establish the configuration of political functions within these groups and their cultural expressions." (Wilmsen, 1989: 7) In terms of this larger civic arena, indigenous peoples are today usually located within the boundaries of nation-states, whose governmental policies have a considerable influence upon decision-making processes within local communities. As Bryant has observed, "state policies play a pivotal role in contemporary human-environmental relations" (Bryant, 1992:18). So how should we characterise the state policies which affect local environmental use practices in so-called "developing" countries like Nicaragua? State policies in the non-industrialised nations of the world today are particularly likely to be shaped by global economic policies, rather than local or ecological interests (Howitt, 1996). As Kennedy has observed, many such nations have indeed become the: "self-managing servants of the international capitalist system" (Kennedy, 1996: 244) 9 It is therefore hardly surprising when, having been subjected to national and international developmentalist4 policies, indigenous communities are themselves frequently found pursuing livelihood strategies and objectives which have been conditioned by the self-same paradigm. Indeed, whilst much has been written about the direct ecological threat posed by developmentalism and globalisation, far less attention has been given to the damaging environmental repercussions caused by the homogenisation of global culture itself (Filer, 1996). Continual exposure to external developmentalist values inevitably encourages indigenous peoples to fashion their goals and responses accordingly. As Filer has noted in Papua New Guinea, the continual destruction of forestry resources, rather than fostering resistance to logging itself, has led to many tribes accepting the terms of this imposed reality, and seeking advantages and rights for themselves within the developmentalist framework instead: "We, the resource owners by God given right have been living miserable lives, and have been under-privileged, under-developed and uncivilised for too long. We cannot watch this opportunity to improve our lives, stride past....this is the foundation of a civilised generation for our tribe....critics of logging should not venture blindly, because this is our birthright and our privilege" (Filer, 1996) According to Filer, indigenous communities in PNG which repudiate western materialism "are a seriously endangered species, i f indeed they can be found beyond the populist imagination of progressive intellectuals" (Filer, 1996). Desperate economic circumstances foster short-termist livelihood practices and attitudes at the locality. Indigenous peoples can become increasingly frustrated by the seemingly endless cycle of destruction of local ecological destruction, perpetuated by national governments and foreign companies, which rather than improving their living conditions, makes their livelihoods more precarious than ever before. When indigenous peoples' land holdings are threatened by the influx of outsiders, their resource use strategies are likely to modify, and become more defensive and self-preservationist. These types of changes are however not likely to benefit either local society or the local environment in the long-term, since inter-stakeholder competition greatly restricts the space for forward planning and reflection (Bromley, 1991/2). Economically poor indigenous tribes are today not only bombarded by developmentalism and modernisation imperatives to expropriate their natural resources - they can also lack the necessary skills and education to become controlling parties, and protect their interests, when resource extraction occurs (Lucashenko, 1996:11). If traditional knowledges and practices 4 I use the term"developmentalism" to describe the socially and ecologically negligent economic policies currently being perpetuated by the global economic system. The word "development", unless otherwise indicated, will be used to denote progress, growth or improvement. Although I am aware that some readers might see little distinction between these two terms, since the R A A N is so impoverished, the natural environment must inevitably serve a commercial purpose. The central issue is not whether resources should be used, but how, and by whom. 10 cannot adapt to new circumstances, provide meaning and answers to contemporary challenges, and prevent indigenous peoples and local resources from being exploited by external economic and political systems, then the steady evaporation of community power and cohesion can encourage community members - particularly the younger generation - to respond to the irrefutable draw and power of money instead (Filer, 1996). Traditional regulatory systems and indigenous culture alike can therefore be greatly undermined by globalisation, modernisation and developmentalism. As Mac Chapin has seen occur with the Kuna, younger community members begin to question old beliefs, or simply fail to learn them (Chapin, 1991). In such circumstances, indigenous people become "especially vulnerable to internal as well as external pressures to exploit their resources" (Redford & Stearman, 1993: 251). The natural resources of our case study, northeastern Nicaragua, have been the target of commercial interest for centuries, a factor in the region's history which has proved influential in shaping indigenous environmental perspectives today. It would be wrong to assume that indigenous society had automatically appropriated all the values and objectives associated with the capitalist sphere. However, the terms of reference used by indigenous peoples when defining their resource strategies and agendas have inevitably been influenced by international markets and political systems over time. The alternative elements of indigenous lifestyles - common property perspectives, communal identity, reciprocity (elements which are often particularly useful for local management initiatives) - might eventually capitulate entirely to exogenous pressure, if local community integrity cannot be protected. In this respect, it is vital that indigenous communities' land tenure bases be guaranteed. Securing land titles in a rapidly encroaching world has indeed become a major priority of indigenous environmental agendas throughout the globe. Co-management initiatives will therefore need to protect both indigenous material needs and community cultural integrity from the ravages of developmentalism. As Kennedy argues: "..rejecting development is necessary to change the power relations, because one has to change the ways of knowing ... if diversity is to be defended from the barrage of knowledge-power techniques which this universalism has deployed then systems of knowledge rooted in particular places must be constructed." (Kennedy, 1996: 248) The nature of links between indigenous peoples and external economic systems, and how these have influenced indigenous environmental perspectives over time are in conclusion, central theoretical concerns of this thesis. Indigenous identities: formulation and legitimacy Indigenous identities are considered in two different ways in this thesis: as genuine reflections and expressions of indigenous culture, and as political strategies designed to strengthen the group's negotiating power and secure their particular political interests. The need 11 to reconcile these two different, and sometimes opposing facets of identity is a major challenge facing indigenous peoples, particularly their indigenous leaders, today. Indigenous identities must simultaneously retain local symbolical legitimacy, whilst also performing vital instrumental or political functions in furthering indigenous agendas before the outside world. In order to appreciate the cultural and political considerations which condition indigenous perspectives on resource management issues, and the "cultural tightrope" walked by indigenous leaders when attempting to reconcile these dual imperatives, examination of the formulation and nature of indigenous identities is essential. As this thesis shows, the images which indigenous peoples project of themselves to the outside world are not necessarily always consistent with the particular forms of cultural affiliation considered meaningful at the locality. The messages and symbols of indigenous identity which strengthen the cultural group's political position externally do not necessarily animate the locality, and vice versa. For example, indigenous peoples might choose to present themselves as "intrinsic conservationists", in order to further their land claims and negotiating strength (Brown, 1993: 316). According to Redford: " i f some indigenous peoples have presented themselves uncritically as 'natural conservationists', it is only because they recognise the power of this concept in rallying support for their struggle for land rights, particularly from important international conservation organisations" (Redford, 1993). Although popular stereotypes of indigenous peoples can at times be politically useful to them, i f there is considerable disparity between local meaning and perspectives, and externally projected images and appeals, the political effectiveness and legitimacy of indigenous agendas, leaders and movements can suffer in the long-term. Moreover, the need to adapt to external political and negotiating norms, can create tensions within indigenous society which are particularly borne by indigenous leaders. Though indigenous leaders might acquire political legitimacy and support in national and international political forums, the physical and psychological distance from indigenous communities which their involvement in external political circles and negotiations requires, can lead to their local support base being weakened. As Fisher has observed amongst the Kayapo' in the Amazon, although their goals remain fairly consistent through time: "the changing regional context has necessitated different and sometimes contradictory forms of mobilisation and participation" (Fisher, 1994: 220). The need to pursue indigenous rights within non-indigenous political circles can therefore generate considerable tensions within indigenous society. If indigenous leaders cannot balance their dual and sometimes contradictory imperatives, their ability to ensure indigenous compliance to co-management agreements they are party to is also considerably weakened. 12 The theme of indigenous identity therefore facilitates analysis of the ideological changes wrought upon indigenous communities, which arise from their need to reconcile local perspectives and objectives with external political norms and realities. As this study suggests, the simple act of participating in co-management initiatives can in itself, potentially modify and test indigenous cultures and communities. Case Study : The R A A N This opening chapter has so far reviewed the conceptual framework and analytical themes to be employed in this thesis; an introduction to the case study area to which they will be applied is also necessary. M y case study material was collected in the northeastern most province of Nicaragua, the R A A N , where I primarily focused upon indigenous perspectives and experiences in the municipality of Waspam. A brief description of the characteristics of the case study area are presented below. Geo-political features of the RAAN When we use the term "Atlantic Coast", we are not merely distinguishing Nicaragua's eastern seaboard from the west. The term is something of a misnomer, since it applies to a vast region which extends far beyond the eastern seaboard, from the coastal lowlands, through the pine savannas and secondary forests, and up into the highlands and rainforest of the central interior. Administratively speaking, the Atlantic Coast is divided between two Nicaraguan departamentos (province), the Northern and Southern Atlantic Autonomous Regions. The R A A N and R A A S are the only departamentos with their own regional councils and governments in the country; institutional recognition of the historical differences which set this area apart from the rest of Nicaragua. The R A A N , upon which this research is focused, is the largest of all Nicaraguan departamentos, encompassing over 25% of the total country (see Fig.3). In contrast to its physical size, it has a very small population of below 200,000, approximately 4.42% of the total Nicaraguan population. It has therefore the lowest population concentration per departamento, with only 6 inhabitants per kilometre squared, compared to a national average of 35.9 (Rep. de Nicaragua, 1996). The low population to land ratio, among other factors, has facilitated the preservation of valuable natural resource reserves in the region. Nonetheless, the R A A N is also one of the poorest and most disadvantaged. The regional population suffers from a lack of employment opportunities, services and infrastructure, a dislocated local economy, and an unstable autonomous political system. The physical isolation of the R A A N from the Pacific Coast, where the political, economic and culture spheres of Nicaraguan society are concentrated, exacerbate the disadvantages experienced by this region. Geographical isolation is paralleled by 13 Fig 3. Map of Nicaragua, Showing National Departamentos, Including the RAAN & RAAS Source: Atlas Nicaragua, Centroamerica y El Mundo, 1995 ethnic, cultural and historical differences which serve to set the Atlantic Coast and its people apart the rest of Nicaragua. The influence of history Although the Atlantic Coast remains both isolated and underdeveloped, the indigenous peoples of this region have nevertheless experienced a long history of contact with non-indigenous societies, and involvement in external political and economic systems. The 1980s war between the Sandinistas and the Contras, in which the Miskitus primarily sided with the latter American-backed forces, represents merely one of the more recent and obvious examples of this phenomenon. External influences have inevitably impacted local indigenous cultures, and as a consequence, local environmental perspectives. However, local responsiveness to external influences has throughout the centuries been tempered by the maintenance of pre-contact practices and norms, given the persistent role played by indigenous communities as the primary locus of cultural reproduction. Contemporary indigenous cultural perspectives in northeastern Nicaragua have developed from a syncretic process, fueled both by exogenous and endogenous factors. In order to appreciate indigenous attitudes towards the environment today, an understanding of the various historical contexts and levels of indigenous experience (as a community member, as a Nicaraguan, and as a citizen of the globalised world) from which the Miskitus have emerged is crucial. The examination of contemporary management contexts and perspectives will therefore be preceded throughout this thesis by historical material and analyses. Costeno^ society The RAAN has a multiethnic population of approximately 190,000 inhabitants, of which 42% are mestizos, 40% Miskitu Indians^  10% Creoles ,^ and 8% Mayangna Indians^  (Acosta, 1996: 11). The greatest concentration of indigenous inhabitants in Nicaragua is to be found in this region. 5 People of the Atlantic Coast, whatever their ethnic origin, are collectively referred to (and refer to themselves as) costehos, or 'coastal peoples.' This Spanish term will appear throughout the thesis. 6 Although many documents will refer to the Miskitos, I prefer to use the alternate term Miskitu, deemed more appropriate since the Miskitu language does not include the letter 'o.' 7 Creoles are descendants of African slaves, who were imported to the Atlantic Coast by the British and European. On the Atlantic Coast, the term applies to every English-speaker of African descent, who does not identify themselves as indigenous (Howard, 1993:2). 8 The Mayangna have until quite recently, been more commonly referred to as 'Sumu.' This however, is reportedly a derogatory term applied to them by the Miskitu Indians some centuries ago, supposedly referring to the alleged stupidity or laziness of this other tribe. As a result, the Mayangnas have openly stated their desire to be called by their own name, and not an imposed one. Ma means 'sun' and yagna, 'us'; Mayangna can therefore be taken to mean "we, the children of the sun" (Wani, 1993: 31). However, many people, including Mayangnas themselves, continue to use the term 'Sumu', and so one hears both terms appear in conversations in the RAAN. 15 Fig. 4 Map of the Northern Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN), Northeastern Nicaragua K E Y S C A L E International Border @ Regional Capital Regional Border • Municipal Capital p 10 20 30 AO sofcm — _ _ _ Municipal Border O Indigenous Community Source: Automomia y Derecho en la RAAN CIDCA-UCA, 1997 The mestizo and Creole populations tend to be concentrated within the handful of urban or semi-urban centres of the RAAN, particularly the regional capital, Puerto Cabezas, or Bilwi,9 but also the municipal centres of Rosita, Bonanza, Siuna and Waspam (the remaining municipal centre, Prinzapolka, is inhabited primarily by Miskitus, and cannot really be considered an urban centre even by standards in the RAAN). The 143 or so Miskitu communities tend to be located nearby or along coastal and riverine areas; the 18 Mayangna villages are concentrated towards the interior, far up the rivers and into the heart of the tropical rainforest (see Fig. 5). The types of settlements located in the RAAN can be placed into three general categories. In the first category, is Puerto Cabezas, the regional capital. In the second, are the municipal capitals, such as Waspam and Rosita, which share aspects common to both Puerto and the third category settlements, the numerous indigenous communities. Although Puerto Cabezas can appear a somewhat unimpressive excuse for a regional capital, with its poor infrastructure, unreliable civic amenities, and fairly small population (approximately 30,000 inhabitants), it nevertheless represents the principal political and urban settlement in the RAAN, and offers several defining characteristics of comparative geo-political centres. Despite the fact that Puerto's infrastructure, housing, roads, electricity and water services fall drastically short of civic needs, it is the primary regional magnet for rural immigration. Although unemployment in Puerto is rife, there are still more opportunities for fixed employment, and particularly, informal enterprise, here than elsewhere in the RAAN. Livelihoods in Puerto, in contrast to the rural communities, are therefore more likely to be dependent upon wage labour or informal enterprise than subsistence agriculture, hunting or fishing. Although the range of manufactured goods available in Puerto Cabezas is much more limited than in Managua, it is nevertheless more diverse than anywhere else in the RAAN. Puerto also has a hospital, numerous medical centres and schools, and an airport with frequent daily flights to Managua and Bluefields. Perhaps the most striking characteristic of Puerto Cabezas, which sets it apart from other settlements in the region, is its comparatively liberal and multi-cultural social atmosphere. In comparison, in a municipal regional capital like Waspam, the range of goods to be found are smaller, and although the social conventions are more liberal than in the communities, they are more evident than in Puerto Cabezas. Electricity is only available four hours in the evening, and running water is extremely unreliable. There are a number of schools, health centres and a hospital - although the hospital is comparative to Puerto Cabezas', the schools are much less equipped. Waspam has a landing strip, but flights from this town are infrequent. Inhabitants of Waspam subsist on a mixture of both informal enterprise and land-based activities. 9 Although the capital of the RAAN is most widely referred to as Puerto Cabezas, it originally was known by an indigenous Mayangna name, Bilwi. With the growth of indigenous consciousness over the last two decades, many people in the RAAN have chosen to revert to the traditional name. I will be referring to both during my thesis. 17 Fag. 5 Map Depicting the Location of the RAAN's Numerous Indigenous Communities and other Settlements Note: Settlements appearing in blue type represent particular focus areas of this research, which will be referred to during the thesis Source: Diccionario Miskitu, CIDCA 1996 15 In the third category settlement, the indigenous communities, both commercial and subsistence activities usually depend upon the environment and natural resources. There is no running water or electricity. Not all communities are connected by road to Waspam or Puerto, and therefore only a limited number of villages own vehicles. Although communities usually have a couple of small stores, they are invariably only equipped with the most basic of items. Owning of business of this sort is therefore not a usual occupation of community dwellers, whose livelihoods primarily depend upon land-based activities, whether for trade or subsistence purposes. Apart from the ubiquitous church, villages do not usually have eateries or any other entertainment locales, and alcohol is rarely consumed in them. 10 As a result, the norms of behaviour found in indigenous communities are much more conservative and far removed from those found in Puerto Cabezas. This situation is both compounded and reflected by the poverty of regional infrastructure, which makes communication between the various settlements difficult, and encourages the retention of distinct social practices, outlooks and behaviour. It is therefore important to remain aware that within the various types of settlements in the RAAN mentioned in this thesis, very different social attitudes and lifestyles are encountered. Field work for this study was principally carried out in the municipality of Waspam (see Fig 4), which has a predominantly indigenous population, distributed amongst 83 communities. The majority of these are Miskitu, with only a handful of Mayangna communities - Awastingni, Umbra and Arangdak (CIDCA, 1997; Want, 1993: 27). The emphasis is therefore upon the indigenous population, and in particular, the Miskitus. However, Mayangna and regional perspectives and issues will also be presented in the discussion, particularly as one of the principal communities considered in fieldwork was Mayangna. 1 1 Interethnic tensions exist between the Miskitu and Mayangna Indians, the result of centuries of domination by the former over the latter, and therefore represent a significant aspect of regional ethnic relations to be considered. Economic sphere There is an acute scarcity of formal employment in the region: around 85% of the population are currently unemployed (La Tribuna, Jan. 1988). Economic activity in the RAAN is therefore largely informal. The majority of the rural population continue to make their living in a traditional manner, through a combination of subsistence agriculture, petty trade, hunting and wage labour, when and if it is available. The urban population, which has burgeoned since 10 Although some of the larger, more prosperous communities such as San Carlos (on the River Wangki) has been able to set up a club at which videos are shown (with the help of an electric generator) and beer is sold, this instance is the exception rather than the rule. 11 The potential problems of using material both from Miskitu and Mayangna sources is discussed later in this chapter. 19 the conflicts of the 1980s, compete for the limited number of full-time jobs. The majority are largely to be found engaged in some form of trade, domestic service or unemployed. Opportunities for employment in the market economy might be scarce, but material goods are widely coveted. Ironically, one of the poorest areas of the country also faces the highest prices, given the high costs of overland transportation from the Pacific. In general, the quest to secure even the most basic of living standards is fraught with difficulty. People are insecure about the future, and their ability to keep afloat given economic conditions in the R A A N . Foreign commercial interest in the natural resources of the Atlantic Coast is currently on the increase. This attention, however, is not considered unusual on the Coast, as it forms part of a long-standing historical trend which people have grown accustomed to. Although the region is isolated and underdeveloped, it has attracted global commercial attention on many occasions in the past. Essentially, temporary economic booms on the Coast have been fostered by external, not internal incentives; namely, the extraction of raw materials from the region. Given their short-term objectives, foreign investment in the region has been restricted, and lasting benefits minimal. As resources become depleted, or their market value drops, companies withdraw, and the regional economy lapses into stagnation, with popular frustration increased. In many ways, the economic history of the Atlantic Coast fits in with the label of an 'enclave economy.' The development of an internally coherent local economy has long been undermined by regional expectation of, and dependency upon, external economic stimuli for growth. The effects of the enclave economy experience have had lasting repercussions on economic patterns and cultural perspectives on resources and their use in the R A A N . Indigenous struggles and indigenous rights Nicaraguan legislation on indigenous rights is oh paper, quite progressive. The 1980s conflicts between the Miskitu and Sandinistas in particular led to significant improvements in the legal status of indigenous people in national territory. The Regional Autonomy Law, and articles 180 and 181 of the constitution recognise the particular rights of indigenous communities to own communal lands, and to "use, enjoy and benefit" the resources located upon them. However, this theoretical right has yet to be satisfactorily translated into a legal reality for the majority of indigenous communities. Although a number of indigenous communities have at particular points in regional history been granted land titles, they have generally failed to reflect indigenous peoples' own perceptions of their communities' boundaries. Many communities have no form of land title whatsoever. A thorough revision of the regional land tenure system is therefore urgently needed. For whilst land tenure remains undefined, lumber companies are readily able to 20 take advantage of the absence of accountable owners, and of the weak institutional environment which they encounter in northeastern Nicaragua. Beyond the land rights issue, indigenous peoples in the R A A N have countless other reasons for frustration. The regional economy is extremely fragile; social services, particularly education, health and transport, fail to address popular needs. The regional autonomous government however appears unwilling or unable to address their concerns. Meanwhile, although indigenous communities have, particularly since the war, become more conscious of the exploitative economic relationships in which they find themselves, a regionwide, representative body able to focus indigenous demands for rights and qualitative development has so far failed to emerge. Overview This brief description of northeastern Nicaragua was designed to provide the reader with a general introduction to the case study area which is the subject of this thesis. The circumstances of the region hold many parallels with other so-called developing areas in the world: it is marginalised, poorly serviced, with extremely high poverty and unemployment figures. The indigenous peoples of the region, the Miskitus and the Mayangnas, are faced with similar problems confronting indigenous peoples worldwide: conflicts over land, degradation of their environment, political struggles with the state and imperiled livelihoods and culture. However, as subsequent chapters will demonstrate, within the overriding framework of common characteristics presented in this section lies a rich tapestry of experiences and features unique to the R A A N which have shaped contemporary indigenous environmental perspectives in this region. Research and Fieldwork: Methods and Theory Before turning to the case study material, the research methodologies used to develop this thesis wil l be briefly discussed. The theoretical decision to focus upon cultural, political, institutional and economic issues, which would be considered from both an historical and contemporary perspective, naturally affected my choice of research methodologies. Moreover, the thesis goals and theoretical approach were not determined in isolation from the case study context, according to theory and hypothesis alone, but through the act of research itself. The experience of applying theory to practice was therefore highly influential in shaping my analytical framework, and clearly requires examination. Research process and regional focus M y research and fieldwork, were primarily conducted over three separate visits to the R A A N , July to December 1996, May to August 1997 and November 1997. Repeat visits helped 21 improve the quality of my data, allowing assumptions to be retested, greater experience of the regional contexts and perspectives to be acquired, and time to be more productively spent. This also allowed me to cover the breadth of material required by my diverse theoretical interests. The majority of research was conducted in the R A A N , although I also spent some time in Managua, conducting interviews and examining secondary sources. While in the R A A N , I was primarily based in Puerto Cabezas. Many interviews, and almost all of the historical and secondary sources, were collected here. Fieldwork in the outlying villages, particularly those located within the municipality of Waspam (both in the pine savannahs and the upper Rio Coco or Wangki), however enabled me to develop interview on community, as opposed to regional level perspectives. Specific concentration upon two indigenous villages, Asang and Awas Tingni, represented the focus of my community-related research. Shorter trips were made to some coastal villages, as well as to Rosita, located in the RAAN's interior mining district, where the headquarters of the controversial lumber company S O L C A R S A were located (see Figs 4 & 5). Methods Literature review and secondary sources Since my inquiry is specifically concerned with the social contexts of resource management, qualitative research methods were selected. 12 My theoretical interest in the role of history in formulating and contextualising contemporary indigenous attitudes and management approaches meant that historical and secondary sources became crucial to the thesis. Before going to Nicaragua, I read a wide range of secondary literature on the Atlantic Coast region. In Puerto Cabezas itself, I systematically worked through the archives of the Centro de Investigacion y Documentacion de la Costa Atlantico (Centre for Investigation and Documentation of the Atlantic Coast or CIDCA), concentrating in particular upon historical documents, such as Moravian Mission reports, British government or Mosquito Reservation documents, and travellers' accounts. Secondary literature on a variety of issues, such as 12 A large and complex variety of terms, assumptions and methodological approaches can be classified under the heading "qualitative research." As Denzin and Lincoln have observed, qualitative research crosscuts disciplines, fields and subject matter, has no theory or paradigm distinctly its own, and does not privilege any particular methodological approach over another (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994: 1,3). I have nevertheless selected a few of the theoretical assumptions regarding qualitative research which seem particularly relevant to this thesis. Qualitative researchers often seek "answers to questions that stress how social experience is created and given meaning" (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994: 3). The research approach, rather than linear, is often cyclical or iterative, with hypotheses not constructed prior to research, but developing out of the research findings themselves (Creswell, 1994: 145). Qualitative researchers do not present their findings as representations of an objective reality, but acknowledge the role of their own interests and ideologies in shaping their material (Janesick, 1994: 212). They therefore tend to openly discuss the ways in which their personal values and concerns influenced their research and conclusions. How these aspects of qualitative research figure in my thesis will become clear in the rest of the chapter. 22 indigenous livelihoods or cosmologies, the Moravian Church, the company period and the 1980s war were also referred to. A variety of secondary material on contemporary circumstances was also acquired, including documents and resolutions of the R A A N Regional Council, declarations and correspondence from the Elders' Council, management plans and declarations from the M A D E N S A and S O L C A R S A lumber companies, and articles from press and periodicals addressing regional issues. A wide variety of secondary material related to the case study area itself was therefore used in this research, which combined with the theoretical sources used, produced a large and eclectic pool of bibliographical references for this thesis to draw upon. Fieldwork The other major branch of my research was fieldwork. Interviews, designed to collect first-hand information on contemporary perspectives and management contexts, represented the principal component of fieldwork. In order to present my findings with confidence, I felt it necessary to conduct both as numerous and diverse a range of interviews as possible. A few hundred informants have therefore contributed to this thesis, including national government ministers, regional government representatives, municipal authorities, company representatives, urban dwellers, villagers, indigenous leaders, elders, health workers, teachers, members of the press, spiritual healers, men and women, young and old. The interviews varied greatly in format, content, and length. Taken as a whole they represent a rich source of material with which research hypotheses have been tested and formulated. Interviews were either noted down or recorded, depending on the willingness of the informant to be taped. Outside the communities, in Puerto Cabezas, Waspam, Rosita and Managua, the majority of interviews were conducted by myself in Spanish. Within the indigenous communities, interviews were conducted either in Spanish, Miskitu or Mayangna. If Miskitu or Mayangna proved the preferred language for the informant, an interpreter became necessary. Two principal interpreters assisted my research, one in the community of Awas Tingni, and another in Asang. Both were friends as well as assistants, which made it easier for me to communicate to them my research interests and objectives for the interviews. By the later stages of fieldwork, I had acquired enough understanding of Miskitu to enable me to follow and intervene in conversations held in Miskitu. By communicating in the indigenous language, I experienced an even greater level of responsiveness from my informants. Not all my interviews were conducted individually; many, sometimes unintentionally, developed into group interviews, as other people gradually began to participate in conversations already in progress. This is one more example of the flexible approach which I found most productive for my research. I was able to observe the way people interacted on such occasions, which allowed me to appreciate aspects of indigenous group dynamics and relations. My 23 theoretical interests in conflict and consensus within and between indigenous communities were particularly addressed on such occasions. Group interviews also provided valuable sources of information, since informants tended to spark others' memories and add to one other's responses, which naturally helped to enrich my data. Another aspect of fieldwork which proved useful in my research was participant observation. Participant observation was at times a conscious act, such as on the occasions when I was given permission to attend community, inter-community and regional meetings. These meetings provided me with invaluable insights into the nature and diversity of perspectives and identities within the R A A N , as well as the regional context of resource management itself. Participant observation was however more usually, a natural consequence of living and interacting with the world around me. In effect, all the time I spent in the region was part of the research and learning process in itself. In order to chronicle information gained through the course of daily events, I kept a detailed field journal. My field journal has proved particularly useful to my research in three respects. It has enabled me to provide context to the interview notes and tapes I have amassed, facilitating recollection of the time, setting and state of mind I was in when conversing with the informant. Since neither the focus of my interviews nor the quotations which I have selected from them are arbitrary, but are both directly related to the theoretical structure of my research, it is extremely useful for me to have a record of the principal concerns directing my fieldwork at the particular stage of any given interview. This point relates to a second way in which the field journal has proved useful. My field journal allows me to chart my reactions to the case study context, and relive the various stages through which I progressed during the course of fieldwork, and the assumptions and perspectives which I held at each specific moment. Especially during the first six months, my learning curve proved steep, as I experienced many different stages of interpretation and understanding. The journal allows me to contextualise each interview within particular time frames and analytical positions, which necessarily affected both the type of questions I posed, and the manner in which I interpreted them. The third significant contribution of the field journal is the record of conversations and events whose significance I might not have appreciated at the time, but which would subsequently prove extremely relevant to my research. Case study communities: Selection and implications As discussed previously, although there are many Miskitus living in Puerto Cabezas, the social practices, values and outlooks held in this particular settlement means that indigenous lifestyles are in many respects, more similar to those of Mestizo Puerto dwellers than families residing within the outlying communities. My theoretical focus upon indigenous culture therefore made research conducted within indigenous communities themselves an essential 2 4 component of my research. The community which I selected for this purpose was Asang, from the River Wangki or Coco (see Figs 4 & 5). The River Wangki is considered to be the heartland of Miskitu culture. I therefore felt it to be important, given my historical and cultural interests in the analysis of environmental perspectives, to spend time in a community from this area. Moreover, the upper reaches of the River Wangki have a long history of formal and informal commercial activity directed towards resource extraction, lumber being one of these products. These events are recent enough in history that informants with direct experience or first-hand accounts of company activities from the late 19th century to the present can be located. My interest in examining the historical process of modification and adaptation of indigenous culture, from which contemporary attitudes towards management have developed, made Asang an especially obvious place to conduct my research, since the most comprehensive ethnography written on the Miskitu of this area by Mary Helms, focuses upon this village. Helms spent over a year in Asang during the 1960s, considering the social, economic and political aspects of Miskitu community life. "Asang" (the book) represents a thorough examination of a particular moment in this community's history and perspectives, and therefore provide me with unique source of information to compare my own findings against. Her work also provided valuable insights into Miskitu culture which my own research, not geared towards producing an ethnography, could never have independently unearthed. In Asang, I primarily looked at change and conflict within the community, in relation to environmental use practices and political agendas. Generational differences were represented by comparisons between the responses of elderly and younger informants. I was fortunate to have been able to speak with one of the eldest, and reportedly, the most knowledgeable man of the community on a variety of occasions, from whom I learnt a great deal of fascinating information on past events and beliefs related to the community of Asang. I was also able to attend a community meeting held to discuss conflicts over land and resources between Asang and their neighbours. This event, and supplementary interviews with village leaders and members, helped me identify sources of internal and external tension besetting the community, and to appreciate their environmental perspectives. The dual historical-contemporary focus of my research in Asang was located conceptually within wider regional, national and international contexts and events, in order to understand how external factors were contributing to the emergence of new tensions and orientations within community culture and society . The other community I selected was the Mayangna community of Awas Tingni. I was drawn to Awas Tingni because it was located at the epicentre of multiple and interrelated regional conflicts over land rights and resource management. At the time, Awas Tingni was the only community in the region engaged in a contractual relationship with a large-scale, foreign 25 lumber company, an agreement which provided de facto recognition of their claim to this territory. 13 Awas Tingni represented a unique practical example of incipient regional co-management of forestry resources, with insights and future implications for the relationship between context, culture and resource management in the R A A N . It was moreover engaged in an advanced land claims process, made possible by a foreign legal and technical advisory team assisting the community. The Awas Tingni case had implications for most parties concerned with resource management in the region, who each had their own particular interpretation of the issues raised by this community. As a case, and as a community, Awas Tingni represented a unique opportunity to discuss a variety of research themes, such as inter-stakeholder conflict, institutional behaviour and politico-economic incentives, related to resource management practices in the R A A N . The only disadvantage which Awas Tingni posed to me was that it was primarily a Mayangna, not Miskitu community. I had intended to concentrate solely upon the Miskitus, for fear that not intending to spend time in the heartland of Mayangna territory, around the community of Musawas, I would be unable to do justice to Mayangna perspectives. However, since Awas Tingni represented the only example of an agreement between an indigenous community, the national government and lumber company to manage forestry resources, theoretically based upon co-management and community-based management principles, in the region, I considered it a vital case study for my thesis; particularly since this case had catalysed debate over the role of indigenous communities in the ownership and management of natural resources, not only at local, but national and international levels as well. Moreover, I felt it reasonable to assume that many of their experiences would probably be faced by any community in the area, in a similar situation, whether Miskitu or Mayangna. Although Miskitus and Mayangnas retain distinct indigenous identities, which as will be shown in Chapter 2, have been heavily conditioned by historical tensions between them, their resource use practices and environmental agendas, particularly in the contemporary context, are nevertheless being shaped by the same geographical, institutional, political and economic contexts. And whilst both Miskitus and Mayangnas assert their separate identities, as informants from both ethnicities told me, they also share many of the same cultural characteristics, experiences and concerns. With these considerations in mind, I decided that despite being a Mayangna community, Awas Tingni as a research site had much to offer my analysis of conflict and co-management situations involving indigenous peoples and governmental authorities, with implications for regional indigenous peoples beyond the confines of the village itself. Therefore, whilst research in Asang was focused to provide information on Miskitu culture within communities themselves, 13 Awas Tingni is one of the many communities without any form of title to their land. 26 fieldwork in Awas Tingni aimed to incorporate institutional, management, multi-cultural and multi-stakeholder issues as well. Some implications offield work for the theoretical approach of this thesis The range of interviews which I conducted during my fieldwork helped me become aware of both the commonalties, but also the variety of perspectives held by people in the R A A N , enabling me to identify the parameters of the different groups expressing them. For example, although prior to my arrival in the R A A N , I had expected the Regional Council and Governments to be at the vanguard of regional rights and autonomous action, I soon discovered great discrepancies existed between popular and official perspectives. In fact, I found significant popular distrust in the administrative bodies, which are often presented as inefficient or corrupt, and more responsive to national than regional interests. I therefore did not make the issues of autonomy and decentralisation prominent themes of my thesis as I had previously been considering doing. I had also underestimated the level of difference between opinions and behaviour acceptable in Puerto against those in the communities. The same informants could in fact speak and behave very differently, according to the context in which they were operating, actions which located particular cultural values within specific social mediums. Through the course of many interviews, I learnt that actions did not always reflect held opinions or concerns; the same observation worked the other way as well. These factors sensitised me to the existence of tensions within indigenous society which I had not fully appreciated before my visit. I had expected to find that indigenous culture had in some way or other been 'eroded' or 'lost'; I was thinking more in terms of either/or perspectives, which I now realise are both inaccurate and fundamentally inappropriate. Tensions occurred because both external and internal factors, and instrumental and symbolical considerations coexisted in indigenous peoples' experiences and understanding of themselves, and the outside world. Essentially, my field work convinced me that only a multifaceted approach would be able to reflect the complex nature of influences shaping indigenous environmental perspectives in the R A A N , bringing in the past as well as the present, and considering the case study context in relation to the external spheres in which it operates. Research material in the thesis The selection of research material deployed in the various chapters, whether secondary, historical sources or first-hand fieldwork data, has naturally depended upon the respective theoretical concerns and themes which they respectively address. Chapter 3 presents an historical examination of Miskitu culture, communities and livelihoods which draws solely upon secondary sources, as does Chapter 6, which examines the historical context of regional forestry 2 7 management. Both Chapter 4, which looks at indigenous cosmologies and belief systems, and Chapter 7, which considers indigenous identities, political organisation and leadership in the RAAN over time, blend historical and contemporary fieldwork material. Chapters 2, 5, and 8, in which present institutional, community and management issues and contexts are discussed, primarily depend upon contemporary fieldwork material. Ethical concerns Ethical concerns naturally arise when the objects of research are human beings. Extreme care must be taken in order to avoid causing any harm to informants, and to protect their right to privacy. In addition, informants should be fully aware of the identity of the researcher and the object of their research (Fontana & Frey, 373: 1994). In my case, I ensured that informants' identities would remain secret, by creating a separate code for informants by which to refer to each individual in my fieldnotes. The code and the original names of the informants have always been kept separate from one another. Numerous extracts from these interviews will be presented throughout the thesis, but only the general characteristics of the informants, not their names, are provided. Prior to all interviews, I made sure that my informants understood my identity and the purpose of my inquiry. Although their responses where quoted in this thesis, appear in translation, I have been very careful to preserve the original words and emphases of my informants. My personal interest in the indigenous peoples and the region itself naturally made me concerned to produce both an ethical and representative piece of work. Overall, I found that the vast majority of people, particularly Miskitus, whom I approached were more than willing to talk with me. Being a woman was I felt, an asset in my research, since it enabled me to interview and develop friendships with both indigenous men and women. Approaching men is not hard for foreigners to do in this region, However, the indigenous women I interviewed, and particularly those I became close with, would never have been able to be as open and honest with me had I been a man. Expected gender roles and sexual tension, in the majority of cases, present significant obstacles to the development of platonic friendships between white men and Miskitu or Mayangna women. As a researcher, I therefore enjoyed entry into both gender spheres. I nevertheless had to ask myself if there were other reasons motivating the eager reception I usually received from indigenous people in the region, and to consider if their openness held any unethical or negative implications for my research. As a British-Canadian, I was arguably, in the eyes of the Miskitus, a special class of foreigner. Although Miskitus can today be quite critical of their colonial ally, Britain, or their erstwhile twentieth century protector, the United States, nationals from these countries are still more likely to receive positive receptions in indigenous communities today than Hispanic Nicaraguans from the Pacific Coast. 28 Indigenous historical resentment of both the Spanish and the Nicaraguan state, which will be discussed in subsequent chapters, combined with popular memories of past Miskitu alliances with English-speaking countries, continue to condition indigenous reception of outsiders. Moreover, the Miskitus and Mayangnas experience with foreigners over the centuries have been encouraged to perceive Europeans and Americans in general as sources of wealth and power -even if they are only lowly graduate students (Howard, 1993:27). 14 i n my case, it was often assumed that I had the influence to bring some asistencia or proyecto (financial help or a project) to the group or village in question. It sometimes took me a very long time to convince them that I was unable to do this. Even i f people did accept this information, many would invariably continue to treat me with unwarranted levels of respect. I had not created this cultural assumption, and I did do my best to dissuade it, though many times, I consciously or unconsciously benefited from it (with rides, accommodation, information). I felt uncomfortable about doing so, but circumstances often made this difficult to avoid. The acceptance and help which I encountered in the region during my research was therefore undeniably in part, due to my identity as an English person (and moreover, as a woman, who needed to be treated with a particular care and protection), and the perceived status which this afforded me. Limits to research There are naturally limits to this research. As I discussed above, my status as an English woman, probably affected my informants' responses. They might have felt encouraged to stress their poverty, suffering, and helplessness, and to understate their own potential to effect change, in the hope that I might, despite my protestations, be able to bring them a project or financial aid. I would never deny that people in the R A A N deal with incredible hardship, but sometimes I suspected that people might be emphasising these circumstances in order to get me to help them. The respect which indigenous people in the R A A N often demonstrate for foreigners, though largely misplaced, also makes it conceivable that my informants might have at times provided me with responses they thought I wanted to hear. Interview data can be inaccurate. Informants might report what they suppose had happened, rather than what they had actually seen; their memories might fail them; their accounts might be heavily coloured by bias (Bernard, 234: 1994). Furthermore, cultural differences might well have meant that I misinterpreted my informant's responses. In order to reduce the possibility of misunderstandings, I took various steps in my research: 1 4 Indigenous attitudes towards foreigners in the RAAN are not necessarily true of all indigenous tribes; indeed, there are indigenous tribes in the Amazon who look down on foreigners for being generally so lost and helpless in the rainforest environment (Muratorio, 1998: pers. comm.). 29 • I spent as long a time as possible in the region, to improve my understanding of the area, and decrease the potential for cultural misunderstandings to occur. • I contacted a broad range of informants so as not to be dependent on any one perspective or attitude (e.g. of leaders, political parties, ethnicities, generations, genders). • Wherever possible, I would aim for more than one interview with informants where possible, to reduce the possibility of mutual misunderstandings, and facilitate natural communication. • I always sought to cross-check interview information with other informants or sources, in order to improve the accuracy of my data. Nonetheless, many would still argue that an outsider, by not being privy to the secrets of a particular culture, can never truly understand or represent it. Research of a foreign culture can be adversely affected by a variety of barriers, such as of language, meaning, custom and belief, some of which the researcher might not even be aware of. How can an outsider present any significant insights on another culture which its actual members cannot? I believe that the outsider can bring something quite valuable, if ever so simple, to the analysis of another culture: the outsider's perspective. A l l of us are in some way or other, trapped by our personal subjective lenses, the member of the indigenous society as much as the outside observer. By being outside a certain social group, one can make certain observations about it which its members, too caught up within its actual dynamics, might not be able to. M y research might suffer the limitations inherent to my status as an outsider, but I have also seen the benefits of having a degree of separation from the subject area of my research. My own role in the research In what ways have I, as the sole investigator, affected the focus and analysis presented in this thesis? It is naturally impossible to separate myself from this research. I will therefore try to make the reader aware of personal values, concerns and objectives, factors which have inevitably affected the tone of this inquiry. I support the struggle for both indigenous and regional rights in the R A A N , and am deeply concerned to see the development of socially and environmentally equitable and sustainable norms of resource management assumed in the Atlantic Coast. Ultimately, my primary interests and concerns lie with the indigenous peoples, particularly the outlying indigenous communities. They will doubtless have been conveyed in a more favourable light than for example, the regional or national governments. At the same time, however, I do not believe that community problems wil l be resolved by presenting a glamorised picture of indigenous culture and perspectives, and demonising other stakeholders' opinions and concerns. I have therefore attempted to present both a sympathetic, and yet realistic, representation of environmental perspectives and resource management contexts in the R A A N in my thesis. 30 Summary In this chapter I have outlined the objectives, theoretical framework, case study and research methodologies which have shaped the development of this thesis. Inspired by the co-management conceptual framework, indigenous peoples in northeastern Nicaragua are being considered as potential participants and stakeholders in a progressive attempt to improve quality, communication and consensus in regional resource management initiatives. Although many stakeholders have a say in the management of natural resources in the R A A N , such as the Nicaraguan government, the Regional Council, and the municipal authorities, this thesis concentrates primarily upon indigenous concerns and perspectives. By showing how important culture and context are to the formulation of indigenous environmental attitudes in northeastern Nicaragua (and therefore the relevance of these issues to both the research and practice of resources management) this thesis also aims to foster more culturally sensitive approaches to environmental policy, both in the R A A N and beyond. The integration of cultural and context-specific research into resource management initiatives should be seen as an essential prerequisite of sustainable environmental practices, since these depend upon the informed and consensual participation and support of local society (Buck, 1989). With these considerations in mind, I selected four spheres of indigenous experience which over time, and in a variety of ways, have played an influential role in determining the formulation of indigenous environmental perspectives in northeastern Nicaragua. I am not, however, claiming to have developed the definitive analysis of indigenous attitudes towards the environment in the R A A N . I have concentrated on particular factors which I have deemed relevant to this discussion; others could no doubt be produced. Furthermore, differences of opinion exist (as will be demonstrated) between and within indigenous communities and ethnic groups in the R A A N . Exceptions to every observation made could no doubt be produced. Nonetheless, within a given cultural group, certain choices, as well as certain exceptions, are more to be expected than others. As Perry explains, "..human choices are not random. They arise from circumstance, existing knowledge, a sense of appropriateness, perceptions of what one can get away with, guesses at what might work best, and numerous other factors. Most, i f not all, of these considerations derive from experience. They are the consequences of history - long term and short term.... We can rarely know for certain precisely what has motivated the actions of an individual. But we can understand to some extent why certain choices on the part of numerous individuals are more likely than others, considering the circumstances."(1996:37) Indigenous environmental perspectives in the R A A N are certainly not random, but are conditioned by culture, history and context, as analysis of the case study material wi l l demonstrate. 31 >< OS > > grou \» n S3 i < P • o S3 El a El S3 S3 f£ \# n r t - o (/> uncil ft o* a so n o ss S3 o IGTQ O S3 o S3 S3 o a n S3 w x o n C < W o so *•{ QTQ n n o o a S3 as o IQTQ o o 3 a I era" S3 O 1/3 o o S3 5 ! o S3-C/l B 2! o* S3 so o n a S3 S3 a O o < n S3 S3 CTQ ON S 3 o 2 O cz> = » re o-g 5-CTQ •a" 3 * n s O S3-S3 O ^ ST * fD C/3 O CTQ o S 3 Chapter 2 Policy Reform, Institutional Uncertainty and Community Alienation in the RAAN This chapter has two primary objectives. The first is to develop the introduction to the case study and theoretical concerns of this thesis reviewed in Chapter 1. Through an examination of the institutional, politico-economic and social characteristics of the R A A N , this chapter will also provide contemporary reference points and theoretical observations to inform subsequent discussions of community-specific and historical material. The second objective is to consider the nature of and role played by national and regional institutions in setting the structural conditions of resource management in the R A A N , within which local perspectives are formulated. Governmental management policies are obviously significant factors in this analysis. However, management conditions are not determined by policies alone; the behaviour of political institutions themselves fundamentally influences the context of management regimes. Governmental institutions are often blandly portrayed as machine-like entities, which can be depended upon to enforce societal rules both consistently and predictably (Borner et al, 1995: 45). As this chapter wil l demonstrate however, institutions can be more than faceless and regimented bureaucracies: in practice, they can in fact function ineffectively, unreliably and even arbitrarily. Institutional behaviour has therefore a direct influence upon local level decisions, since it affects not only the enforcement of governmental rules, but how civil society perceives, responds to and respects them. Institutions and local people . Poverty and economic need are the most obvious factors which encourage local peoples throughout the world to pursue short-termist, unsustainable modes of resource use. However, the economic conditions which provoke social poverty are not random, but the result of specific policies and governmental concerns. Political institutions therefore have a marked influence on resource management use strategies at the localities, as is the case in Nicaragua. But what kind of criteria should we use to consider how the relationship between institutional performance and local decision-making processes? A brief review of a number of conceptual points from literature on institutions and local community management systems presented below will be used to facilitate analysis in this chapter. The viability of co-management regimes and local confidence within them are likely to be strengthened when larger institutional bodies recognise local resource rights, and provide practical support to make them effective. Unfortunately, as occurs in much of the world, national governmental institutions often obstruct, rather than facilitate, local control over resources (Ostrom, IASCP: 1998). If larger units ignore local rights, and exclude local people from the 33 management process, communities are less likely to respect governmental institutions. Moreover, i f states view natural resources primarily as a revenue-generating sector for the state, rather than the means for long-term civic improvement, state policies can create particular income opportunities or investment avenues which leave users with few alternatives but to use their resources in unsustainable ways. When state policies limit local users' range of livelihood options in this way, people in effect rationally degrade the environment, since they must do what they can to survive (Baland & Platteau, 1996: 384). As Ostrom et al have argued: ".. in an optimal institutional arrangement, the incentives motivate the individual to generate net benefits, rather than net costs, for all. Few operational institutions, however, approach such optimality, and many generate incentives that lead to grossly suboptimal outcomes" (Ostrom et al, 1993: 9) When considering how institutions affect resource use decision-making practices at the localities, it is also necessary to distinguish between the appearance and the reality of institutional support. Although institutions can offer the appearance, and deploy the terminology of sustainability and co-management, they might not in practice, be respecting them, or protecting the local peoples whose survival depends upon them (Campbell, 1996: 7). In the case of traditional communities, even where they have developed effective local management institutions to regulate human-environmental relationships, these can swiftly become untenable if threatened by external user intrusion, backed by national or regional governmental policies (Ostrom, 1990: 205). Exposure to new income-earning and consumption opportunities and possibilities can tend to erode the ability of rural communities to manage their common property resources successfully, and encourage more resource degrading practices to be pursued (Baland & Platteau, 196: 270-3). Moreover, these processes can lead to political and economic power differentiations within the community itself, which can undermine its ability to function as a collective unit in protecting the resources upon which their livelihoods depend (Ruttan, 1998: 51). Although these problems are not necessarily encountered by traditional communities, it is nevertheless important to consider the problems which they can experience in such circumstances. It is also important to consider the relationship between the institutions and civil society, since this plays a significant role in determining the degree of local compliance (Ostrom, 1990: 214). If local people feel that government is not working for them, or even against them, they are more likely to defy institutional rulings and governmental management systems, whatever their nature. For example, a study of stakeholder conflicts over resource management in the Galapagos Islands concluded that the users' opposition to state-imposed policies was more the result of their anger at having been marginalised from the policy formulation process, than because they objected to the rules themselves (Heylings, 1998: IASCP). In the absence of trust, 34 consensus and co-operation between local peoples and government institutions over resource management strategies becomes virtually impossible to achieve. Institutions can therefore impede the development of sustainable co-management systems if they remain uncommitted to these principles, or if they fail to involve local users in the design of such initiatives. The management practice which local users then have to pursue in defiance of government, might not necessarily be the best for themselves or the environment in the long term. Institutions can create similar problems if their presence is minimal and ineffective. The more fragile the institution, the less incentive there is at the locality to abide by rules the state itself cannot enforce. Although communities in such circumstances might enjoy a large degree of self-determination, local users, particularly in the modern age, are rarely able to develop sustainable resource management systems on their own; particularly if they are faced with multiple pressures and incentives to exploit their natural resources. Local users, much as with local environments, need to be protected, and be able to benefit from guidance and protection from the regional and national institutions within which they are nested. The optimum institutional arrangement with local users, according to co-management principles, would therefore be one where responsibilities were shared, mutual legitimacy was respected and local empowerment and control was real, rather than fictitious. Analysis of the institutional arrangements and the political circumstances in the R A A N which influence the determination of resource use practices at the locality, will be developed in light of the theoretical observations developed in this section. Nicaraguan national institutions A cursory look at the history of Nicaraguan political institutions suffices to indicate why its political institutions and establishments have to date, been unable to effectively address the many problems of the Atlantic Coast region and indigenous peoples. The nation-state of Nicaragua was created in the wake, and arguably the image, of the weak, centralised colonial government which had preceded it. Nicaragua was not only structurally, but psychologically i l l -prepared for independence. Its population was not united behind the ideal of an independent nation, but polarised, between the small, propertied and land-holding elite, and the large, rural underclass of mestizo * and indigenous people. The Liberals and Conservatives of the upper class were moreover perpetually embroiled in bitter political feuds to control the young nation, from their respective strongholds of Leon and Granada. Nineteenth century Nicaragua therefore lacked both national institutions and a patriotic identity: "..disunity among the patriarchal elites and between them and the folk remained the historical reality. As one major consequence, it deprived Nicaragua of the bureaucratic infrastructure and deference to unity needed to create the modern, Europeanized nation-state ... the Rejistro Oficial blamed disunity on the lack of "a national spirit," while de la Rocha lamented that 35 "The people are deprived of any spirit of Nationalism, which is the soul of the State" (Burns, 1991: 36). Circumstances changed little into the twentieth century; i f anything, they became aggravated. The ruling elite's policies continued to foster the exploitation of the large peasant class in the Pacific regions as before, but their intensity was arguably compounded by the United States, who since the end of the previous century in particular, wielded considerable control over Nicaraguan governance systems. Over the course of the twentieth century, class polarization between poor and rich, between the growing mestizo and indigenous populations, with the landowning class, were accentuated, particularly during the Somoza dictatorship. The popular Sandinista revolution came as relatively little surprise in 1979. Although the Sandinistas aimed to reverse the trend of dictatorial, centralised institutional rule, to involve civil society in the collective process of government, their socialist objectives were not shared by all Nicaraguans. Many of the peasants who had fought in the Nicaraguan revolution had been fighting against landowner oppression, for their own land and right to self-determination, not for the Sandinistas themselves. Meanwhile, for the indigenous peoples of the Atlantic Coast, as we shall later discuss, it represented an opportunity to mobilise and acquire ethnic rights of self-governance and determination. Conflicting visions of the future within Nicaraguan society in the first years after the war arguably owed much to their disunited political and national heritage. The outbreak of civil war in the 1980s, precipitated by U.S. intervention, moreover meant that the Sandinistas were never really able to attempt to reverse institutional history, since the emergency circumstances led to another government from the centre, ruled by a particular, select elite. Nevertheless, against the trend of both history and war, the Sandinistas developed a theoretically radical proposal which aimed to end conflict in the Atlantic Coast area, and in particular, to placate the indigenous insurrecionaries: regional autonomy. 1 Autonomy aimed to convince the indigenous peoples that their interests could be addressed within, rather than independent of, the Nicaraguan state. In essence it represented a compromise agreement between the extreme positions of the two sides; those sections of Miskitu society wishing to create a sovereign nation on the Atlantic Coast, and those people from the Pacific who were suspicious of any expressions of regional separatism. Encouraged by their war-weary communities, most Miskitu leaders eventually accepted the Sandinista proposal. In 1987, an Autonomy Statute recognising many of the costefio's wartime demands for self-government, land rights and cultural identity was passed by the Sandinista government. Two separate Autonomous 1 In Chapter 8, examination of the reasons for why the Miskitus joined the civil war against the Sandinistas will be provided. 36 Regional Councils would be created in the Northern and Southern sections of the Coast to determine regional affairs. Their decisions would be administered by an executive body known as the Regional Government. Partly to defuse the militant ethnic positions of the war, and also in the interests of constructing a more cohesive and cooperative regional society in which no single ethnic group exercised absolute hegemony, regional autonomy was founded upon the principle of multiculturalism, rather than indigenous rights alone. The regional political context: institutional autonomy On paper, the Autonomy Statute and related amendments to the Nicaraguan Constitution which both preceded, and became necessary following the approval of Autonomy in 1987, seem to provide ample and progressive rights to the Atlantic region and the indigenous communities respectively. Nicaragua's historical neglect of the Adantic Coast appeared to have been reversed. Of particular interest to this thesis are the points which related to land ownership and natural resource management. The rights of indigenous communities to follow their own forms of communal land ownership within the regional and national systems, and to use and benefit from the natural resources located on their communal lands is upheld in Article 12 of the Autonomy Statute. Community rights to self-determination are also defended by Articles 5 and 89 of the Constitution: "Indigenous people enjoy the maintain the communal structures of land ownership, and to use and benefit from them...." (Art 5) "Communities of the Atlantic Coast have the right to exercise their own forms of social organisation and administer their local affairs according to their own traditions." (Art 89) According to Article 36 of the Autonomy Statute, communal land held by indigenous communities cannot be sold, seized or taxed, and only community members have the right to use and benefit from them. The rights of communities to benefit from the natural resources on their lands is further emphasised by Article 180 of the Nicaraguan Constitution. There are also a series of laws pertaining to the rights of the Autonomous Region itself. Article 9 of the Autonomy Statute declares that: "The rational exploitation of the mining, forestry and fishing resources as well as other natural resources in the Autonomous Regions of the Atlantic Coast must benefit its inhabitants in just proportions, in accordance with agreement between the Regional Government and Central Government" Article 181 of the Constitution as a result of the 1987 legislation, moreover recognised that: "The concessions and contracts granted by the State for rational exploitation of natural resources lying within the Autonomous Regions of the Atlantic Coast need approval from the corresponding Autonomous Regional Council" 37 Whereas the pattern of resource extraction from the Atlantic Coast had for centuries been determined by external markets and interests (see Chapters 3 & 6), the Constitution now provided the region with a legal standpoint from which to defend local social and ecological interests in the formulation of resource management policy. In theory, therefore, the Autonomy Statute and the Nicaraguan Constitution provide considerable protection to indigenous peoples rights and interests in regards to natural resources. Their ownership rights to traditional land and use of the resources upon them is upheld. Meanwhile an elected regional administrative body has been established, with the legislative powers to protect regional interests in the use of natural resources not lying within communal lands. However, the practical reality of the power-sharing arrangements in the post war era has unfortunately been the cause of great disappointment in the R A A N . The Autonomy Statute was purposefully developed to be broad, so as to enable costefios themselves to work out specific details over time, rather than have them determined from the outset by the minority politicos (Freeman, 1988: 88, Llanes, 1995: 125). Its approval represented only the first step in what was intended to be a lengthy process, involving institutional development, legal refinement and local capacity building. Although the Autonomy Statute, in combination with the Nicaraguan Constitution, safeguarded the principles of community land and resources, and had established a regional government, the physical boundaries of indigenous community had yet to be determined, while procedures for how the regional and central parliaments were to cooperate, administer and define the management of land and natural resources in the Atlantic Coast had been left undefined. Translating the wide-ranging theoretical principles established by this legislation into concrete rights improvements for the region and its people has since proved a formidable task, which has often made a mockery of the optimism inspired by the 1987 agreement. National government politics and autonomy in the 1990s One of the major setbacks to the autonomy process coincided with the first elections for the Regional Councils in 1990. In simultaneous national elections, the Sandinistas suffered an unexpected defeat the United National Opposition party or ONU, led by Violeta Chamorro. The Sandinistas, who had conceived, developed and approved the Autonomy agreement, were no longer in government. The new O N U administration had not been involved in the autonomy process, and had no particular commitment to it. Then again, any Nicaraguan government elected in 1990, whatever their politics, would have been affected by not only centralised government traditions, weak institutions, and the devastation incurred by a decade of war, in not making the autonomy process one of their greatest priorities. Developing strong institutional structures able to operate on and coordinate between multiple levels of governance under any circumstances would be a difficult task to achieve. The introduction of a completely 38 unanticipated element, the Chamorro government, did however serve to make the prospects for radical institutional change and regional autonomy all the more bleak. In order to become operational, the Autonomy Statute needed to be ratified by the national parliament in Managua; without additional legislation, it essentially represented a theoretical and abstract document (Llanes, 1996: 129). Ratification ultimately depended on the willingness and commitment of the new Assembly and Chamorro government to devolve national power to the Atlantic Coast regions. However, the Chamorro cabinet's main concerns were with revitalising the national economy, and reorienting it from a war to peace-time focus. In order to achieve economic stability and growth, the Chamorro government initiated one of the most extensive macroeconomic stabilisation programmes ever effected (Vickers, 1991/2; Borner, 1995). The harsh neo-liberal economic model being implemented in Nicaragua favoured a traditional, centralised approach to government, rather than decentralisation. Since only 5 out of the 92 deputies on the National Assembly are from the Atlantic Coast, it became very difficult for costehos to force regional agendas onto the National Assembly agenda, let alone to obtain the necessary support for their approval. The right-wing government of Arnoldo Aleman which replaced Chamorro in 1996 has so far continued the policies of its predecessor: pay lip-service to autonomy in the Atlantic Coast, but continue to operate in their own interests according to national agendas, and do little to further the decentralisation and regional empowerment process. Over a decade has passed since the Autonomy Statute was first approved; the principles it established are still awaiting ratification by Managua. As a Miskitu lawyer told me: "in Nicaragua we make laws, we just don't implement them" Regional Council: Experiences in Government The Regional Council of the R A A N therefore came into existence with only vague ideas of what their powers were, and almost no idea about how they could actually be exercised. Moreover, the vast majority of consejales or councillors had no experience of government and administration whatsoever; many parliamentary members were even illiterate. Regional autonomy was an experiment in the making for all participants; faced by a central government opposed to decentralisation on principle, it promised to be an uphill struggle (Hale, 1994: 197). The government in Managua appears to think that to further the ownership and management rights of the region and indigenous communities would constitute a direct threat to their own sovereignty, which they are unwilling to risk (Gonzales, 1998: 13). As such, the dominant, unresolved questions associated with regional land - what are the boundaries of communal land, does the state or the regional government wield ultimate jurisdiction over non-community land, and how should the natural resources on these lands be managed in the interests of both region and state - continue to overshadow the regional political scene. In the absence of property laws and administrative clarity, multiple social and ecological conflicts emerge between the national 39 government, the regional government and the indigenous communities themselves. Bereft of institutional support or direction, a situation of confusion and lawlessness in the management of natural resources unfortunately prevails. The circumstances being faced by the R A A N are certainly not unique; similar examples can be found throughout the northern and southern hemispheres. Conclusions drawn in such cases can therefore also be related to northeastern Nicaragua, such as those produced by the research of Tubtim et al in the community of Nam Ngum, Laos, southeast Asia: "... the lessons of Nam Ngum lie in the importance of clarifying resource rights and responsibilities between neighbouring villages, between local and state authorities and between different claimants on the same resource. The vacuum of authority has been shown to be the most pernicious problem facing rural people and the environments on which they depend. Filling that vacuum effectively and equitably requires the establishment of a flexible, detailed and participatory resource planning process." (Tubtim et al, 1996: 277) Has the Regional Council shown itself in any way able to address the problems presented by ill-defined systems of authority and rights regarding land use and ownership, in the face of national government intransigence? On the basis of the Council's performance to date, one would have to say that it has not. Although the calibre and experience of both consejales and the regional institutions have reportedly improved, this would not have been possible without the support of ASDI, a Swedish NGO, which has performed the role the national government should arguably have assumed in attempting to strengthen regional institutions. Nevertheless, even with ASDI's assistance, the Regional Council remains a weak institution, whose authority is not only questioned at the national level, but within the region as well. Rather than follow the principle of multiethnicity upon which autonomy was developed to create a united regional political movement headed by the Regional Council, consejales have tended, particularly since 1994, to follow national party affiliations instead. Political rivalries have prevented the Regional Council from countering the pressure applied, and the example presented, by Managua, where politics continues to be heavily influenced by interest groups, patronage and corruption. As a Miskitu journalist told me: "... things that are occurring in the R A A N , despite their regional particularities, are the same as on the national level: politics are governed by political parties and private interests .... meanwhile, the people are desperate and are looking for means and ways to have their concerns expressed, but so far to no avail..." Many consejales are aware of this problem. At a joint session held in Puerto Cabezas between the two Regional Councils in December 1996, various representatives expressed their concern at how dependent, politicised and unimaginative the Regional Council had become. As one consejal observed, the Regional Councils had become just another administrative branch of central government. However, others took an alternative position. One consejal argued that the region's interests were in fact best be served by an accommodating, rather than confrontational position towards Managua. The experience of the war had shown costehos, he argued, the 40 dangers of pushing too hard for their rights, and that the Autonomy Statute could be ratified within a year i f they presented a more conciliatory regional stance before the national government. Unsurprisingly, the consejal advocating this position was a Liberal Party member. Also unsurprising is the fact that 18 months later, during which time the Regional Council has acted anything but aggressively, the Autonomy Statute nevertheless seems no closer to being ratified (even though the same consejal saying that it would be is now a senior member of the Aleman government, and therefore in a very good position from which to realise his earlier prediction). Internal as well as external factors inhibit the performance of the Regional Council. The executive wing of the Regional Council, the Regional Government, created in order to administer consejales' decisions, has in the last couple of years become more powerful than the Council itself. The Regional Government is headed by a Coordinator, more commonly known as the 'Governor'; from 1994, this post has been occupied by Liberal Party supporters, with the Regional Council dominated by Sandinistas. The rivalries and disagreements which have emerged between supporters of the two parties show how readily regional representatives have allowed the central government's 'divide and rule' policies to dominate the regional political scene. Once the Aleman government was inaugurated in January 1997, the balance of power turned decisively towards the Liberal contingent. In 1997, considerable proportions of the budget and salaries intended for the Regional Council began to be unlawfully withheld by Managua. What was delivered, was now being sent to the Regional Government, rather than the Regional Council. The Regional Council became effectively paralysed, and its autonomous rights transgressed. Until October 1997, the R A A N Regional Council had not met a single time in 1997, due to the financial constraints imposed by Aleman's budget freeze. As one consejal told me: "...since Aleman took over government, the Council hasn't held a single session ... they've cut our electricity, they cut our phones, administrative staff has been made redundant, and many consejales haven't been paid... in essence, the central government's policy towards autonomy is to undermine it through abandonment..." As it became obvious that the constraints upon the Regional Council made it effectively unable to serve the interests of costeho people, early regional enthusiasm for the autonomy process faded. An extremely low turnout for the March 1998 regional elections, of only about 40% of those eligible to vote, was evidence of how widespread popular disaffection with regional politics had become in a society which since the war, had normally voted en masse. The results were nonetheless a victory for the political party of Arnoldo Aleman, the Liberals, creating a Liberal-dominated Regional Council and Government which makes it even more unlikely that regional institutions will be able, or even try, to resist central government policies, and develop their own. According to the regional newspaper Autonomia, Aleman had declared 41 prior to the election that if any other party than the Liberals won the elections, his government would give no further support whatsoever to regional institutions (Autonomia, 1998b: 18). The results suggest his warning might have been heeded; not only by the general populace, but by aspiring politicians as well. Politics is one of the few means of obtaining some power and employment in an incredibly depressed region. As another article in Autonomia lamented, in the 1990s, political affiliations can now determine whether or not you get a job in the region or not; something without precedent in Atlantic Coast society (Autonomia, 1998b: 7). This negative incentive means that rather than representing the interests of their constituents, elected consejales will more likely serve their political party agendas instead. Unfortunately, social conditions being as difficult as they are, it is therefore often very difficult for people to gamble with their livelihoods, and risk falling out of favour with the dominant power system. As one informant told me: "all decisions are effectively taken in Managua, and our people haven't developed a determination to realise autonomy.... we still allow Managua to dictate everything" The autonomy process remains an important vehicle for change and progress in the Atlantic Coast. Despite its many problems, the Autonomy Statute and the constitutional amendments represent important legislative landmarks from which indigenous communities and regional society can effectively struggle for their rights and interests. However, regional autonomy can only become effective with considerable support from the national government. The Regional Council's predicament shows that without financial and technical assistance from Managua and ASDI, it simply cannot function (Leger, 1994; Ortega-Hegg, 1996). Achieving radical institutional changes under the present, and indeed, historical conditions of Nicaraguan politics seems highly unlikely. Unless the regional authorities resist being co-opted by national government, manage to bridge local political or ethnic divides, and foster a region-wide interest to defend autonomy principles, the expectations created by regional autonomy wil l probably continue to be disappointed. Both regional and national space for the expression of local political agendas remains incredibly limited. Land, resources and management in the R A A N As already mentioned, the rights to land and resources remain the most controversial and divisive issues in the R A A N today. Both at the community and regional levels, development and future survival is seen as contingent upon securing the economic power base provided by rights over land and resources. It is therefore useful to describe the institutional and economic contexts of land proprietorship and resource management within which contemporary indigenous perceptions function. Natural resources: a means to a future 42 Particularly in the urban sections of industrialised society, where livelihoods rarely depend upon direct expropriation of the environment, greater concern is often given to the recreational or ecological, rather than industrial significance of the natural world. Environmental conservation has become a morally correct position to adopt in modern day society; the wisdom of pursuing further development and wealth at the cost of irreversible environmental destruction is a hotly debated issue. However, it is much easier to make these choices in industrialised societies, where modern services and standards of living are on average much higher than in the "developing" countries of the world. This is certainly the case in Nicaragua, and the Atlantic Coast in particular, where the majority of natural resource reserves are located. Regional attitudes towards natural resources are primarily determined by economic, rather than ecological, considerations; natural resources are the region's main asset and means of development. Since natural resources represent the region's main and only material assets, careful management procedures are required. However, as will be shown in Chapter 6, regional natural resource extraction has historically occurred in an unregulated institutional environment, which has discouraged the development of equitable and sustainable resource management. There are some indications that Nicaragua has in the 1990s, begun to move away from its past history of granting large-scale concessions to foreign institutions, paying more attention to local concerns and indigenous rights than ever before (see Chapter 9). The government learnt, after the international outcry which greeted its decision to grant a lumber concession of 250,000 hectares to a Taiwanese firm in 1991 (which was eventually withdrawn) that local consultation and ecological criteria would henceforth have to play a role in decision-making procedures (FAO, 1993: 32). In Chapter 8, we will examine the case of Awastingni, an indigenous community whose involvement in a contractual arrangement with a Dominican lumber company rests on governmental recognition of their customary tenurial rights, even though the community still does not hold a formal land title. There are indications that in Nicaragua, the government has begun to accept the wisdom and necessity of incorporating public participation into institutional arrangements regarding forestry. Institutional weakness within the developmentalist paradigm However, despite certain changes, many of the historical characteristics of the Nicaraguan forestry sector - top-down, export-oriented, closed to the possibility of power-sharing or public participation - have unfortunately persisted into the 1990s. The national government still appears more concerned with creating attractive conditions for foreign investment than with developing local markets, improving the regulatory environment or encouraging the development of alternative, less ecologically-destructive industries in the region. A study headed by Borner on institutional conditions and uncertainty in Nicaragua, following the policy reforms resulting 43 from the intensive structural adjustment drive of the early post-war era, provides explanations for why economic rather than social imperatives have continued to dominate national political considerations in the 1990s. The authors argue that agencies such as the IMF or World Bank, whilst urging countries like Nicaragua to provide the economic conditions to stimulate private sector growth and achieve national development, pay insufficient attention to the need for concomitant and complimentary institutional reform (Borner et al 1993: 44). Despite the Nicaraguan government having remedied macroeconomic instability and established the economic preconditions to stimulate the private sector, foreigners remained very reluctant to commit their resources to the country. A survey of foreign investors identified two principle reasons to explain their reticence: the outstanding, unresolved issue of property-rights, and the 'discretionary problem', whereby the institutions in Nicaragua themselves could be expected to either ignore their own laws and procedures, or liberally reinterpret them at will . Of the 29 "low-developing countries" where similar research was conducted, only 2 countries were considered to have higher levels of institutional uncertainty than those found in Nicaragua. Nicaragua therefore remains a significant investment risk, and entrepreneurs in the lumber industry as in other sectors, as in the past, tend to only commit for the short-term, with their primary objective being quick profits, rather than long-term growth. Although this type of investment brings more damage than benefit to Nicaraguan society and environment alike, the elusive developmentalist dream means that foreign investment is usually accepted, irrespective of companies' intentions. Moreover, the fragility, and indeed, the corruption which bedevils Nicaraguan institutions at both the national and regional levels means that once such companies begin to operate, governmental control over their actions is very poor (see Chapter 8). As a Miskitu informant in Puerto Cabezas told me: "Foreigners continue to come and use our natural resources as they please ... we have been incapable of telling them "look, if you don't respect our rights, you have to leave." However, since the government has made no effort to foster an integrated local economy, and needs remain great, costehos often seem resigned to the fact that resource expropriation in the region continues to be dictated by external economic systems and incentives, rather than local needs (CIES, 1992: 33). Contextualising developmentalism After all, the contemporary regional economic and institutional environment, and the unregulated patterns of resource extraction which it fosters, have long-standing historical roots (see Chapters 3 & 6). These institutional trends have moreover structurally and ideologically functioned to limit progress, change and development in the Atlantic Coast (Gonzales, 1997b: 35). Structurally speaking, international and national policies have encouraged the entrenchment 44 of ecologically destructive, and socially detrimental forms of resource extraction in the region -patterns of resource management which over time, society has become dangerously accustomed to. As a result, not enough time is spent discussing and exploring alternative ways of using natural resources for long term common interests. Invariably, the commercial value of environment is perceived in terms of its potential for straightforward extraction. In a region where (even by the dubious prices set by the global market economy) resources are pitifully undervalued, attitudes and economic incentives combined have worked against sustainable use of the environment. Over the centuries, the Miskitus have made significant ideological accommodations to the commercial opportunities presented by foreign companies extracting resources from their region. As a result, indigenous society has become responsive to the goals and values introduced by the global developmentalist discourse. Moreover, given the pressing and immediate needs of the regional population, indigenous peoples included, concern with how the returns from natural resource industries are distributed throughout society is more prevalent than concern with the ecological consequences of industrial extraction itself. The developmentalist policies pursued by the Nicaraguan government in the 1990s, and the economic characteristics prevalent in the R A A N are by no means unique. Throughout the globe, natural resources are being exploited in the interests of capitalist enterprise, rather than local peoples and local economies. Davies and Young's analysis of the nature of Australian economic policies, and their impact upon aboriginal peoples, could be easily transplanted to the Nicaraguan context: "..regional planning by government agencies could do much to redress aboriginal marginalisation, but this has not occurred - instead planning has focused almost exclusively on large-scale resource development and has largely ignored the needs and aspirations of the region's aboriginal population." (Davies & Young, 1996) The institutions of management Article 102 of the Nicaraguan Constitution declares that "natural resources are national patrimony" and that the state is legally entitled to grant contracts for their "rational exploitation" (my emphases). Given the absence of a developed regional administration able to assume the task of monitoring resource use, the institution responsible for establishing and enforcing environmental regulations in the R A A N remains the Nicaraguan Ministry of Natural Resources, or M A R E N A . M A R E N A however, wrestles with a somewhat contradictory mandate. The Ministry is responsible both for granting resource exploitation contracts to resource extractive companies, as well as for protecting the natural environment. In practice, the former responsibility has arguably tended to take precedence over the latter. In response to institutional trends of the 1990s, M A R E N A has become an increasingly centralised ministry over the decade, 45 with limited technical staff based permanently in the departamentos, including the R A A N . As a consequence, M A R E N A ' s ability to monitor company activity is extremely limited; according to concerned costefios: ".. the State does not have a legal-administrative institution able to guarantee an adequate balance between conservation and development ... [MARENA] is becoming a marketing body for natural resources, which makes a ... legal entity able to guarantee sustainable use and protection of the environment increasingly necessary." (Romero & Cunningham, 1992: 55) As the regional delegate of M A R E N A admitted to me, M A R E N A offices in the R A A N suffer from a shortage of staff, particularly professionals. As a result, he declared, civil society now had to start taking much more responsibility for environmental protection and regulation. Although this might in theory appear a reasonable suggestion, it cannot occur if the government does not itself set an good example of sustainable management, and prevents local involvement in the formulation of management practices . Interestingly, even the forestry professionals in M A D E N S A , the most active lumber company in the region, complained of M A R E N A ' s shoddy work, which made working in the region unsettling and unpredictable; similar complaints were voiced by representatives from the South Korean company, SOLCARSA. The weak institutional context means that despite the multiple tax breaks and lax regulatory environment, foreign companies are reluctant to make long-term investment commitments to the region, and continue to seek quick profits by extracting the most precious woods as quickly as possible. As a member of the Regional Council observed, regional resource management was largely a misnomer: .". we are simply giving all our resources away to the companies, and serving private interests, rather the [indigenous] communities'." Institutional inflexibility Even when regional authorities have made attempts to become more involved in the monitoring of natural resources, M A R E N A has taken steps to resist change. For example, in 1996, an initiative was made to develop a Committee of Natural Resources in Puerto Cabezas which included the regional M A R E N A delegate, representatives of the regional government, municipal authorities and members of civil society. The objective of the Committee was to develop common principles to regulate resource use in the region. According to one participant, the Committee was unable to develop beyond the first few meetings because the M A R E N A delegate refused to support it. Without M A R E N A ' s albeit limited technical backing, there was therefore little point in proceeding. Coordination between M A R E N A and the regional authorities to develop and implement management policies remains virtually non-existent. This is particularly true in the case of forestry resources. Although the regional government receives a proportion of the taxes paid to M A R E N A from the mining and fishery industries, only the municipal authorities benefit from taxes upon the lumber industry. This prevents the benefits accrued from natural resource extraction from effectively benefiting the region as the Autonomy 46 Statute had stipulated. In 1996, from approximately $5,000,000 generated by registered lumber extraction, less than 1% was reinvested into the regional government (Regional Council, 1996; pers. comm.). By not making a proportion of the material benefits accrued from natural resource extraction available to the regional authorities, both regional improvements, and the process of autonomy itself, will continue to be piecemeal. Land in the RAAN Land in the R A A N is interpreted in a variety of ways: it can be presented as community, municipal, regional or national land depending on the perspective of the observer. Municipal boundaries are perhaps the clearest boundaries of them all. Within municipalities, however, we find land which is primarily under the jurisdiction of the indigenous communities; the municipalities might receive taxes from lumber felled in these areas, but they are not able to determine how it should be used. As discussed earlier, the Autonomy Statute and Nicaraguan Constitution give legal rights to indigenous peoples over their traditional communal lands. However, the specific boundaries of these community lands remains to be determined. Although this issue remains at the forefront of most indigenous, and indeed regional agendas, no concerted initiative to resolve the land question has yet been undertaken by the national government. A National Commission for Land Demarcation was set up in August 1996, but it was opposed by the indigenous communities for being largely government-controlled, and ultimately made little practical progress in achieving its mandate.2 In the meantime, a combination of factors, including population increases, regional immigration, and a reevaluation of traditional land ownership patterns and natural resources have made the resolution of regional land ownership an urgent necessity. Indigenous communities within the regional / national institutions How do indigenous communities perceive the regional / national institutions within which they reside? Although indigenous communities have been affected by the economic incentives fostered by national institutions, they have nevertheless retained a physical and psychological separation from the institutions themselves. Their relationship with regional institutions in the 1990s, particularly once these had failed to improve conditions in the R A A N , has been largely similar. The disillusionment suffered by the indigenous communities, who had expected great changes from the war, has been instrumental in encouraging their disaffection with both regional and national politics and governments. From the 1970s through to the end of the 1980s, indigenous communities in the R A A N were generally, extremely interested in political affairs, and eager to participate in them (Gonzales, 1997: 32). However, the 1990s have brought communities back to a situation of isolation and limited political involvement. The See Chapter 7 for more detail. 47 autonomy process has been primarily concentrated upon developing the regional administrative bodies in Puerto Cabezas, or attempting to resolve the disputes between region and state. The primary fault - and weakness - of the Regional Council has in fact been its inability to communicate with the regional population, and to develop a popular base of support within the R A A N itself. Not only would this help strengthen their position before the national government; it would also encourage their policies to become more reflective of regional opinion. At present, however, indigenous communities tend to present the Regional Council as working against rather than in their interests: "We don't know what the Regional Council is.... I don't know who our representative is... they [the consejales] haven't presented themselves to the people, and the people don't know what they are up to.." (Francis Sirpi, 1996) And as another informant said to me: "Autonomy is only a word. It should mean control of our own resources for a better life ... but we haven't seen this happening, we see other people benefiting instead." (San Carlos, 1997) The opinions of these informants were echoed by countless others through the region during all my field work visits, and therefore appear fairly representative of public, and particularly indigenous, perspectives on the regional government today. This does not necessarily mean that autonomy itself was a poor idea. Although traditional patterns of leadership, authority and representation in Miskitu and Mayangna cultures are quite different from the Western political democratic system encapsulated by the Regional Council (see Chapter 7), the main source of popular dissatisfaction does not seem to be with autonomy itself, but an ineffectual political system which has made autonomy appear so meaningless to so many costenos. As a Miskitu professional told me: " .... autonomy is a significant achievement for us, but we don't have the important things, which are human and economic resources, to make it work....we need to restructure these organisations [of the regional government], to fight for economic strength, on the basis of our regional natural resources.... this is our only route to salvation .... but restructured in another way, not like it is now...." The Regional Council needs to act soon to bridge the growing gulf between government and civil society, while this is still possible. At the November 1996 Joint Session between the R A A N and R A A S Councils which I attended, various consejales spoke out on this issue, saying that they needed to start paying more attention to the communities, rather than the national government and international investment. However, while the President of the Council admitted that they had problems with the communities, this lack of communication he argued was the fault of the national government, who gave them such a limited budget, and made the costly exercise 48 of regional travel virtually impossible.3 Indeed, he did have a point; regional travel is a tiresome, lengthy and expensive exercise, requiring good vehicles able to tackle the poor roads, while petrol for both land and water transport is incredibly expensive. A passenger traveling to Asang, in the upper River Wangki, from Waspam, a journey of about eight hours with a medium power engine, will spend about $12, practically the same amount as an average monthly income. Nevertheless, it is also a question of choice: some consejales, once elected, opt to move to Puerto Cabezas, and others do not. As the consejal from San Carlos, a community just before Asang on the Wangki, told me, the majority of consejales chose to live in Puerto Cabezas, rather than spend most of their salaries travelling back and forth between the regional capital and their communities. As a result, only three out of the nine consejales from the Wangki district actually lived in the area itself. As a result, the legitimacy of consejales to pose as their leaders becomes openly questioned in those communities who never see their representatives. The locality remains ominously alienated from both regional and national governance systems. Conclusion This chapter has provided an analysis of the institutional environment in which resource management policies in the R A A N are developed and implemented. It has also served to provide a general introduction to the contemporary political and economic framework which influences the formulation of contemporary indigenous environmental perspectives. Despite an impressive record of policy reforms providing considerable rights to self-governance and resources for both the Atlantic regions and indigenous communities within them, successive Nicaraguan governments have blatantly failed to implement them. Rather than facilitate local empowerment, and incorporate local concerns within management processes, weak political institutions have been either unable or unwilling to modify traditional centralist approaches to governance. As a result, the relationship between central government and indigenous communities remained by and large, exceptionally poor. Since government itself is questioned, the rules which it applies (but cannot itself enforce) are not always respected at the locality. For example, isolated communities resent governmental decrees limiting the amount of wood they are able to sell from their forests, and since they know these rules are rarely enforced, have a double incentive not to uphold them. If possible, the relationship between the regional government and indigenous communities is even worse. Perhaps because the indigenous peoples had such high expectations of the Regional Council following the war, its subsequent ineffectiveness has represented an exceptional disappointment to them. Regional autonomous institutions remain defenceless before arbitrary political decisions from Managua as was clearly demonstrated in 1997, when the 3 This statement was moreover made before the unilateral cuts on the Regional Council's budget were made by President Aleman. 49 new President Aleman's decision to withhold the Council budget provoked little resistance from within the R A A N itself. Although the Regional Council can enact legislation, it is palpably unable to implement it. In 1997, it only convened once, and then at the instigation of the national government (see Chapter 8), While it remains an important legal instrument for local self-governance within the federal state of Nicaragua, regional autonomous institutions have in practice, been little more than extensions of national government will in the R A A N , which has hardly managed to endear them to the indigenous communities of the region. Local resource decision-making processes are therefore conditioned by a weak institutional environment, developmentalist economics, political systems they feel little allegiance to, and management policies determined without their participation, which they frequently defy. Without external support, it is unlikely that the indigenous communities will independently manage, or even attempt to galvanise progressive changes in institutional and governance systems. At present, indigenous peoples' main efforts are directed towards protecting themselves from the state, by obtaining community land titles, which despite their constitutional right to land, is proving an arduous enough task in itself. Improving the management system itself is not necessarily their greatest priority at the moment Moreover, given the historical indigenous experience of resource extraction for commercial purposes, institutional and economic incentives, current levels of poverty in the region, conditions seem more likely to encourage exploitative, short-termist and ad hoc patterns of resource use, than sustainable management regimes. As long as indigenous communities continue to perceive the government as unwilling to fulfill their greatest collective concern, to receive titles for their community lands, then relations between state and the locality will remain uneasy. Indeed, in the last few months, members of a Miskitu political organisation founded during the war, Y A T A M A , frustrated with government intransigence over this issue, decided to return to its paramilitary roots. Reinforcements from the national army have taken positions throughout the R A A N where the situation could, according to the Nicaraguan national newspaper La Tribuna, turn explosive at any moment (La Tribuna, 02/07/98). Many of the central institutional conditions for sustainable co-management regimes -recognised property rights, a developed hierarchy of supportive institutions with clearly defined respective responsibilities, and perhaps most importantly, trust between government and people (Heylings, 1998: IASCP) - do not presently exist in the R A A N . In later chapters, local environmental perspectives and agendas within the regional and national institutional contexts described here will be examined in relation to specific case study examples. This has not been attempted in this chapter, which was primarily designed to introduce and discuss the regional, and particularly the institutional characteristics of the R A A N . 50 An additional reason, however, which has already been stated in this thesis, is that indigenous perspectives can simply not be appreciated when abstracted from the historical and cultural conditions from which they have originated. State institutions and policies after all represent only one of the many reference points which shape indigenous attitudes towards resource use. The following three chapters will therefore analyse the historical and contemporary relationships between Miskitu values, organisation, livelihoods and beliefs and environmental perspectives within indigenous communities themselves. 51 Chapter 3 Indigenous Community Perspectives Through History: Livelihoods, Values and Organisation Communities and Culture This chapter examines the historical antecedents of contemporary Miskitu culture and environmental attitudes within indigenous communities. Communities are integral to the indigenous experience in northeastern Nicaragua, as a prominent Miskitu professional has argued: "the community is the basis of the Miskitus social organisation, and represents the guarantee for their survival" (Cunningham, 1994: 19) In Chapter 1, we presented various observations by Butz on indigenous communities and cultures, which will inform analysis in this chapter. Most relevant amongst these is his argument that resource management decision-making is ultimately determined at the community level according to indigenous cultural norms, cultural norms which are in turn, determined by both material and ideological concerns. The Miskitus' concern to pursue livelihood strategies which are both materially efficacious, and ideologically efficacious, has continuously influenced their resource use practices. However, since indigenous culture has in itself, been constantly modified over time, the nature of their material and ideological concerns have also changed according to historical circumstances. It is therefore important not to make assumptions about indigenous culture when incorporating them into management processes, since this can serve to mitigate against the benefit of their inclusion; The first part of the community battle is being won. Communities which a few decades ago were perceived by the development paradigm as symbols of backwardness, anachronistic to modernisation objectives, are now being recognised by organisations such as the United Nations and World.Bank as providing the locus for social action and basis of resource management arrangements (Mosse, IASCP: 1998). However, sensitive appreciation of community culture, histories and values by governments and organisation still needs to improve. Although developmental workers and governments now realise the importance of incorporating community concerns into projects and policy designs, they nevertheless often end up misrepresenting local systems, since they fail to appreciate the origin, nature and implications of their cultural perspectives. Analysis of Miskitu history, culture and community perspectives in this chapter aims to inform and contextualise subsequent consideration of Miskitu behaviour as stakeholders in contemporary resource management situations. Three aspects of indigenous community culture deemed most relevant to this inquiry are being used to guide the discussion. The first theme concerns Miskitu livelihood systems, 52 exploring the relationship between culturally-defined needs and resource use strategies pursued by the Miskitus over time. Since needs are culturally relative concepts, this inquiry will also allow us to reflect upon community values, and their implications for resource use strategies. Finally, we shall consider the forms of social organisation which the Miskitu have employed to secure livelihood needs, in accordance with their community values. Since these three themes -livelihood strategies, organisation, and values - function simultaneously within Miskitu culture, they will be analysed simultaneously in this chapter. Both endogenous and exogenous factors are considered to have shaped Miskitu culture, and therefore livelihoods, organisation and values, at the community level. Miskitu environmental perspectives have therefore emerged from the meeting of local and external influences. Past research on the Miskitu has indeed placed great importance on the influence played by contact with non-indigenous society in the formulation of their culture; subsequent research remains incomplete without consideration of this issue. The cultural contact process indeed represents a central analytical concept both in this chapter, and throughout the thesis. The different ways in which the cultural contact phenomenon, and by implication, indigenous culture are treated by researchers, can result in very different perspectives on indigenous peoples, in this case, the Miskitu, being presented. Since academic representations of indigenous culture can have significant political repercussions for the human society under consideration, influencing the way indigeneity itself is viewed (e.g. in relation to land claims or demands to be included in resource management negotiation processes), I feel it is important to present, through an analysis of the culture contact phenomenon, my overall approach to Miskitu culture itself. A review of how the concept of culture contact is used in this particular thesis becomes a necessary entry point for this chapter, not only because of its political implications and the significant role it has played in previous research on Miskitu culture, but also since it represents a central analytical device in considering the relationship between Miskitu culture and environmental perspectives. The "purchase society" theory of Miskitu cultural change Mary Helms, an anthropologist who conducted research in the Miskitu community of Asang during the 1960s, proposed a new sociocultural category - the "purchase society" - to describe Miskitu culture, based upon the experience of contact. This theory influenced many subsequent interpretations of Miskitu culture, and therefore provides us with a useful starting point from which to consider the nature and significance of early Miskitu attempts to reconcile pre-contact cultural norms and perspectives, with external practices and knowledge. 53 How did Helms define a "purchase society", and what implications did her theory have for Miskitu culture? The "purchase society" theory is best explained by Helms herself: "The definitive characteristic of any purchase society is the articulation of local society with the wider complex world through economic channels of trade and wage labour, while political autonomy and a stable social organisation are maintained... local adaptations will be directed... to 'purchase,' through one means or another, foreign manufactured goods which have acquired the status of cultural necessities...." (Helms, 1971: 7). According to Helms, the indigenous purchase society's involvement with the "wider complex world" after culture contact implied fundamental cultural change, a whole new direction and rationale for indigenous culture. The 'definitive' cultural characteristic and objective of Miskitus society became the purchase imperative; Miskitu livelihoods, values and social organisation all became geared towards obtaining the benefits afforded by culture contact. However, since the Europeans did not colonise the region, indigenous political autonomy at the community level was maintained. This meant that a separate realm of social experience, in which pre-contact cultural norms persisted, was able to co-exist with the tumultuous changes otherwise affecting indigenous society. To a large extent, I agree with Helms' representation of the conditions according to which Miskitu culture subsequently evolved. However, whereas Helms seemed to imply that the two realms of the Miskitu experience - economic involvement with European trade, local political autonomy - were maintained separately, I see them engaged in a constant process of interaction. Although the Europeans introduced commercial enterprise to the Miskitus, the more "complex" society was not necessarily able to dictate the terms of transaction; the local indigenous people assumed this process, and made it their own. By the same token, although local indigenous political autonomy was generally maintained for centuries after contact, nevertheless, changes -for example in indigenous leadership, values, and intracommunal social organisation - which infiltrated local indigenous society could be traced back to the experience of external contact. Contact with the outside world had lasting repercussions for Miskitu culture. However, the modifications to Miskitu culture which developed from this experience evolved gradually over time, in response to local cultural considerations as much as external impositions by European society. Contact did not result in an immediate and radical overhaul of Miskitu culture. Helms' belief that culture contact produced a radical overhaul of Miskitu society led her to declare that: "Miskitu culture did not exist before European contrast to societies with aboriginal bases, Miskitu culture originated as a direct response to European colonialism" (Helms, 1971: 4) 54 Since Helms was writing at a period when anthropologists were paying particular attention to the role of colonialism in shaping, and indeed, creating new patterns of group affiliation or tribes which would subsequently be regarded as traditional, it is not surprising that she identified and emphasized the clear role played by European contact in shaping Miskitu culture and identity. However, I would argue that she takes this argument a little too far, when she states that Miskitu culture did not exist before European contact. Although exogenous influences have undoubtedly been instrumental in producing contemporary Miskitu culture and perspectives, it would be a mistake to imply that the Miskitus entered relationships with the Europeans without any distinctive cultural traditions of their own. It seems logical that in order for Miskitu culture to adapt to the European contact experience, they had to have a prior cultural identity from which to do so. As Nietschmann argues: "...there have been many social and economic changes by the Miskito to culture contact, but these have been adaptations - not spontaneous creations" (Nietschmann, 1973: 24) Although Helms' work otherwise demonstrates a clear and deep appreciation of Miskitu culture, by contrasting the Miskitus to societies with aboriginal bases she nevertheless seems to be implicitly stating that since exogenous influences have been so instrumental in formulating Miskitu identities, the Miskitus should not really be seen as indigenous peoples at all. The contentious nature of this assertion gives even greater cause for concern i f one considers the potential political and ethical ramifications of culturally-oriented research. To treat Miskitu identity and culture as merely a by-product of colonialism is not only inaccurate; it could moreover severely undermine the credibility and legitimacy of Miskitu struggles for land rights and cultural recognition today, both of which depend upon their identity as indigenous peoples. Although it is unlikely that the question of Miskitu indigeneity could ever be seriously contested in Nicaraguan political circles, given the often unscrupulous actions of the Nicaraguan government, researchers in this area must nevertheless err on the side of caution,, and remain aware of the potential political implications of their work. As Wilmsen has seen: "studies of isolated communities have been used politically all too often by governments as legal buttresses for disenfranchising such people further" (Wilmsen, 1989: 7) M y position on the culture contact phenomenon is that although contact with Westerners has, through time, led to significant developments in Miskitu culture, exogenous influences have been assumed and modified to become their own: the Miskitus are no less indigenous because of this experience. Ultimately, indigeneity should not be conceptualised according to stereotypical norms, but rather in response to the particular circumstances and characteristics of the specific indigenous group in question. Indigenous cultures have not survived to the present day by remaining immutable throughout time, but by learning to adapt to new circumstances and 55 opportunities presented by each new historical context. As Bebbington has concluded from his research in the Central Andes of Ecuador, tribes from this region believe that: "Modernization, far from being a cause of cultural erosion, is seen as a means of cultural survival" (Bebbington, 1996: 56) It is therefore important not to approach indigenous cultures according to the preconceptions which we, as outsiders, might expect them to conform to.* Miskitu culture has therefore been engaged in a constant process of modification and reaffirmation through time, in response to both local and external considerations; from which their environmental perspectives have also been produced. Historical inquiry will begin by considering indigenous society prior to contact with the Europeans, in order to present the context from which subsequent culture change, adaptation and persistence developed. Pre-contact indigenous society The information available on pre-contact indigenous society is practically nonexistent. Researchers must therefore rely on sources dating from the early periods of contact between indigenous peoples and Europeans, to try and understand this earlier era. Although these sources are limited, and are heavily affected by cultural biases of the time, they are nonetheless important sources of original data from which to develop our analysis (Vargas, 1995: 39). The sources concur in identifying more numerous indigenous groupings than presently exist on the Atlantic Coast, the Miskitus, Mayangnas and Ramas. Partly given the limits of this thesis, and partly because the sources present confusing and even conflicting descriptions of the names and locations of the various indigenous tribes, the complex ethnic picture will necessarily have to be simplified. From the various groupings of pre-contact indigenous society, two main streams emerge: the indigenous tribes most closely affiliated with the Europeans known as the Miskitus; and the numerous other tribes, the Ulwas, Twahkas, Alboawinneys and so forth, whose descendants today refer to themselves as the Mayangnas. The Ramas are located in the southern part of the Atlantic Coast, and will not feature in this discussion. Pre-contact society: organisation and values What do we know about the organisation and values prevalent in pre-contact indigenous society? Although one must be wary of over-simplification, according to both Helms (1978: 128) and Vargas (1996: 57), it is likely that the various indigenous tribes located in Eastern Nicaragua traditionally lived as egalitarian tribesmen in small kinship groups. Exquemeling 1 I do not mean to imply that Helms is guilty of this, but that others, less informed than herself, might indepedently develop such conclusions from her statements on Miskitu culture. 56 even made a point of noting the appearance of gender equality within indigenous society (Exquemeling, 1980: 264). Tribal egalitarianism was not necessarily the regional norm; the Kuna Indians who lived further south, in what is today Panama, lived by contrast in a stratified and rank-based society (Helms, 1978). In contrast, the tribes of Eastern Nicaragua were united by horizontal ties of kinship, which provided the context and ideology for reciprocal exchanges and a predominantly egalitarian co-existence (Novacek, 1988: 19). The observations of coastal society provided by M.W., an anonymous British pirate who visited the region in the seventeenth century, appear to confirm the theory that indigenous peoples lived in a largely autonomous, communally-oriented, self-regulating but relatively free society: "The plain dictates of natural or moral honesty, are the law of these people amongst themselves, without having any courts of judicature, or office of justice. They live peaceably together in several families, yet accounting all Indians of one tongue, to be the same people and friends, and are in quality all equal....unless it be at such times when they make any expeditions against the Alboawinneys; at that time ... they obey the orders of their king2 and captains; yet on no account do they pay any taxes, rents or do any sort of services, but have all the country in common (excepting their dwelling-house and small plantations)" (M.W., 1699: 293) Ideological equality was also mirrored by material equality. Land was treated by indigenous communities as a common resource. Within the area of common land used by a community, all members had equal rights to individually clear and claim parcels of land. The tradition of holding land in common appears consistent with the image of the egalitarian, mutually supportive indigenous tribe; it was also a pragmatic system of land tenure to have given the nature of swidden agriculture. The swidden agriculturist cultivates different tracts of land each year; in northeastern Nicaragua, insla prata or untouched land, is considered the most fertile and therefore most valuable. Swidden agriculturists have no need for private ownership over a fixed parcel of territory; they are interested in securing equal rights of access to cultivable land. As Cattle remarked: "... under this system of cultivation, private ownership of swidden land is not only unnecessary, but totally impractical. Thus the village is the landholding unit rather than the individual." (Cattle, 1977: 47) The ethic of communal equality in the case of land tenure therefore performed both ideological and material roles in Miskitu society. Holding land in common fostered ethics of equality and cooperation and set moral standards of behaviour within indigenous society which encouraged the peaceful communities observed by M.W. It also made practical sense, given that subsistence agriculturists' pattern of land use was extensive, rather than intensive. Indigenous ideological values and practical livelihood strategies therefore operated in conjunction to determine social 2 The Miskitu king was a post-contact development in indigenous society, which will be discussed in Chapter 7. 5 7 organisation patterns for use of natural resources. Cultural values can even be said to have regulated indigenous-environmental relations. Although each individual enjoyed the same access to land, and was responsible for their own livelihoods, yet communal ethics of equality and cooperation functioned as a safeguard - not only against individual excesses and competition, but also against individual losses. Freedom was exercised within the ties of kinship and reciprocity created by community membership itself. Arduous tasks, such as planting or harvesting, were often performed collectively, under a system of labour reciprocity known as pana pana? The ethic of reciprocity also encouraged people to share hunting spoils with one another, and care for the elderly when they were no longer able to work. Given the ideologies of local indigenous culture, values which moreover functioned in the practical context of a small population to land ratio, disputes over land and resources were probably very infrequent. The ethics of traditional indigenous society were more likely to have stimulated co-operation than competition amongst community members. Intertribal relations and organisation: historical foundations of regional discord Internal tribal equality appears to have been mirrored by a balance of power between tribes, without, however, the same element of intracommunal respect and reciprocity. The various indigenous tribes were by all appearances, engaged in a perpetual standoff with one another, only occasionally suspended at particular times of the year in order to trade. The majority of the time, however, members of opposite tribes frequently attacked, enslaved or killed one another. If outright war broke out between two tribes, the usual egalitarian structure found within them would be suspended, and a war leader would be selected to lead the warriors (Exquemeling, 1980: 262). However, this post was only temporary, and once peace had been restored, the war leader would once again occupy the same social rank as the rest (Vargas, 1996: 29). Inter-tribal or ethnic relations, characterised by discord, rather than harmony, therefore had the potential to disrupt community egalitarian organisation, even i f only for short periods. The balance of power between the various regional tribes, as well as the impermanent nature of indigenous leadership, are two aspects of pre-contact society which would change in the wake of the European arrival. Livelihood strategies: indigenous subsistence What were the livelihood strategies of pre-contact indigenous society; how did they use the environment; what kind of demands did they place upon it? Environmental use patterns were largely defined by indigenous subsistence strategies. By subsistence, we wil l be referring to those uses of the environment designed strictly for auto consumption, and not for trade. The appropriation of resources for trade will be referred to as commercial activities; both subsistence 3 Pana pana literally means "friend-friend." The term implies reciprocity - a favour for a friend, for a favour for a friend in return. 58 and commercial activities today form part of overall indigenous livelihood strategies. However, in the pre-contact period, it appears that trade was not a significant aspect of livelihood strategies, hence the sole concentration upon subsistence activities in this period. The main subsistence activities pursued by regional tribes in the pre-contact era were hunting, fishing, gathering and swidden agriculture. The indigenous peoples traditionally lived near water; their settlements tended to be located near rivers and lagoons, with temporary shelters near the sea. The extensive regional waterways along which they resided gave them a means of transport to other communities or hunting grounds, a source of fish, and were also located near the most fertile, alluvial lands of the region. Men's labour was primarily dedicated to hunting and fishing; as Dampier tells us, there were a variety of wild game and fish in the region for the indigenous man to target: "Sometimes he seeks only for Fish, at other times for Turtle or Manatee, and whatever he gets he brings home to his Wife, and never stirs out to seek for more till it is all eaten. When hunger begins to bite, he either takes his Canoe and seeks for more Game at Sea, or walks out into the Woods and hunts for Peccary, Warree, each a sort of wild Hog, or Deer; and he seldom returns empty-handed, nor seeks for any more so long as it lasts" (Dampier, 1729: 16) The allocation of hunting time was therefore determined according to the most fundamental of human needs: to abate hunger. The subsistence system was designed to address immediate material needs with the least expenditure of energy possible; men would only hunt when the family had run out of food. Exquemeling, Dampier, De Lussan and M.W. all indicate that the indigenous population was relatively small; given that they only hunted or fished when pressed to, the local fish and fauna populations were probably not greatly affected by human exploitation. Hunting and fishing conditions could change between different months and seasons; the climate, combined with these subsistence pursuits meant that the indigenous population was semi-nomadic, with settlements in the pre-contact era unlikely to have represented permanent, year-round residences. Resilient and perennial crops, such as plantains, bananas, cassava or manioc played an important part in indigenous nutrition, as did the wild fruits and plants gathered by the women (Cattle, 1977). Nevertheless, agriculture, a more time-consuming pursuit, involving greater changes to the local ecosystem, was not a favourite past-time of the men, and was an activity largely attended to by indigenous women. Formal cultivation was therefore limited, even though there appeared to be no shortage of land (Nietschmann, 1973: 28). There were both practical and ideological reasons for the low scale of indigenous agriculture (Dejour, 1995: 5). In practical terms, their semi-nomadic existence defied intensive cultivation; besides, the women, having countless other chores to attend to, could not have been expected to dedicate more time to agriculture than was absolutely required. Dampier tells us that 59 "After the Man hath cleared a Spot of Land, and hath planted it, he seldom minds it afterwards, but leaves the managing of it to his Wife, and he goes out a striking....their Plantations are so small, that they cannot subsist with what they produce..." (Dampier, 1729: 16). Moreover, the poor quality of much of the soil in the region, particularly on the extensive pine savannahs stretching from the coast inland towards the tropical forests, probably discouraged the indigenous peoples from wasting too much energy on agriculture: "...the great savanna or barren plain ... is generally not habitable, unless on the very borders thereof, near some great river-sides. The soil is so barren and parch'd with the sun, that no plantation of fruits or corn can be made thereon..." (M.W., 1699: 290). Furthermore, game was reportedly abundant in the area, and hunting represented a central subsistence strategy pursued by the men of the communities. Meat was both materially and ideologically significant to indigenous society. Sources indicate a cultural preference for meat prevailed amongst the indigenous tribes of the Atlantic Coast, which combined with an overall livelihood objective of meeting immediate needs with as little expenditure of energy possible (hunting could take time, but arguably no where near as long as cultivating land did), helped determine the proportion of time dedicated to each particular strategy. Given these considerations, it is not surprising that agriculture remained an understated element of indigenous livelihood strategies Indigenous subsistence systems were therefore characterised by a variety of environmental use strategies designed to meet immediate livelihood needs, according to a flexible, mobile and opportunistic cultural outlook. Their resource use strategies have much in common with those described by optimal foraging theory, whereby individuals try to maximise their returns according to the least possible effort (Gibson, 1998: 15). Individual actions, were, however, constrained by ideological considerations: the values imparted to them as members of a community organisation, which did not associate personal prestige with material possessions. The incentive to accumulate for accumulation's sake, under these cultural circumstances, did not therefore exist. In pre-contact indigenous society, need was a literal, rather than a relative concept. The human impact on the environment of a small, scattered and nomadic population, employing an array of different means to appropriate natural resources for immediate needs, is not likely to have been too significant during this period. Indigenous ideological values and normative behaviour therefore served to encourage environmental use patterns which were consciously collective, cooperative and limited, and by implication, albeit unconsciously, conservationist. The environmental limitations of indigenous livelihood 60 The rich natural environment described in this period undoubtedly furnished its human occupants with a variety of roads to securing subsistence. So why did the indigenous people prove so responsive to the new commercial opportunities presented by the Europeans from the seventeenth century in particular? If they were comfortably meeting their livelihood needs already, one might assume that their decision to trade with the Europeans was motivated by a cultural desire to accumulate, discrediting the previous argument that their needs were limited. However, appearances could be deceptive. Despite the Mosquito Shore's fame for abundant natural resources,^ the unpredictable, often violent tropical environment could make survival extremely difficult. By pursuing a variety of subsistence strategies, pre-contact indigenous society was attempting to safeguard their liv