RAAN Miskito coast information and trivia

This is a collection of fascinating information sent to me by Papatara, who has been living in a miskitu village in the RAAN for years. He was nice enough to clarify information about the places written about in a previous post: Drug Smugglers, She-males and Thieves: Bluefields to Puerto Cabezas to Waspam. It really makes me want to return to some of these little villages I visited and explore the ones I haven’t!

Puerto Cabezas – Following European custom, this town was named after Rigoberto Domingo de los Dolores Cabezas Figueroa who was Inspector General of Arms in the Mosquito Reserve during the government of José Santos Zelaya. The Nicaraguan ¨invaders¨ did not recognize the Rey Mosco Roberto Henry Clarence in what was improperly termed ¨The Reincorporation of the Mosquitia into Nicaragua¨ since the Mosquitia had never been part of Nicaragua. This happened after Great Britain and Nicaragua had signed the Harrison-Altamirano Treaty of 1905 and 1906 which made the Mosquitia a ¨Protectorate¨ of Nicaragua.

Prior to the reincorporation, the town was known as Bragman´s Bluff. Bragman was a pirate who used the protected water behind the bluff just north of the present day town as an anchorage. He used the site as a base of operations to attack Spanish galleons loaded with treasures moving up the coastline on their way back to Spain. The galleons would pass close by here because they planned to load up on green sea turtle to feed the crew at nearby Cayos Miskitos.

The indigenous people of the Atlantic Coast have alternatively renamed this city/municipality as Bilwi (it original Indian name). The lands in Bilwi actually belong to the nearby indigenous community of Karata. Homeowners in Bilwi who are not natives of Karata must pay an annual land tax to Karata.


Tasbapauni – Means ¨red earth¨ in Miskitu. Indian names usually describe the place. There are many Tasbapaunis scattered about the RAAN and RAAS!

Kara – Is the name of a plant that grows in the jungle which looks something like an extremely long pineapple plant. The stickers on the leaves curve back towards the base so that as one walks into the plant one is impaled rather than just scratched. I´ve entered patches of kara that are perhaps a tarea in size. Getting to the other side was a nightmare! The Indians used to separate the long and incredibly strong fibers to make thread and rope. ¨Karas¨ means alligator.

Kara sits at the mouth of an artificial canal connecting the Rio Grande with Toplock Lagoon. That canal was begun by President Anastasio Somoza in the late sixties with the intention of providing an inland waterway to interconnect the entire Atlantic Coast. It was ultimately abandoned after the earthquake of 1972. Some of the best tarpon and snook fishing in the world is focused on the interconnecting canal at that point!

Karawala definitely deserves a return trip of its own! It has lots of interesting history and culture to learn about. Names of places are often spelled by running separate words together. Wala means ¨other¨.

Walpa means rock. There are lots of Walpas on the Atlantic Coast!

Sandy Bay Sirpe means little sandy bay. The brackish color of the water there is due to the presence of mangroves. Mangrove trees produce large amounts of tannins which stain the water black. One community in the RAAN is called Layasiksa. Laya means liquid, and, siksa means black. Layasiksa is surrounded by mangroves.

Wounta is another combined name. ¨Wou¨ is a palm tree which grows very tall and straight but remains quite thin. Wou used to be preferred by the Indians for home construction. Today there are few of these trees to be found in the region. ¨Ta¨ means point. I don´t know how or why the ¨n¨ was incorporated into the name! However, I suspect that someone heard the name, wrote it down without knowing (or asking) if it had a meaning, and the spelling stuck. There are many examples of place names here which have been corrupted enough to where it is virtually impossible to determine what was its original meaning.

Leimus is the name of the town where the Hondurans crossed the Wangki to go home. Leimus means lemons. There used to be a ferry there (in the 70´s) where trucks from Tronquera would cross to bring pine stumps from Honduras to process into pine resin. Tronquera was a company town and industrial center just north of the bridge at Rio Likus near Waspam. Just to the northeast but off the main road was Slilma Sia. I lived and worked from there in the surrounding pine forests as a US Peace Corps Volunteer ´75-´77.


Waspam is a trading center for the Wangki. “Was” means river in Mayagna. Nobody can tell me what “pam” meant. I lived there for a short time in the mid-seventies. There used to be lots of huge barges on the river hauling beans, bananas, and other products for export.


Sisin is the name of the community adjacent to the suspension bridge over Rio Likus shown in your article. The sign at the community reads ¨Sinsin¨ because the signmaker had no idea how to spell it! Sisin means ceiba (a gigantic tree) in Spanish. For many years the schoolhouse at Sisin had a sign on it saying ¨Alliance for Progress¨ which indicated that it was constructed with funding from the United Stated Government (over fifty years ago). That program existed during the Kennedy administration. The sign was still up last time I passed there a few years ago!


Walpasiksa is one of the most beautiful towns in all of Nicaragua. Unfortunately, it has been the scene of many such bloody confrontations. I have lots of friends there! Walpasiksa is named for the black rocks that occur at the mouth of the river and also on a big hill just behind the village. Did you notice the huge all-concrete Moravian Church in the community. They should paint it white in tribute to where the funding came from. Many pastors here refer to white lobstah as Dawan Blesinka (a blessing from God)!

Actually, the gunfight took place because the Colombian boss and his band had come to the site with 28 duffel bags filled with cash. They were attempting to buy back the cargo from the plane. The villagers were being held at gunpoint until all of the stash was sold back. When the Nicaraguan Navy patrol boat arrived, a gunfight ensued to protect the drug traffickers. The Columbians escaped after the patrol boat was turned away. Much of the drug ended up on the open market. Our friend and best hotel customer Loco and Daniel (who worked for the alcaldia) were gunned down in a botched drug sale on the road just outside Alamikamba only a few months later. I was told that Loco and Daniel were trying to sell 12 kilos from the same Walpasiksa plane crash.


Prinzapolka comes from ¨Prinzu¨ and ¨polka¨. Prinzu was a cacique or wiseman who acted as chief of an Indian tribe there. Polka means people. Prinzuawala is the original name of the Rio Prinzapolka. ¨Awala¨ means river.

The pier you refer to is actually several kilometers down the beach to the south next to Tawantara (Big Town) which has no inhabitants. The pier and row of wooden houses along the beach next to it were constructed by the mining company at Siuna. They named it Puerto Isabel. I lived and shipped caribbean pine lumber from there to islands in the Caribbean in the late-seventies. Our sawmill site directly behind Puerto Isabel as well as the riverport pier and town that sprung up around it were called Sawmill. Go figure!


Kuamwatla is a combined name meaning kuamu (guan a large jungle bird) and watla (house or nest). Kuamwatla is a very old community located on a high bank next to a very shallow lagoon. Kuamwatla has two water access points. One is a winding mangrove stream which enters from the Rio Prinzapolka. The other exits the lagoon, moves south along the coastline, joins with Sanglaya – a stream which comes down from the jungles to the west – and, empties into the Caribbean at Wanclua.


Thanks Papatara!

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