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Indigenous Groups in Central America

Updated on July 5, 2018
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

A descendant of Mohawk Nation and trained in anthropology, Patty has researched and reported on Indigenous Peoples for over four decades.

A Mayan Temple
A Mayan Temple | Source

The Mayans Today

The Mayans are not extinct, but living in Central America in Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvadore, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. They are the dominant ethic group among natives in Guatemala and appear to some extent in the other nearby countries as well as in multiracial peoples.

Central American Nations
Central American Nations

What is Central America?

Central America includes the countries of Belize, Costa, Rica, El Salvadore, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama.

Belize

Mestizos are the "Metis" that are well-known elsewhere. They are Europeans mixed with indigenous peoples through intermarriage.

This group makes up about half of the population of Belize and the Maya make up another 7%. The Garifuna migrated to Belize in the 1800s from St. Vincent and the Grenadines and mixed with African, Creoles, Carib Indians, and the Arawak tribe to make up another 5%.

Thus, indigenous peoples comprise a little over 60% of the residents of Belize.

Guatemala

Many of the indigenous peoples of Guatemala are all from the Mayans. Other groups are Xinca and Garífuna. Mayan comprise 40% of the population.

Indigenous people of Central America are also called Native Central Americans in anthropology.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A Maya family in Guatemala in 1993.Mayan mural painting.Garifuna dancers in Belize.
A Maya family in Guatemala in 1993.
A Maya family in Guatemala in 1993. | Source
Mayan mural painting.
Mayan mural painting. | Source
Garifuna dancers in Belize.
Garifuna dancers in Belize. | Source
Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Misikito. Costa Rican indigenous family.
The Misikito.
The Misikito. | Source
Costa Rican indigenous family.
Costa Rican indigenous family. | Source

Nicaragua

The Miskito Native Central Americans live from Cape Cameron Rio Grande, Nicaragua, all along the Miskito Coast. Their language is Miskito, but they speak Miskito Creole-English, Spanish, Rama, and others languages.

Miskitos intermarried with slaves and their community was ruled by a king that shared his power with a a governor, a general, and an admiral.

Costa Rica

About 94% of the country is Mestizo and 1% Amerindian.

Panama

The Kuna Indians of Panama are famous for colorful dresses, including the mola. The mola is a reverse appliqué made of layers of fabric stitched to reveal different colors in blouse panels.

  • Example of Kuna Poetry

Nocturnal by Irik Limnio

Night,

The twelve spirits of the earth say

That you didn't cry on the day they birthed you

In their home you roamed in the protuberances of the brilliant stars.

They say you walked secretly

And you melted into the pale plants which appeared before your gaze.

Night,

The woman who gave birth to you says that the clouds

Arranged themselves in your glory just for the lament

And humans complain to you that they have had a terrifying dream.

Night, it seems to me that you undulate, pitted with the little eyes of the cherubs who shine continually.

I think you are a Nocturnal like the one I have in the depths of my being.

A Kuna indigenous woman with her artworks.
A Kuna indigenous woman with her artworks. | Source

Honduras

About 90% of Honduran populations are Mestizo with another 7% being members of seven recognized indigenous groups called The Confederation of Autochthonous Peoples of Honduras (CONPAH), including

  • The Grafuna;
  • The Ch'orti', Mayans in the northwest close to Guatemala;
  • The Garifuna speaking a Carib language along the entire Caribbean coastline and the Bay Islands;
  • The Pech or Paya in a small area in the Olancho department;
  • The Tolupan (Jicaque, Xicaque, or Tol), in the Department of Yoro and in Montaña de la Flor and the Department of Yoro;
  • The Lenca in the Valle and Choluteca departments;
  • The Miskito on the northeast coast along Nicaragua's border.

Thus, 97% of this country is indigenous.

El Salvador

El Salvador is 89 % Mestizo and 10 % Amerindian. The original peoples here were the Pipil and Lenca.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
An indigenous woman from El Salvador.Ballet Folklórico de Honduras Oro Lenca in indigenous costuming.
An indigenous woman from El Salvador.
An indigenous woman from El Salvador. | Source
Ballet Folklórico de Honduras Oro Lenca in indigenous costuming.
Ballet Folklórico de Honduras Oro Lenca in indigenous costuming. | Source

© 2007 Patty Inglish MS

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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      13 months ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      @PJ - The easiest way today is to send off to take the DNA test from National Geographic. It may be on sale for a discounted price right now.

    • profile image

      Pj Burns(Lairson) 

      13 months ago

      How do I find out which Indians i come from

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      8 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      In your Internet and local libraries, look up the Miskito people of Nicaragua. They are at least one of the Indigenous Peoples found in your country and there may be others now or in the past. We sometimes refer to these Indigenous ones as Native Central Americans.

    • profile image

      Maria  

      8 years ago

      I am interested in my country culture and history and recently while i was doing this report for my country I read something but still never got o know the exact information. but i would like to know if People from Nicaragua in any way are Native Americans?????

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      8 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      No no, - not wiki. :) Thanks for reading!

    • profile image

      Lose Belly Fat Fast 

      8 years ago

      Great hub there! Can I call you "wikipedia"?? :P

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Abhinaya, there will be several more in this series, yet! I am glad you and your child are enjoying these.

    • profile image

      Abhinaya 

      10 years ago

      Patty is this the last of this series?I think I missed out the last one.I was teaching my kid about North and South America last month and learned a lot about the races and relief features.It was great fun.I think you need to publish a book on this honestly.Thanks for sharing so much of information.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Thank you very much. I studied Indigenous Pepoles all around the globe in college and have kept up with research and notes for several years.

    • gabriella05 profile image

      gabriella05 

      10 years ago from Oldham

      Another great hub Patty Fantastic knowledge

      Thank you

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Hi Z!!  How are you?

      Well, it will take about a year just to update all my resources, since this is from college notes and recetn fact-checking. LOL I think an online Directory, virtual book would be better. Jimmythejock sparked that idea in my mind. :)

    • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

      Zsuzsy Bee 

      10 years ago from Ontario/Canada

      So hows the rest of your book coming along??? You just have to put all of these Hubs together into a book. These are just so well explained articles.

      Good one again Patty

      regards Zsuzsy

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