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Religion in Nicaragua

By Ricardo Segreda

Ever since the Spanish conquest of Nicaragua in the 16th century, its population has been predominantly Roman Catholic. Before the Spanish arrived in the region that came to be known as Nicaragua, the peoples of the region honored both Aztec and Mayan deities, situated as they were in Mesoamerica along Aztec and Mayan trade routes.

There were a few minor exceptions to the Catholic dominance throughout most of Nicaragua's colonial history. Tribal communities as the Ramas and the Mayangas were able to retain much of their culture. These populations, small to begin with, have radically diminished in recent times, mostly through assimilation, and are likely to disappear in the near future if economic and social factors continue as they are.

Another, more recent exception was the arrival of Chinese immigrants in the 19th century, most of whom were at least nominally Buddhist, as well as Muslim Palestinian and Lebanese immigrants in the 20th century. Still, these groups have  made up less than 1% of the population.

Of course, Nicaragua's own Roman Catholic culture was never monolithic, but rather divided politically throughout much of the 20th century. Factions were divided between those who supported the Somoza dictatorship, in the name of anti-Communism, and those critical of the corruption and human rights abuses of the same regime. The most famous, or infamous (depending on one's politics) religious figure during this time was the priest Ernesto Cardenal, a proponent of Liberation Theology who supported the Sandinista revolution and was appointed Minister of Culture during the 1980s.

However, a serious challenge to Roman Catholic hegemony in the last 30 years has been the arrival of Protestant evangelical missionary churches, such as the Seventh Day Adventists and the Latter Day Saints, who have successfully proselytized many of the poorest segments of the Nicaraguan populace.

 

 










15 Jan 2009




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