Back to top


Life and Adventures among Gentle Savages
Introduction by Philip A. Dennis

The autobiographical account of a 19th century British man's childhood on the Miskito Coast of Nicaragua.

January 1989
This is a print-on-demand title. Expedited shipping is not available.
358 pages | 6 x 9 | b&w illus. |

In the 1980s, conflicts between the Miskito people of Nicaragua's eastern coast and the Sandinistas drew international attention. Indeed, the Miskitos' struggle to defend their cultural autonomy and land rights points out a curious historical anomaly. This native group has long had closer ties to British and American culture than to Hispanic Nicaraguan culture. C. Napier Bell, son of a British trader, grew up on the Miskito Coast in the nineteenth century and spoke the Miskito language fluently.

Tangweera, first published in 1899, is Bell's autobiographical account of his boyhood experiences. Rich in ethnographic detail, the book records an idyllic life of hunting, fishing, and trading. Bell describes the social customs and beliefs of the various Indian peoples he knew, as well as the relations among the coastal Miskito, the black creole population, and the tribes of the interior—the latter a subject of continuing importance. Although Bell shared common nineteenth-century ideas about the inferiority of “savage” races, his affection for the Miskito people and his love of their land fill Tangweera. Anthropologists, historians, naturalists, and travelers in the region will find this fascinating reading.

The introduction by Philip A. Dennis, Professor of Anthropology at Texas Tech University, provides a modern observer's view of Miskito culture and
discusses important changes and continuities since Bell's time.

  • Introduction. The tribes—Arrival of negroes—Mortality among the aborigines—An abandoned dependency of Britain—Clayton-Bulwer Treaty—Mosquito Shore a bone of contention—Two hundred years’ history of a brave people—Report of Don Carlos Marenco—Recommends great warlike preparations—Treaty misunderstood by Ministers—Mosquito Shore a British colony—Mosquito men volunteer to join Nelson—Fort Dalling abandoned—Colonists appeal for help to Mosquito men—Disastrous evacuation of the colony—Mosquito Indians maintain dominion—Superintendent of Honduras crowns a Mosquito King—British officials appointed
  • Chapter I. Inhabitants—Habits—Creole language and character—Mixed breeds—Early recollections—‘Ma Presence’—‘Ta Tom’—‘Ma Presence’ a praying soul—Christmas at Blewfields—‘Wakes’
  • Chapter II. Danger from tigers—Danger from alligators—Joys and sadness of Blewfields—Eboes in season—Gathering shellfish—Manatee—Bowman caters for us—The King and I disport ourselves—Turtle—The rainy season—Crickey-jeen and butterflies—Thunder, rain and storms—Winged ants and their consumers
  • Chapter III. ‘Marching army’ ants—‘Sheep’s head’ fishing—Close of rainy season—Migratory birds—Wees—Pigeons—Other visitors—Ducks, teal and coots—Resident birds—Fly-catchers, etc.
  • Chapter IV. Early adventures—Perilous voyage—On the island—Voyage resumed—The Nile—Across the bar—Attack on Fort Serapiqui—Make a ‘prize’—Filibuster Walker—Adventures
  • Chapter V. Our voyage up the coast to the Toongla River—The Pearl Keys—Sleeping at sea—The creek—Quamwatla—Mosquito Indians—Absence of men—Arrival of the absent—Feuds and sentiments—Names and loves—Lovesongs—Death and dirge songs—Feast of the dead—Suicides—Drinking—Native doctors
  • Chapter VI. Voyage up Twaka River—Lower River—Sickness and superstition—Sailing in a pitpan—Camping in the rain—All night in a canoe in the rain—Attempted suicide—Voyage continued—Flood in Twaka River—Camp in flooded bush—Hunting on the way—Cruelties of shooting monkeys—On the journey again—Flood subsiding—Hunting and shooting—Boy in a nightmare—Monkeys—Wowlas—Superstitions—Boat-bill herons—The falls on the Twaka—News on the sandbanks
  • Chapter VII. Twaka village—Interview with a cock curassow—News of the day—The Twakas—Industries and customs—Bathing sports—I go hunting—The hunting-path—Meet two bush nymphs—Dexterity of Indians in the bush—A view from a hill—A drove of warree—Gathering the slam—Hiring men for mahogany works—We prepare our provisions
  • Chapter VIII. Birds of the morning—Shooting the rapids—Tapir yarns—Poultry of the spirits—Clamorous landrails—Night on the river—Night talk—Overcome with sleep—Attacked by wasps—Fight with mosquitoes—Insect pests—Goods arrive—Toongla River—Alligator yarns
  • Chapter IX. Charming the wind—Smoo Indians—‘Thunder’s mooring-post’—Piakos-Maya—Story-telling—Night scene—Sucked by bats—Jaguar adventure
  • Chapter X. Proceed up the river—Lazy voyage—Small village—Hospitality—Hunting warree—Carrying the game out—Feasting and stories of the hunt—Sentimental reveries—A fishing journey
  • Chapter XI. Cupid—Drift down the river—Howling monkey killed—Yowya Creek: beauties of the forest—Sleep on a tomagoff—Wakna Creek: camping—A tapir—Morning start—A jaguar—A pretty waterfall—Our head camp
  • Chapter XII. Our work—Mahogany-cutting—Pleasures of evening at Camp—Mahogany—Truck-passes—Log-driving
  • Chapter XIII. Dry weather—Our women—Our hunters—The puma—Monkeys—Eagles—Hawks—Owls—Goatsuckers—Pickwa
  • Chapter XIV. King vulture—Curassow—Quam—‘Sun-down’ partridge—Quail—Twee—Woodpeckers—Red-rump blackbirds—Peetooyoola—Formicivora—Wagtails—Warree-yoola legend—Alwaney, the thunder-god—Pursued by a snake—A snake in the canoe—Boas—Quash
  • Chapter XV. Von Tempsky left alone—Up Wajaia Creek—Bees—Hauling out logs—Down creek—Left behind—Rescue and ‘chaff’—Sookia doctor
  • Chapter XVI. Rainy season commences—Go out to main river—Wading through the bush—Swimming the flooded river—Country flooded—Fever and ague—Great green macaw—Paroquets—Indian dress and ornaments—Yellowtails—Toucans—Peeakos—Ooruk—Pillis—Swallows—Wild chocolate—Plants, flowers, and fruit—Adventure with an ant-eater
  • Chapter XVII. Industrious women—Family life—Women left alone—Egg harvest—Alligators as playthings—Trade and commerce—Race differences—Daily occupations
  • Chapter XVIII. The King and I grow up—We visit his relations—Keys—Turtle-fishing—Pleasant hours on coral keys—Duck-warra—Oopla smalkaya—Sermon of the teacher—Its application—Love for mothers
  • Chapter XIX. Inland Duckwarra—Savannas and their occupants—Raccoons—Flies—Mosquitoes—Ticks—Jiggers—Heavy weather at sea—Rescued
  • Chapter XX. Gracias à Dios—Turtle-tax hunting—The King’s second sister—Up the Wanx River
  • Chapter XXI. Reception by Queen-Dowager—Cattle hunting—Fording the river—Fly-catchers—Swifts—Bathing—Jaguars—Farewell
  • Appendix A
  • Appendix B
  • Appendix C
  • Appendix D
  • Index