FIA and the Rama Cay
The Rama people are one of six indigenous people groups in Nicaragua. The greatest concentration of Rama are a group of 1,400 who live on an island called Rama Cay. The island is overcrowded with over 200 families (3-4 families residing in each house) on the tiny island.
Learn About the Rama Cay
With a goal of six new homes each year, Friends in Action continues to help the Rama build their new community. This opportunity is helping to alleviate the unsanitary and overcrowded conditions on the tiny island. A 20-foot walking bridge connecting the new community to the baseball fields and projected site of the school and clinic is currently underway. Through each project, indigenous workers are trained in new construction skills, providing alternative income venues. Every opportunity is taken to share the Gospel and disciple those who have come to faith.
This year Messiah College partnered with FIA, to not only build the bridge, but also to host a baseball training clinic that included a time for evangelism and discipleship. Three to four hundred people attend the baseball games, and at least 40 more attended the baseball training clinic. This was a wonderful opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus and speak into the lives of the Rama.
The new Rama village is in the middle of the jungle and only accessible by water. It has required much work to develop the necessary infrastructure. By 2003, a topography study and village design plans were completed. In 2006, a boat dock, well, boat shed, water/sewage system, and missionary housing were built. By 2008, the first new hurricane-resistant homes were under construction, along with the first six Rama Cay coming to Christ!
More missionary housing was completed in 2011. By the summer of 2013, the community received a new well, workshop, equipment/supplies and six completed homes. Using a block press, FIA began training the Rama to make clay blocks to form their homes in 2014, resulting in the completion of three more homes. Three indigenous men also began Bible School training in 2014.
The following year provided the Rama with a carpenter shop, guest cabins and a generator shed. During the 2015 Bible Conference hosted by FIA, nine more Rama placed their faith in Christ. The next year’s conference brought 25 more to salvation! Six Rama believers left their village to attend formal Bible training in Mexico in 2016. They graduated this May prepared to assist with the 2018 Bible conference reaching their own people!
To meet and ensure long-term program sustainability, we have formed “Amigos en Acción Nicaragua” as a NGO (Non-Governmental Organization). The organization is led by a Nicaraguan Board of Directors and the development activities are led by the FIA-Nicaragua NGO, national pastors, and Tim Johnston (FIA-USA Executive Director).
Rama Cay is an island located 15 kilometers away from Bluefields in the Bluefields Lagoon on the eastern coast of Nicaragua.
The entire island can be traversed by walking in under 10 minutes.
There are two points of interest on the island. First is the Moravian church, which was built in 1856 and represents the influence of English culture in the area. Then, “La Punta de la Despedida”, a rock located at one end of the island used in a sacred ritual when a member of the community dies. Family members give final farewell to the deceased at this stone and then move the body to the cemetery branch that is 10 minutes away by boat.
1,400 people, most of them children. Rama Cay has an organizational structure or ancestral form of government that is ruled by a council of elders, whom you must ask permission to enter the community.
Rama is one of the indigenous languages of The Chibchan family (also Chibchan, Chibchano), taken from the Costa Rica-Panama border. According to history, Rama Cay island was given to the Rama people some time during the 17th or 18th century for helping the Miskito people fend off the Terraba Indians. The more powerful Miskitos rewarded them for their invaluable assistance by gifting the Rama people the entire island. While the Rama culture and language has been influenced by outside sources over the years, it has remained rather unique compared to other Nicaraguan people groups.
Today the Rama primarily speak a form of English that has been described as Rama-Creole (similar to Creole English with a German accent), adapted over many years of contact with English pirates, Moravian missionaries, and black Creoles living in the Bluefields area. Although a study of the Rama in the early 1970’s concluded that there were only five or six elders who spoke the Rama language, a 1988 study identified 58 people who knew the language, including 36 fluent speakers. Of these speakers the majority were between 25 and 44 years old. Despite this more encouraging assessment and efforts to teach the traditional language in school, the Rama children are not learning the language and it is headed for extinction.
The Rama people have a limited understanding of salvation and almost no exposure to the chronological teaching of the entire Word of God. Although 90% of the people claim Christianity, more than 75% of that total describe a works-based salvation with no personal understanding or relationship with Christ.
The traditional religion of the Rama revolved around the animals of the jungle and the impact of their supposed personality traits on the people. The “turmali” were men who could “talk with tigers” and transfer the jaguar’s power to the people – sometimes to help and other times to harm them. The Turmali would drink “pepper cocoa” and eat special chocolate known as “ngerba” for 2-3 days alone in the bush. This would allow them to talk with the tigers and bring prophecies about what would happen in the village during the next year. They were thought to be able to remove the “aliban” or evil spirits from the people. “Albut aing kauling”, or Rama snake doctors were also thought to be special by removing venom through supernatural power. Surviving a snakebite would make you a “snake person” able to learn and use medicinal plants to help others.
Nicaragua is one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere. The Rama suffer from poverty, discrimination and unemployment due to their ethnic identity. Unemployment levels are especially high for women.
The Rama exist on subsistence farming. They plant bananas, plantains, and other fruits, root crops, sugar cane, corn, rice, and beans, and to lesser extent transplant herbs for medicinal purposes. Fishing is the Rama Cay’s most important activity for acquiring animal protein. Fishing is a daily subsistence activity for the people of Rama Cay, and at all hours of the day “dories” (dugout canoes) can be seen coming or going between the island and fishing spots.
Gathering shellfish and oysters is also an important subsistence and commercial activity for the Rama. Shrimp are gathered during the dry season (March to May) and are an important commercial item in Bluefields.
Historically, the Rama tended to be sexually permissive. Early Moravian missionaries in the 1800’s excommunicated some of the Rama for adultery and fornication. Today, some of the Rama tend to be complacent while not readily expressing gratitude.
The Rama people are bound by one very gripping vice – Corn Chicha. Harmless when first made, the people grind up raw corn, then add water and sugar to make a drink. However, most of the Rama do not make Corn Chicha to enjoy as a family drink. Instead, they let it sit and ferment into Corn Beer, which almost all the men use to get drunk for days. This sad vice leaves their families in poverty and without food, ruining many of the Rama families and homes.
The Rama eat meals taken from the land and sea. Many meals incorporate shrimp or fish with bananas, rice, and beans.
FRIENDS IN ACTION INTL-USA (FIA) is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization firmly committed to good stewardship. Our work is supported by and dependent on the continued faithfulness of God’s people. Tax-deductible donations can be made using this secure site.
You can volunteer and get engaged in the work that God is doing in the Rama Cay community. For more information and future dates, email Tim Johnston.