Nicaragua : The Spirit of Little Corn Island

July 2003

Gaëlle Sevenier

Little Corn Island, located in the Caribbean Sea, 52 miles from the Nicaraguan port of Bluefields, is still an undiscovered paradise in Central America. The deserted white sand beaches and turquoise water, un-spoiled by "Cruise-ship style" tourism, offers a perfect setting for adventurous backpackers.


The two islands called Big Corn and Little Corn served as refuge for British, Dutch and French pirates escaping the Spanish fleet. The islands were under British domination until 1894 when the government declared the area's sovereignty. Today, the population of Little Corn island is either black or a mixture of black and Indian: there are 500 Creole native islanders, 150 Garifunas (the descendents of the black slaves mixed with Indians in the Island of San Vincente), 200 Spaniards, and a few indigenous Miskitos. Seventy percent of the population still speaks both English and Spanish, and the island's architecture remains heavily influenced by the British.

Little Corn has lived for years on selling coconuts and lobsters. A few years ago, a fisherman could earn up to $1000 a day with lobster. Today however, due to the over exploitation of lobsters, some fisherman can't even amortize the price of the gasoline for their boat. The natives solution was to implement two months of "Veda" per year, in which no lobster is allowed to be fished in June and July, allowing them time to grow and multiply.

Tourism is a good option for the local population to cope with the lobster crisis. Tourism on the island remains aimed towards adventurous backpackers. Going to the island by bus and boat through Nicaragua can take days and turn into a nightmare in the event of heavy rain. The best option is to take a plane from Managua. On the island, up to 250 tourists can be hosted. However, there are often only a handful of travellers. The people on the island truly enjoy the backpacker style of travel. The mayor of Little Corn, Winston Down, explains that tourism has to benefit the local population: "Only two or three foreigners have a hotel on the island, but we don't want people to come with a 5 star hotel, things would change too quick. We don't want someone big to come in at once, then tourism won't be a solution anymore, it would instead be a problem." On the island, the ecosystem is very fragile, and it must be preserved. According to George Alu, a Spanish foreigner living on the island, "This site is valuable: peace, quietness, and nature. Those values have a price: it isn't open to everyone. It has to be of hard access for people who know how to appreciate them." The drinking water wouldn't be sufficient for mass tourism. On the neighbour island, Big Corn, tourism has been more heavily developed. There are roughly 80 taxis on its narrow road, too many people in the small town, and the municipality seems disorganized and unprepared for the sudden influx of tourism. On Little Corn, the population voted against having a road. No car, no pollution, no noise. They recently built a small police station to insure security. "Before, a women could go swim naked in the sea, but today it is a bit dangerous for a women alone with the boys, she's better of with a friend" says Sydney Daniel Wang, a native of Little Corn. "Tourism attracts corruption because there is money. Before, we didn't need any police men. But we hate it when a tourist is robbed, it is bad for us."

Every August 27th, the people of both Corn islands convene on Big Corn to celebrate the day of independence of the slaves. The party lasts 4 days and nights, and consists of eating crab soup and drinking beer to celebrate the freedom of slaves. Shows, songs, and dances portray the arrival of pirates, slavery, or the culture of the island. The queen of beauty is also elected. Every village has its table where food is free for everyone; foreigners just have to choose where to sit!


There are many legends on Little Corn. The most popular among locals concern the enchanted treasures hidden by pirates. Juan, an old Creole, tells us the story: "There are spirits in this island! If you sleep next to someone, they don't molest you. If you sleep alone, they do! This island was full of pirates. They buried gold here. That money, you can't get it if it is not given to you. Let me tell you: The pirates were stupid. They had big fights. They killed one another. Who wins gets the treasure. My grandmother used to tell me that when they would hide the money, they would go with you and two others. 'You don't know what they are gonna do to you but they are gonna kill you!' she said. Maybe you believe they are going to leave you there alive, but when you are not noticing: hoops, they chop your neck of with the sword. The money is enchanted because the spirit of the murdered body stays next to the treasure. Sometimes, the spirit of the dead comes to you in your dream and tells you where to go and with whom you can find it: 'don't be afraid,' he says 'you may see a big animal, that's where the gold is. It is not going to do you no arm." Only someone who is not afraid can find the gold. This happened, sure!"

Adventurous backpackers, be ready to dig for the hidden treasure! Meanwhile, learn how to cook on a fireplace. In fact, there aren't many facilities for travellers on Little Corn. For example, in Derrick's place, a paradise setting with cheap little cabanas, one must cook on the fire, walk through the bush in the mud, in brief: be adventurous! The locals on the island are extremely friendly, offering you coconuts, mangos or pineapples, and often invite you for dinner at their place. They may even tell you the ghost stories of the island in Creole English, which can sometimes be difficult to understand. "I love it when backpackers come to Little Corn, we have fun with them" says Sydney Daniel Wang, "It is love that is coming, and we have to accept and welcome it. Love, because before, black people used to not be treated as white people. Today, we are all friends, there is no more racism, we all love the island."


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