Known on old maps as the Islas de los Manglares (Mangrove Islands), the islands are located in the Caribbean (12 10'N 83 04'W) about fifty miles off the coast of Nicaragua, and are under Nicaraguan sovereignty. Like its antipode, this archipelago is made up of two small islands strung together by white coral and covered with coconut palms. In this case, too, the northern island is the smaller one, and is inhabited only by a few families of fishermen. The southern island, bigger and much more densely populated, had a large copra industry that was completely destroyed by Hurricane Joan in 1988.

Its inhabitants, who come from many racial backgrounds, have developed a culture that mixes African-American, Latin and English elements. They speak Spanish and English interchangeably, and some of their customs are similar to those of the Jamaican world. The music is reggae and their drink for big nights is rum. Life goes along peacefully, without the tensions that have been a feature of Central American for so many years.

The climate, vegetation and landscape are those typical of Caribbean islands. Palm trees and mangroves, white beaches, turquoise waters and an extraordinary richness of marine life. Currently, after the devastation wrought by Hurricane Joan, lobster fishing and a budding tourist industry are the principal economic resources of the islands.

These islands bear a truly remarkable resemblance to their antipode, the Cocos Islands. This is true not only in their geographic configuration - a large southern island and a smaller one to the north - but in the mythic stories which arose in these regions, despite their remoteness from each other, surrounding the plants that gave their names to the islands.

In an interview conducted by Bill Moyers with Joseph Campbell, "The Power of Myth," Joseph Campbell talks about the Algonquin tribe, who were hunters but also cultivated maize. He recounts the Algonquin myth of a young man wearing a crown of green plumes, who is seen in a vision by a young boy and who comes back night after night to fight with the boy. Finally, the young man tells the boy to kill him, cut off his head, and bury it. The boy does so, and when he returns, he finds that maize has grown on the place where the young man's head was buried.

Strangely, a similar myth exists in Polynesian culture, involving a young girl who swims in a lake where there is a giant eel. The eel turns into a young man who becomes her lover. And then, just as in the Algonquin story, after he has visited her a few times, he tells her that she must kill him and cut off his head and bury it. She does so and out of the place where his head was buried, a coconut palm grows. Joseph Campbell points out the likeness of the coconut's shape to a human head, with two round holes for the eyes and the nostrils, and comments on the similarity of the two agricultural myths, even though anthropologists do not think of these cultures as having anything in common.




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