About 86 per cent of Nicaraguans are European (but not limited to Spanish) or mixed European and of native ancestry. Most Nicaraguans have Spanish ancestors, but the 19th century saw several waves of immigration from other European countries (mainly from Germany). Most of the Mestizo and European population live in the western and central regions of the country and especially in the cities of Managua, Leon and Granada.
About 9 per cent of Nicaragua's population is black or afro-nicaragüense and they are concentrated in the country's eastern coast, and were brought mostly from Jamaica and Haiti when the region was a British protectorate. There is also a smaller number of Garifuna, a people of mixed African, Caribbean, Angolan, Congoan and Arawak descent.
Just 5 per cent of the population are of pure native descent. Nicaragua's pre-Columbian population consisted of the Nahuatl-speaking Nicarao people of the west, and six ethnic groups including the Miskitos, Ramas and Sumos in the Caribbean region. While very few pure-blooded Nicarao people still exist, the Caribbean peoples have remained distinct. In the mid-1980s, the government divided the eastern half of the country - the former department of Zelaya - into two autonomous regions and granted the African and indigenous people of the region limited self-rule.
There is also a small Middle Eastern-Nicaraguan community of Syrian, Armenian, Palestinian and Lebanese people in Nicaragua with a total population of about 30,000, and an East Asian community of Japanese, Taiwanese and Chinese people of almost 8,000. The minorities speak Spanish and maintain their ancestral languages as well.
Spanish is spoken by about 90% of Nicaraguans; the Nicaraguan dialect has many similarities to Galician, and also has similarities to Argentinian Spanish which uses "vos" instead of "tu", along with the "vos" conjugation. The black population of the east coast region has English as its first language. Several indigenous peoples of the east still use their original languages.
Roman Catholicism is the major religion, but evangelical Protestant groups have grown recently, and there are strong Anglican and Moravian communities on the Caribbean coast. 0.1% of Nicaragua is Buddhist and the religion has been growing in recent years.