Chiefdoms of Hispaniola


The chiefdoms or cacicazgo of Hispaniola were the principal political units engaged by the Taíno residents of Hispaniola in the early classical era. At the course of European contact in the late 1400s, the island was split into five chiefdoms, each headed by a paramount chief or cacique. Below him were lesser caciques managing districts or village and nitaínos, an upper class in Taíno community.

The Taíno of Hispaniola was of the Arawak people linked to the residents of the other islands in the Greater Antilles. At the time of European contact, they suffered invasions from a conflicting indigenous group, the Island Caribs. In 1508, there were 58,000 Taínos on the island of Hispaniola; by 1531, contagious disease epidemics and colonial exploitation had resulted in a dramatic decline in population.

The boundaries of each chiefdom were marked. The island’s first inhabitants used geographic elements as references, such as high mountains, significant rivers, plains, and notable valleys and plains. This allowed them to define each area. Each was split into cacique nitaínos, subdivisions supervised by the cacique aides.

Chiefdom of Marién

The cacicazgo of Marién covered the northwestern part of Hispaniola, adjoined to the north by the Atlantic Ocean, east by the cacicazgos of Maguana and Maguá, the south by the cacicazgo of Jaragua and west by the Passage of Windward.

It was controlled by the cacique Guacanagaríx, with its capital in El Guarico, near the present-day city of Cap-Haïtien. It was split into 14 nitaínos. This cacicazgo was the first to welcome Christopher Columbus. They were the first ones to convert to Christianity.

The cacicazgo of Marién battled against the cacicazgo Mairena, supported by Caonabo of the cacicazgo of Maguana for the power of the mythical ‘Mother’ god Iermao. The ‘Mother’ Iermao was the god of the cacicazgo of Marién, which signifies “body stone.”

Chiefdom of Maguá

The cacicazgo of Maguá was located on the northeastern part of Hispaniola, bordered to the north and east by the Atlantic Ocean, the south by the cacicazgos of Maguana and Higüey, and west by the cacicazgos of Marién and Maguana. This chiefdom’s regions are all in the current-day Dominican Republic.

It was controlled by the cacique Guarionex and was concentrated near the current day location of Santo Cerro in La Vega. It was split into 21 nitaínos. This cacicazgo was one of the most productive of the island.

Originally the area was inhabited by an ethnically different group of Taíno called the Ciguayo, who were concentrated on the Samaná Peninsula. This group, who spoke the Ciguayo language, was incorporated into the cacicazgo of Maguá. This was written by chronicler Bartolomé de las Casas, who recorded that in 1502 the writing was on the slump and 1527 extinct.

Maguá means “the Stone.” The chiefdom’s mother-god was Guacara or the ‘Stone Mother.’

Chiefdom of Maguana

The cacicazgo of Maguana was situated in the heart of the island, surrounded on the north by the cacicazgos of Maguá and Marién, east by the cacicazgos of Maguá and Higüey, out by the Caribbean, and west by the cacicazgos of Jaragua and Marién.

It was governed by the cacique Caonabo, husband of Anacaona. Its capital was instituted at Corral de Los Indios in the present-day town of Juan de Herrera in San Juan province. It was split into 21 nitaínos.

This was the main cacicazgo of the island and was portrayed as “The Rock.” The term Maguana means “the first stone” or “the only stone.” The supreme mother goddess of the chiefdom was Apito, which means “Mother of Stone.”

The cacique Caonabo was the first to oppose the Spanish occupation. The fort that Christopher Columbus built on the north coast of the island, La Navidad, was crushed by Caonabo. Caonabo also tried to sack Fortaleza de Santo Tomás but was seized by the Spanish forces of commander Alonso de Ojeda. Instead of being sentenced to death, the cacique was sent to Spain to be marched naked in front of the Royal Court but died on his journey.

Chiefdom of Jaragua

The cacicazgo of Jaragua traversed the entire south-west of the island of Hispaniola. It was joined on the north by the cacicazgo of Marién, east by the cacicazgo of Maguana, south by the Caribbean Sea, and west by the Strait of Jamaica. It was governed by the cacique Bohechio (Beehechio) and was the largest of the cacicazgos. Its capital was located in a place called Guava, present-day Léogâne, in Haiti. It was split into 26 nitaínos.

Bohechío was the brother of Anacaona, who was married to the cacique of Maguana, Caonabo. Maguana and Jaragua had a strong alliance and would ally to ward off and combat rival cacicazgos.

The mother god of the cacicazgo was Zuimaco.

Chiefdom of Higüey

The cacicazgo of Higüey covered the whole southeast of Hispaniola, bordered to the north by the cacicazgo of Maguá and the Bay Samana, east by the Canal de la Mona, south by the Caribbean, and west by the cacicazgo of Maguana. It was ruled by the cacique Cayacoa and was split into 21 nitaínos. The center of the cacicazgo was situated in present-day Higüey.

The mother god of Higüey was Atabeira, which means “Mother of the original stone.”

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