University of Calgary
UofC Navigation

Ethnohistorical Background

Submitted by admin on Tue, 01/29/2008 - 11:46am

Historical accounts written in the 16th century by Spanish chroniclers such as Oviedo, Motolinia and Torquemada describe Pacific Nicaragua at the moment of Spanish contact.  One of the surprising discoveries was of indigenous groups that spoke languages closely related to Nahuat and Oto-Mangue from the central Mexico.  Origin myths described migrations from the central highlands of Mexico, specifically from Cholula, as whole communities fled oppression by 'tyranical' Olmeca-Xicallanca.  Accounts for when this exodus may have occurred vary, but it is believed to have taken  place in the final centuries prior to the arrival of the Spanish in the early 1500s.  Specifically, historians infer that the Oto-Manguean Chorotega may have arrived first, about 900 CE, while the Nahuat-speaking Nicarao arrived somewhat later, perhaps around 1300CE.

Oviedo recorded detailed information on the cultural practices of the Nicarao, in particular, and this information has been synthesized by several modern historians (Chapman; Fowler, Leon-Portilla).  Characteristics such as use of the 260-day ritual calendar, deities in the religious pantheon, and patterns of social organization are all strongly reminiscent of the cultural practices of central Mexican Nahua groups. 

Accounts of the contact-period inhabitants of Pacific Nicaragua further support this connection.  Conquistador Gil Gonzalez Davila travelled north from Panama to the Nicoya Peninsula, and then into modern Nicaragua.  On the shore of Lake Nicaragua he visited the Nicarao town of Quauhcapolca, ruled by the teyte Nicaragua. 

mural of Gonzalez and Nicaragua

Mural in Rivas of Gil Gonzalez meeting chief Nicaragua at Quauhcapolca

Project SIN was designed to excavate the contact-period community of Quauhcapolca, capital of the Nahua-speaking Nicarao. 

Site Admin