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Cacique (Spanish: [kaˈθike]; Portuguese: [kɐˈsikɨ, kaˈsiki]; feminine form: cacica) is a title derived from the Taíno for the pre-Columbian chiefs or leaders of tribes in the Bahamas, Greater Antilles, and the northern Lesser Antilles.
The Spanish used the word cacique as a title for the leaders of the other indigenous groups they encountered in the Western Hemisphere territories they occupied. In colonial Mexico, caciques and their families were considered part of the Mexican nobility, often also holding the Spanish noble honorific don and doña and some having entailed estates or cacicazgos. The records of many of these Mexican estates are held in the Mexican national archives in a section Vínculos ("entails"). In Mexico, the Spaniards' use of the term cacique to designate indigenous rulers had important implications, since individuals and communities might claim a status that in the indigenous system of nomenclature would not have fulfilled the criteria.
The term is also used in the Portuguese language to describe the leaders of indigenous communities in Brazil. It is also frequently used in Portugal to describe how certain influential and well known students use their powerful social character to influence student body elections in the student movement in Portugal's major universities. In Spain, Portugal and in Brazil the word is most commonly used in the third sense, meaning "a person in a village or region who exercises excessive influence in political matters."
In the Taíno culture, the cacique rank was apparently established through democratic means. His importance in the tribe was determined by the size of his tribe rather than his warlord skills, since the Taínos were mostly a pacifist culture. They also enjoyed several privileges for their standing: they lived in a larger rectangular hut in the center of the village and had a special sitting place for the areytos (ceremonial dances) and the ceremonial ball game.
The derivative term "Caciquismo" has been used to describe a democratic system subverted by the power of local bosses (caciques) who successfully influence the electoral process in their favor. It has been used most notably referred to late nineteenth century Spain and twentieth century Mexico.
The persistence of archaic political forces in present-day Latin America manifests itself primarily in the large role that caciquismo still plays, even in countries sufficiently advanced to prevent personal dictatorships by caudillos.
- Guillermo S. Fernández de Recas, Cacicazgos y Nobiliario Indígena de la Nueva España, Mexico: Biblioteca Nacional de México, 1961.
- Charles Gibson, The Aztecs Under Spanish Rule: A History of the Indians of the Valley of Mexico, 1519-1810, Stanford: Stanford University Press 1964, p. 36.
- The Catastrophe of Modernity: Tragedy and the Nation in Latin American Literature. Bucknell University Press. 2004. pp. 136–. ISBN 978-0-8387-5561-7. Retrieved 25 June 2013.
- "Taíno Indians Culture". Topuertorico.org. Retrieved 2012-06-19.
- Varela Ortega, José (2001). El poder de la influencia: Geografía del caciquismo en España: (1875-1923). Centro de Estudios Políticos y Constitucionales. ISBN 84-259-1152-4.
- Latin America. University of California Press. pp. 169–. GGKEY:9UK0E7NAHXA. Retrieved 25 June 2013.