The Nicarao people were a Nahuat-speaking Mesoamerican people that migrated from central and southern Mexico over the course of several centuries from approximately 700 AD onwards. Around 1200 AD, the Nicarao split from the Pipil people and moved into what is now Nicaragua. The migration of the Nicarao has been linked to the collapse of the important central-Mexican cities of Teotihuacan and Tula, as well as the Classic Maya collapse. The Nicarao settled in several pockets throughout western Nicaragua, particularly around the western shores of Lake Nicaragua. The Nicarao shared many cultural traits with their Aztec cousins, including an identical calendar, the use of screenfold books, the worship of closely-related deities, and the practice of human sacrifice.
The Nicarao were first contacted by the Spanish in 1522, initiating the Spanish conquest of Nicaragua. At the time of contact, they were ruled by a cacique that the Spanish called Nicarao, who governed from his capital Quauhcapolca, not far from the modern town of Rivas. At that time, the Nicarao had a sizeable population concentrated in nucleated villages. Within a century of European contact, the Nicarao were effectively extinct.
Origin and distribution
The Nicarao people migrated from central and southern Mexico over the course of several centuries from approximately 700 AD onwards. Around 1200 AD, the Nicarao split from the Pipil people and moved into what is now Nicaragua. The beginning of this series of migrations was likely to have been linked to the collapse of the great central-Mexican city of Teotihuacan, and later with the collapse of the Toltec city of Tula. The dating of Nicarao arrival in what is now Nicaragua has also been linked to the Classic Maya collapse, with the cessation of Maya influence in the region, and the rise of cultural traits originating in the Valley of Mexico. The Nicarao settled in several pockets distributed through western Nicaragua, and possibly also extended into what is now northwestern Costa Rica. They are believed to have displaced the Chorotega inhabitants that had previously settled the region. The Nicarao appear to have seized control of the most productive land around the western portions of Lake Nicaragua, and the Gulf of Fonseca. The area now covered by Rivas Department appears to have been conquered by the Nicarao shortly before the Spanish conquest.
At the time of contact with the Spanish, the Nicarao were governed from their capital at Quauhcapolca, near the modern town of Rivas. Other principal settlements included Mistega, Ochomogo, Oxmorio, Papagayo, Tecoatega, Teoca, Totoaca, and Xoxoyota.
When the Spanish first encountered the Nicarao in 1522, they inhabited the Isthmus of Rivas. Their ruler was referred to in later sources as Nicarao, and the capital city was Quauhcapolca. The Nicarao had a sizeable population concentrated in nucleated villages. The Nicarao experienced complete demographic collapse within the first century after the Spanish conquest of Nicaragua, from a combination of disease and being sold into slavery. A remnant Nahua-speaking population may have existed as late as the mid-19th century, but the Nicarao are now extinct.
Spanish chronicler Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés, writing soon after the conquest, recorded that the Nicarao practised cranial modification, by binding the heads of young children between two pieces of wood. Archaeologists have unearthed pre-Columbian burials in the former Nicarao region with evidence of both cranial and dental modification. The Nicarao possessed a number of cultural traits in common with the Aztecs of central Mexico, including an identical calendar, the use of screenfold books, a related pantheon of deities, and the practice of human sacrifice. They also, in common with their Mexican cousins, practiced ritual confession, and the volador (flying men) ritual.
- Fowler 1985, p. 37.
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- Healy 1980, 2006a, p. 337.
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- McCafferty and McCafferty 2009, p. 186.
- Salamanca 2012, p. 14.
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- McCafferty and McCafferty 2009, pp. 185–186.
- Healy 1980, 2006a, p.338.
- McCafferty and McCafferty 2009, p. 188.
- McCafferty 2015, p. 111.
- Healy 1980, 2006b, p. 31.
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- McCafferty, Geoffrey G.; and McCafferty, Sharisse D. (2009). "Crafting the Body Beautiful: Performing Social Identity at Santa Isabel, Nicaragua" in Halperin, Christina T., Katherine A. Faust, Rhonda Taube, Aurore Giguet, Elizabeth M. Brumfiel, and Lisa Overholtzer (eds.). Mesoamerican Figurines. pp. 297–323. Gainesville, Florida, US: University Press of Florida. Archived from the original on 2017-07-17. ISBN 978-0-8130-3330-3.
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