views updated


The Nicarao are an ethnic group of Mexican Nahuatl origin. The Nicarao settled in Classic and Postclassic times around Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua, where they established a number of towns, some of which later became the foundations for the Spanish cities of León, Managua, Granada, and Chinandega. They developed commerce and other relations with native peoples already in the region. These activities led to a war with the Chorotegans that ended about ce 1200 with the establishment of the Nicarao around Lake Nicaragua and especially on Ometepe Island. Gil González Dávila, who encountered these people on his 1523 expedition to Nicaragua, referred to their chief as Nicarao. On his peaceful visit he claimed to have baptized more than thirty-two thousand. There is controversy over the population of the Nicarao at the time of the Conquest, but it appears to have been in the range of one hundred thousand to two hundred thousand among a total Indian population of Pacific Nicaragua of about a half million. Slave exports to other colonies and disease quickly decimated their numbers, although enough survived to become a part of the ethnic foundation of modern Nicaragua.

See alsoGonzález Dávila, Gil; Indigenous Peoples; Slave Trade.


Doris Stone, Pre-Columbian Man Finds Central America: The Archaeological Bridge (1972).

William L. Sherman, Forced Native Labor in Sixteenth-Century Central America (1979).

Linda Newson, Indian Survival in Colonial Nicaragua (1987).

William R. Fowler, Jr., The Cultural Evolution of Ancient Nahua Civilizations: The Pipil-Nicarao of Central America (1989).

Additional Bibliography

Chapman, Anne MacKaye. Los Nicarao y los Chorotega según las fuentes históricas. San Juan, Costa Rica: Ciudad Universitaria, 1974.

Pérez Estrada, Francisco. Los nahuas de Nicaragua. Managua: Talleres Nacionales, 1962.

                            Ralph Lee Woodward Jr.