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  The Time of
the Conquest
  The Independent
and Modern Eras
Footprints of Acahualinca (Managua)

Life in Nicaragua Before Colonization

A number of different peoples inhabited the territory that is now Nicaragua.  In the Pacific region, for example, there were the Maribios, also know as the Subtiabas, the Mangues or the Chorotegas, the Nahuas or Nicaraguas, also called the Niquiranos. These peoples settled near the lakes and volcanoes and organized themselves into towns or agricultural villages led by councils of elders.  

Their way of life was very similar to that of the cultures of Mexico, with a trading system based on bartering or exchanges with neighboring peoples.

They worked the land and lived off agriculture based on the cultivation of corn.



Before the arrival of the conquistadors or Spanish conquerors, the Chorotegas and Nicaraguas were the main cultures in the Pacific Region.  The Maribios mostly settled to the west of the chain of volcanoes that traverse the region, which is why it is now called the “Marrabios” Range; an adulteration of the indigenous name.

The peoples that inhabited the Caribbean or Atlantic area were more connected to South America; they appear to have migrated from the south of Venezuela.  These are the Sumos or Sumus, the Miskitos and Ramas that settled on the Caribbean Coast.  The Sumus and the Miskitos are more connected as their languages are very similar.  The Miskitos are currently the most numerous ethnic group, while there is a smaller number of indigenous of the Rama group. 

Their lifestyle included the absence of natural towns, a rudimentary political and social organization, a nomadic economy and the practice of shamanism.

Petroglyph (Ometepe Island)

The Time of the Conquest        

In 1523, the Spanish captain Gil Gonzalez de Avila reached the Gulf of Nicoya, and traveled from there to the Chorotega town of Nicoya, accompanied by a troop of 100 Spaniards and 400 indigenous auxiliary troops.  He later entered Nicaragua itself at the Isthmus of Rivas, where the indigenous leader Nicarao, with 6,000 of his people, accepted baptism at the request of the Spanish.  Before accepting baptism, the leader first conversed with Gil Gonzalez de Avila about his religious beliefs.

Gil Gonzalez and his expedition advanced toward the lake and were received by the chief Diriangen, who gave them more gifts, but opposed their presence and, together with 4,000 men surrounded the expedition, captured one of them and wounded others.  Later, there was a second attack by Chief Nicaragua and Gil Gonzalez was able to save himself and safely reach the Gulf of Nicoya and the ships of Andres Niño.

At the end of 1524, Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba completed the conquest of the region, and founded the cities of Leon and Granada.

In 1542, laws were passed to centralize Spanish authority and to establish a judiciary system that would control the distribution of land and the amounts of taxes that would be demanded from the indigenous peoples in the future.

The Church has played an important role In Nicaragua since Colonial times. To facilitate the evangelization of the indigenous peoples in order to integrate them into the new society – both spiritually and materially – many missionary orders came to Nicaragua, led by friars or priests.

Most of the indigenous people adored certain Catholic saints associated with ancient gods: to cure illnesses, to still volcanic eruptions or to pray for successful harvests. One example of this continued fervor is the festival in honor of St. Dominic of Guzman.

In 1610, an earthquake destroyed the city of Leon, which was located on the shores of Lake Xolotlan, and the city was relocated to its current site. In some ways, this worked to the benefit of the city of Granada as its trade routes were through Lake Cocibolca and the San Juan River, but that city did not escape surprise attacks by pirates who also gained access to the city through the river and lake.

Among these privateers was Henry Morgan. The pirates usually negotiated with the indigenous people that they encountered in the Caribbean and with the English from Jamaica. Thus, they began visiting the Caribbean Coast for trading purposes, giving rise to the rivalry between Spain and the Protectorate of the Caribbean, England.

Nicaragua in the Independent and Modern Eras

In 1821, the Central American region declared its independence from Spain and divided into five states, which later became five sovereign republics.  Slavery was abolished and Nicaragua entered an era of social and economic development. 

However, the rivalries and conflicts between the prominent elites of Leon and Granada were devastating for the peace of the province.  They all wanted power and control of the government and, after struggles between liberals and conservatives, the first of many civil wars erupted in 1824.  

In the face of the inability of its rulers to reach an agreement, the country was subject to the interests of those who saw Nicaragua as a possible inter-oceanic route, including not just the English, who claimed to have rights to it, but also other adventurers.  

From 1854 to 1856 in Nicaragua, the National War was waged against William Walker, who had been contracted by the Leon liberals (democrats) to defeat the Conservatives from Granada (legitimists).  This adventurer took control of the country.  He was interested in establishing a state and controlling the transit route for the California gold rush.  He was expelled from Nicaragua in 1856, after the signing of the Providential Pact on September 12 of that year by the two groups in contention (Granados Doña, 2002).

In 1893, the Liberal Party – led by General Jose Santos Zelaya – gained power and brought many changes to the country:  the railroad, telegraph, ports, coffee farming and the incorporation of the Mosquitia region.  There were even efforts made to build the inter-oceanic canal, but it was not possible:  first because of its high cost, and secondly, on December 20, 1909, Zelaya was forced to resign because of the Knox Note.  Following this, power passed to the coalition which included the liberal Juan Jose Estrada and, later, the conservatives Emiliano Chamorro, Luis Mena and Adolfo Diaz.

On May 23, 1927, in Yali, Augusto C. Sandino – a laborer with the rank of General in the Constitutionalist War – rejected the U.S. pact with the Liberals, began his struggle, and marched into the Las Segovias region with his small army.

On January 2, 1933, the occupation of Nicaragua came to an end and, one month later, Sandino agreed to lay down his arms in exchange for a commitment from the Liberals and Conservatives to retain the political and economic sovereignty of Nicaragua at all costs.  

Before leaving the country, the U.S. marines transferred the command of 4,000 Nicaraguan soldiers to the National Guard, under the command of Anastasio Somoza Garcia

Anastasio and Luis Somoza Debayle – continued the dictatorship until July 19, 1979, when it was overthrown by the Sandinista.

On November 4, 1984, the first elections were held and Commander Daniel Ortega Saavedra was elected president.

Violeta Barrios de Chamorro

New national elections were held on February 25, 1990 and Violeta Barrios, widow of Pedro Joaquin Chamorro and the candidate of the alliance called the National Opposition Union (UNO), won the presidency.  She is the only woman ever elected to this country’s highest office.

Under Ms. Chamorro’s administration the foreign debt was significantly reduced.

Twenty-three parties and alliances participated in the 1996 presidential elections and Dr. Arnoldo Aleman, the Liberal Constitutionalist Party candidate, was elected to office. The FSLN came in second place in those elections.



Mr. Enrique Bolaños G.

The latest elections were held on November 4, 2001 and Mr. Enrique Bolaños was elected president.  Voter turnout was high, over 90%, an uncommonly high rate among democratic countries.  

The president-elect took power on January 10, 2002, initiating a new era for Nicaragua with the “Fight Against Corruption”.    

Excerpts from:
Enciclopedia de Nicaragua published by Editorial Oceano