Political Organization

It is traditionally accepted that the island was divided into five districts or cacicazgos by the end of the 15th century.

These chiefdoms were ruled by a chief or cacique and were subdivided into "nitainatos" or smaller areas that, although ruled by an autonomous sub-chief (nitainos or secondary caciques), owed allegiance and loyalty to the principal chief (cacique).

In a lower level you would find the smaller villages, ruled by a village chief who was also loyal to the higher cacicazgos of the chiefs and secondary chiefs and counted on their support in difficult moments.

The Tainos were not warriors. There could be disagreements or disputes between cacicazgos because of territory or food supply. Historians write that even though they might be in conflict with each other, they would group and mutually help each other in defense against attacks by the Caribs. Agricultural and hunting tools, like spears, clubs, stone axes and plain stones could be used as weapons to defend themselves, but the use of bows and arrows was not common in the whole island, mostly concentrated in the ciguaya area in the Higuey cacicazgo.

In the last few years there have been new hypothesis about the location and names on the cacicazgos. In this study we follow the theory published by Dr. Marcio Veloz6 in 1970, working with the following distribution of chiefdoms in the island at the end of the 15th century:


mapa tribus color
Covered all the northeast of the island, from what is today Môle St. Nicolas, Haiti, to the shores of the Yaque del Norte river in the Monte Cristi area of the D.R.. It was subdivided in 14 nitainatos and Guacanagari was their principal Cacique.
Covered the southeast part of the island, from the area of Anse d'Hainault, Hait, it crossed the Neiba mountain range and close to the Neiba Bay, D.R. It was subdivided into 26 nitainatos and Behechio or Bhohechio was their cacique.
Located in the center of the island, probably started around Santiago, covering the southern area of the Cibao, and the San Juan de la Maguana Valley, down to the Caribbean sea. It was subdivided into 21 nitainatos and was ruled by Caonabo who was believed to have been from Caribe origins.
From Monte Cristi, through the Septentrional mountain range, covered all the northwest area until the Samana cape. In the south it would have ended between the Yamasa and Monteplata areas. The Ciguayo-Macorix zone covered the San Juan river, Nagua and Samana. It also had 21 nitainatos and was ruled by Mayobanex.
The northern border began in the Yuna river mouth: to the east, from the Monteplata area and Santo Domingo, covering all the southeastern part of the island. It held 21 nitainatos and was ruled by Cayacoa.

Map: Betsy Arvelo