For other uses, see Cacique (disambiguation).
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A cacique (Spanish: [kaˈsike]; Portuguese: [kɐˈsikɨ, kaˈsiki]; feminine form: cacica) is a leader of an indigenous group, derived from the Taíno word kasikɛ for the pre-Columbian tribal chiefs in the Bahamas, the Greater Antilles, and the northern Lesser Antilles.

The Spanish used the word as a title for the leaders of the other indigenous groups that they encountered in the Western Hemisphere, with the Andes being the major exception, and their local denomination was called kuraka. 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").[1]

In Mexico, the Spaniards' use of the term cacique to designate indigenous rulers had important implications since individuals and communities might claim such a status even if under the indigenous system of nomenclature, they would not have fulfilled the criteria.[2]

In Peru, the Spaniards had allowed the caciques to maintain their titles of nobility as long as they converted to Catholicism, until the Tupac Amaru II rebellion. Afterwards, the Andean nobles were forced to prove their titles, but many of them were unable to do so because their belongings had been destroyed or stolen after the rebellion. Some mestizos took advantage of the situation and presented questionable documents that accredited them as the true descendants of the pre-Columbian kurakas.

In Modern Spanish, the term has come to mean a local political boss who exercises significant power.

The term is also used in Portuguese 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 Brazil, the word is most commonly used in a third sense: "a person in a village or region who exercises excessive influence in political matters."


Cacique comes from the Taíno word kassiquan, meaning "to keep house."[3]

In 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 centre of the village, rather than the circular huts of other villagers, and they Vínculos had a special sitting place for the areytos (ceremonial dances) and the ceremonial ball game.[4]


The derivative term "Caciquismo" has been used to describe a political system determined by the power of local bosses (caciques), who successfully influence the electoral process in their favour. It has been used most notably to refer to late 19th century Spain and early 20th century[5] and twentieth century Mexico.

It is arguable that Galicia, a nation in the northwest of Spain, has been kept in a continual state of strangulated growth over centuries as a result of caciquismo and nepotism, powered by the situation of colonialism from the Spanish state. According to Ramon Akal Gonzalez, "Galicia still suffers from this anachronistic caste of caciques" (Obra Completa II, 1977, page 111). Among the scions of the Galician cacique clans that originated from this region of Spain are such absolutist rulers as Francisco Franco and Jorge Videla.

The persistence of archaic political forces in Latin America still manifests itself primarily in the large role that caciquismo still plays, even in countries sufficiently advanced to prevent personal dictatorships by caudillos.[6]


The term cacique democracy has also been used to describe the political system in the Philippines where local leaders remain very strong, with almost warlord-type powers, in many parts of the country. The Philippines was a Spanish colony for around 300 years until the United States removed the Spanish and assumed control in the late 19th century. The US administration subsequently introduced many commercial, political and administrative reforms. They were sometimes quite progressive and directed towards the modernization of government and commerce in the Philippines. However, the local traditional Filipino elites, being better educated and better connected than much of the local population, were often able to take advantage of the changes to bolster their positions.

The result, according to some scholars, is that democracy in the Philippines became a cacique democracy. The idea was discussed in a well-known article by Benedict Anderson in 1988[7] and other scholars[8]

Taino Dynasty

Main article: List of Taínos

Notable caciques of the Americas

White Caciques

See also


  1. Guillermo S. Fernández de Recas, Cacicazgos y Nobiliario Indígena de la Nueva España, Mexico: Biblioteca Nacional de México, 1961.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. "Taíno Indians Culture". Retrieved 2012-06-19.
  5. 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.
  6. Latin America. University of California Press. pp. 169–. GGKEY:9UK0E7NAHXA. Retrieved 25 June 2013.
  7. Benedict Anderson, 'Cacique Democracy in the Philippines: Origins and Dreams', New Left Review, I (169), May–June 1988
  8. Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, Cacique Democracy'
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