The rules of succession described in the early Spanish chronicles for Caribbean chiefdoms have been used by many scholars to reconstruct a Taino kinship system. This article argues that these conclusions were reached by using unfounded assumptions, especially confusing rules of succession with rules of descent. Furthermore, it is suggested here that Taino rules of succession were not simply about the right to govern through descent but were a form of customary law that was manipulated by chiefs to consolidate and stabilize power. Thus the vagueness present in the rules of succession could have been an integral part of the transmission system of the position of high office among the protohistoric chiefdoms of the Greater Antilles.

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