The Miskitu Indians of Eastern Nicaragua and Honduras are one of the most numerous indigenous groups in the southern part of Central America. Never conquered by the Spaniards during the colonial era, they first came under control of the Central American republics in the late nineteenth century. Their leaders were known as “kings” from the early seventeenth century up until 1860. A scholarly debate has arisen on the character of these leaders: were they big men or chiefs? Generalizations on the character of leadership over extended periods of time, however, are problematic, since Miskitu political organization underwent significant change over time as a result of the fluctuating influence of the colonial powers (Spain and England) that sought hegemony in the region. This article will therefore periodize Miskitu leadership patterns, taking into account the influence of the colonial powers as well as of resident British and US traders, who played a major role in local politics.

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