There is evidence to suggest that people were living in Nicaragua as long as 6,000 years ago. This date comes from ancient footprints found on the shore of Lake Managua in 1874. About twenty years ago, remnants of a civilization were found in the middle of the Nicaraguan jungle. These finds, including ceremonial platforms and mounds, predate the Mayan civilization. There is not much known about the ancient cultures that inhabited what is now Nicaragua.
We do know that when the Spanish arrived in 1522 there were three distinct nation-states occupying the Western highlands and many tribal groups living in the Caribbean lowlands. The cultures living on the Pacific coast and highlands seem to have been descendants of the Aztecs and Mayans. They spoke variations of the Pipil language, which is closely related to Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. Their diet consisted of many of the same items, including corn, beans, chilis, peppers and avocados. The three tribes were the Niquirano, the Chorotegano and the Chontal. Nicaragua is named after the chief of the Niquirano, Nicarao. These tribes had advanced social structures and political systems and were almost completely decimated by the Spanish through disease, war and slavery.
In the Eastern Caribbean lowlands, the Spanish mainly found family groups and small tribes. It is thought that these people came from what is now Colombia. This assumption is made again based on linguistic research. Most of these tribes spoke dialects of Chibcha, a language spoken by tribes originating from northern Colombia. They were hunters and fisherman as well as farmers, growing root vegetables such as cassava utilizing slash and burn agriculture. Because Eastern Nicaragua was not settled the way the Western coast was, many of these tribes survived and live on today. They are still fighting for the sovereignty of their land and ways of life.
Nicaragua is unique in that this land was the meeting point of Mesoamerican culture and South American culture; however it has threads of a story that plagued this land during the era of European colonization: exploitation, introduction of disease and a dying out of cultures and civilizations.