The Haciendas in Yucatán are one of the greatest attractions in the Peninsula. We can know and understand a large part of the social, cultural and economic history of the area through the Haciendas. It is one of the most interesting trips to get closer to the cultural diversity in the region.

In 1880 the Yucatan Peninsula was one of the most prosperous regions of Mexico thanks to the development of the heneque haciendas, a product that they called the green gold of the Yucatan. Throughout the Peninsula henequen plantations grew, there were more than 1100 farms in the Yucatan Peninsula.

We are going to know a fundamental part of the history of the region through the Haciendas in Yucatan. What are haciendas? Why were they established in Mexico? How did haciendas work? How did their workers live? How have haciendas marked today's society? What is henequen and why was it? Such a successful product? What caused the decline of the Haciendas? What function do the Haciendas have today?

The curious are going to like this walk through the Haciendas of Yucatán.

Haciendas in merida

ORIGIN OF THE HACIENDAS

The definition of Hacienda is a large agricultural estate. Its origin is Castilian, and its development in Andalusia was a success between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. Even today in Andalusia this latifundist system of haciendas continues to operate with landowners such as the well-known Alba house.

Castilian landowners did not live in the countryside, in fact they despised the life of the countryside. The hacienda was part of their business and social status. The Haciendas in Spain are powerful factories of oils, grape vines and wine, cereal plantations and livestock. In the Andalusian area, these haciendas were also places where the landowners liked to meet and celebrate events, becoming the haciendas recreational exhibition centers, where they socially flaunted their purchasing power.

We are going to see how this model of Haciendas is established in Mexico and New Spain as a strategic part of domination by the conqueror.

haciendas in yucatan
Yucatan haciendas

THE WHY OF HACIENDAS IN MEXICO

The control measures of the kingdom of Spain were meticulously applied in the so-called New Spain. The replica of the Haciendas in Mexico is implemented globally as colonization advances. The Haciendas were models of economic and social organization for the Castilian elites to govern the countryside and its settlers.

In America the conquest was established and developed through the Haciendas from 1530-1850 AD The La Encomienda system used by the kingdom of Spain gave great power to the colonizers, it was the way it had to pay them.

encomienda system in haciendas mexico

ENCOMIENDA SYSTEM IN HACIENDAS IN MEXICO

The encomienda was the main way that the Spanish Crown had to reward the efforts of the conquerors for their services in America. Consisted of «A right granted by royal mercy to the worthies of the Indian women to collect and receive for themselves the tributes of the Indians entrusted to them, for their lives and those of an heir, in accordance with the law of succession, charged with caring for the good of the Indians in the spiritual and temporal, and to inhabit and defend the provinces where they were entrusted and to enforce all this ».

This means that the colonizing governors distributed among their own large plots of land with free labor included. The greatest beneficiaries of owning these haciendas were people from the religious sphere and the army, the great accomplices of colonization. The encomienda forces you to take indigenous people under guardianship to evangelize and protect them (to subdue them, of course).

In addition, the natives had to pay a tribute to the Crown through their encomendadores to be part of the Crown. This is how they dominated the original peoples of America, from Mapuches, Mayans, Olmecs, Aztecs or Incas, all were subjected under the feudal system of La encomienda.

Over the years, workers went from living in total slavery to acquiring civil rights, but the gap was already well marked and defined. The conquerors and their descendants went on to direct the territories through their public offices, to date.

Colonization created a caste system derived from the provenance that still exists today. We live marked by the features and skin tone, this is our reality. Unfortunately we have naturalized many more thoughts and ideas than we think.

Merida farms

THE HACIENDAS IN YUCATÁN

As well as other territories of present-day Mexico, the Mayan lands of the Southeast were colonized through the haciendas. The haciendas in the Yucatan peninsula played a very prominent role in the era of green gold, a product that surprisingly modified the economy and society of the time.

In each area of ​​Mexico there was a type of cultivation, and the Crown of Spain allowed any product to be planted as long as it was neither olive tree nor vine. Oil, grapes and wine were exclusive products for purely Castilian land.

The crown of Spain prohibited the planting of olive trees and vines

In the farms of Mérida and Campeche, where the largest number of farms in the Peninsula are collected, there was above all the cultivation of corn and cattle, with cotton and sugar cane. In this hard land, full of minerals, another product that was produced was henequen, a kind of cactus. This product used since ancient Mayan to make clothing or ropes was the trigger for the most powerful Haciendas.

what is henequen
Henequen plant

WHAT IS THE HENEQUÉN, THE SOSKIL OF THE MAYA

The so-called green gold is a species of cactus native to the Yucatan. From the leaves of the henequen (agave fourcroydes) its natural fibers are extracted for the manufacture of yarns and fabrics for domestic, commercial, agricultural and industrial use. The ancient Maya used it to make clothes, hammocks, sacks or to make ropes. From henequen products such as the thick ropes that were used to tie the boats, packing thread, fabrics to decorate walls, carpets, bags for coffee, cocoa or corn are made.

The plant lives for about XNUMX years. The first seven are developed and during the following fifteen years it gives its largest leaves for the natural fiber, a product that is extracted. From the center of the leaves the varajón arises, when it blooms it announces the death of the plant.

In Yucatec Maya the fiber of henequen is known as soskil

Under the fervor of a constant demand for henequen, especially from the United States, France and England, many estates emerged, exceeding one thousand at the beginning of the XNUMXth century. Yucatán was the main supplier of henequen worldwide, many corn and cattle ranches switched to henequen.

henequen
Henequen cultivation fields

HACIENDAS HENEQUERAS IN YUCATÁN

Green gold marked the social and economic life of the Yucatan region where everything revolved around the henequen for a centenary. These heneque haciendas were and functioned as authentic independent cities, with all the services incorporated within their lands.

From 1850 the documents affirm that the henequen boom began in Yucatán. The United States was the main supporter of this product. Thanks to the industrialization of obtaining henequen fiber, thanks to the invention of the mechanical scraper, this product can be produced much more. Until then it was done manually, as we see in the image.

Haciendas in Yucatan
Working henequen fibers
Yucatan haciendas
Henequen after being frayed by the machine
merida farms
Henequen laid out to dry

During the period from 1850 to 1950, the henequera industry was so powerful in Yucatan that it encouraged a spectacular development of communications, banking, and commerce. This caused a consequent increase in the population, with migratory records as diverse as Chinese (many to build the railways), Italians, Koreans, and Yaqui Indians from Sonora who came to work on the farms.

These workers came to supply the labor force of the Mayans who were raised against the oppression of the rulers. It was the time of the so-called Social War or Caste War that occurred from 1847-1901 in the Peninsula, and led a good part of the Mayan population to rise up against the constant abuses received.

As a reflection, this chapter of history is not taught in schools, it does not talk about the Social War. My Mayan friends with whom I have talked about the subject, none have learned it as a school curriculum. The stories that are not explained in schools are the ones that really make you understand History in general; what is silent, what does not interest are thousands and thousands of pieces silenced by the victors.

Finalizada la Guerra Social, algunos mayas regresaron a trabajar a las Haciendas bajo unas mejores condiciones, pero continuaron sometidos de forma económica al poder establecido. Lo cierto es que opresor y oprimidos continuaron siendo los mismos.

Yucatan Hacienda
Haciendas Mexico
Fibers of henequen drying in the sun

CAUSES OF THE DECLINE OF THE HENEQUÉN IN THE HACIENDAS IN MÉRIDA

Despite being the world's leading supplier of henequen, Yucatán could not supply all the demand. From 1910 the decline begins for two main reasons, to which a third was joined later.

  • Countries like Brazil, Cuba, Haiti as well as Kenya and Tanzania are beginning to export and enter the natural fiber market with competitive prices.
  • La reforma agraria introducida gracias a la Revolución mexicana, divide las inmensas plantaciones, las grandes henequeneras necesitan grandes extensiones de plantíos, y los trabajadores ganan algunos derechos. El negocio deja de ser tan rentable.
  • After World War II, with the appearance of synthetic fiber, the henequen industry collapsed. Synthetic fiber ends up replacing henequen in most of its uses as it is a more economical and equally resistant product, market laws.

Henequen was also known as sisal. This name was born for a curious reason: the name of the Mexican port town from which the ships loaded with henequen departed, was Sisal. So Sisal was the name with which they marked the packaging of the products and it was the one that curdled in foreign countries, confusing the name of the port with henequen.

Hacienda Yucatán

HOW THE HACIENDAS WERE

The hectares of the land of the Haciendas were the own henequera factory, the warehouse, the workshop and the shredder. The main house presided over the entrance to the Hacienda. A part of the land was destined to the houses of the workers, the school, the church, the hospital, and the jail. As we say, the most notorious haciendas were authentic cities.

Las Haciendas en Yucatán se usaban sólo de forma ocasional por los dueños: los patrones de origen europeo o mestizo tenían sus propias casas residenciales en Mérida, la capital yucateca. Iban a la hacienda eventualmente a celebrar reuniones y festejos.

The main house had high ceilings to provide good ventilation and thus coexist better with the intense heat of Yucatan. The kitchen in the main house was always kept clean because they were cooked in the hacienda workers' homes. The bedrooms completed the rooms.

Haciendas Mexico.
Hacienda in merida Mexico
Yucatan Hacienda
haciendas in merida
Kitchen Sotuta de Peon

HOW MAYAN WORKERS LIVED IN THE HACIENDAS

The hacienda workers were the majority of Mayan origin. They lived and worked within the Haciendas in slavery, although they totally avoided this word in the writings that tell the story. Oral tradition explains another reality on the part of the Mayans. Large estates functioned like mini countries, keeping their workers in a system of disguised slavery. The most notable haciendas had their own laws and currency.

LA NOHOCH COUNTS OF HACIENDAS WORKERS

Large landowners used the registry of the nohoch counts con sus trabajadores, un registro escrito del dinero prestado por adelantado al trabajador con la finalidad de endeudarlos y someterlos en la hacienda de por vida. Había una cuenta pequeña y otra cuenta grande (nohoch cuenta), y los mayas siempre debían.

Aunque parezca muy loco este sistema, lo cierto es que hoy en día lo sigue usando por ejemplo los bancos con los propietarios de casas y otros muchos casos.

henequen farm workers

Having their own currency in the Hacienda allowed them to pay the workers with it: it was only valid within their hacienda and the change to the currency of current use was exorbitant. In this way they kept the workers in a certainly limited state, spending their earnings again on their hacienda and indebting the personnel with the high standard of living imposed by some henequeros at will.

The human being always being abusive with the weakest, unfortunately nothing new.

Dentro de los terrenos de las Haciendas se encontraba la escuela con doctrina católica para los mayas, la capilla no podía faltar. La justicia se impartía en la propia hacienda al criterio del patrón, quien tenía derecho de pernada, tal y como era en tiempos feudales. Las mujeres eran usadas para ser casadas con quien quería el patrón. A algunos trabajadores varones se les permitían tener sus milpas para no cortar con el apego tradicional del maya con su tierra y la jerarquía familiar.

Mayan workers lived and died buried in the hacienda's cemetery. A life at the service of the boss.

Yucatan Hacienda
In this tree they hanged giving justice

La pobre alimentación a base de maíz que proporcionaban a los trabajadores, les hacía tener enfermedades. Entre ellas había una enfermedad llamada pelagra, que además de afecciones en la piel provoca delirios y enfermedades mentales. La miseria mata, otra verdad de las Haciendas y de nuestro panorama histórico.

THE DIVINE CAST, THE MASTERS OF THE HENEQUÉN

During the splendor of this time it was lived under the charms of the French influence. The ships that returned from Europe once the henequen had landed, came loaded with French merchandise such as furniture to decorate the houses, ceramics, wines, tiles.

The French influence was noticeable on the Paseo de Montejo in the stately Mérida, emulating the Champs-Elysées in Paris. In this walk is where the landowners resided, a large part of the clan of the Divine Caste. Those belonging to the Divine Caste were the most powerful families, which monopolized the henequen market.

Paseo Montejo Mérida, Yucatán
Casona del Paseo de Montejo, Merida

THE HACIENDAS CURRENTLY

Este siglo de esplendor que vivió Yucatán nos ha dejado como testimonios cientos de hermosas Haciendas. De las poco más de 120 haciendas aproximadas a principios de siglo XX, hoy quedan unas 400 Haciendas, muchas de en pie en estado de abandono.

At present they have been transformed into hotels, some into spaces for meetings and celebrations of events such as weddings, birthdays or quinceañeras, others were renovated in great detail for tourists to visit, a few continue to live working the skeleton for an industry of products that still persists and many others in a state of ruin and abandonment.

Hacienda mexico

There are Haciendas for all tastes: the most tourist like Sotuta de Peón or of Ochil where they offer guided tours, the must-see Yaxcopoil, the wonderful Ake, donde todavía sigue funcionando su fábrica henequera. Algunas reformadas en hoteles de lujo como la Hacienda Temozón, San José de Cholul, Santa Rosa, Sacnicte, la Uayamon. Otras como la Mucuyché farm has recovered the cenotes to enable them to the public.

Echamos mucho de menos en este capítulo de las Haciendas en Yucatán, como mínimo una Hacienda regentada por el Gobierno que sirviera como museo de relato de la historia de las Haciendas. Estos lugares bien explicados hacen conciencia en el ser humano, nos hacen ver nuestros pasos, nos hacen conocer. El que hoy en día las Haciendas las estén recuperando entidades y capital privado para eventos y hospedajes no deja de ser una prolongación de los establecido hace muchos siglos.

Muchos viajeros aprovechan el viaje para dormir en una hacienda, es una de las experiencias que puedes vivir en Yucatán. Ojalá la verdadera historia de las haciendas en Yucatán tuviera más visibilidad.

Contact us if you are looking for private and exclusive trips in Yucatan

If you go by private car, you have the possibility of entering one of the paths that lead to farms that can be seen from the road, you will see that it will be easy for you to check the affable character of the Yucatecans, always ready to show you their farm while they explain something to you. than another anecdote.

Surely these places will surprise you, visit the one you visit you will find nooks where to continue breathing past stories. It is worth knowing this piece of history within its walls.

Te dejamos un listado completo sobre Haciendas in the Yucatan Peninsula. Some are reached by public transport, although they are often removed from the road.

Good way,

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Sandra Salvadó Training photographer, traveler by vocation and certified tourism guide by the Government of Mexico. We promote natural wonders and contemporary Mayan culture. Great fan of pre-Hispanic history. Author of the blog and co-founder of The Shortest Path Travel, agency that guides you through alternative paths in Mayan lands. Social and sustainable tourism in the Yucatan Peninsula and Chiapas.
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