An important chapter in the history of the Maya, perhaps the most significant in recent chronology, is commemorated every July 30, when one more year has passed since the social confrontation in which the Maya from the southern and eastern parts of the state confronted the state government: The conflict was known as “The Caste War” (La Guerra de Castas) between indigenous Maya and Mestizos and Criollos.
Although the origins of this Maya rebellion which began in 1847 are very complex, one important factor was the colonial domination which prevailed during various centuries, based on a racial ideology of white superiority and indigenous inferiority.
The indigenous people were also subjugated with a life of debt. The Maya were born and died in the same place; in the haciendas where they worked during long shifts, they received an arbitrary pay established by the hacienda owner, which was paid in the form of vouchers to be used in the store on the hacienda premises, also owned by the same person, of course. They were obligated to buy food and supplies at arbitrary prices.
These causes, among others, caused the discontent in the Maya communities to take shape and launch this social movement to recover their identity, freedom, and land.
The revolt began on July 30, 1847, in the town of Tepich and lasted more than 55 years, during which time there were several notable leaders including Cecilio Chí and Jacinto Pat, among others. During those years the Maya managed to take the majority of the peninsula and forced the state government to ask for military help from the Mexican government. The conflict resulted in a cruel war in which 50% of the Maya people lost their lives, the sugar industry disappeared, and many villages were destroyed. There were also leadership conflicts and betrayals among the Maya themselves.
A group of Maya rebels retreated to the forest, in the region close to Bacalar, specifically to what is known as Chan Santa Cruz (now Felipe Carrillo Puerto) in Quintana Roo. They formed new villages and preserved Maya traditions including the clearing and burning of the Yucatecan forest to plant their crops, preserving part of their identity and defending the causes of freedom and possession of the land.
To learn more, you can visit the Caste War museum “Museo de La Guerra de Castas” located in Tihosuco, 80 km from Felipe Carrillo Puerto. Installed in an antique mansion built around 1830, it exhibits documents, paintings, and other artefacts in four exhibition rooms.
In Yucatán, in the state Palacio de Gobierno (governor’s palace), in Mérida, you can see the murals of Fernando Castro Pacheco, which reflect scenes from this war, the strength of the Maya, and other topics.
Documentaries have been made about this struggle in the history of Yucatán, as well as a recent photographic exhibit of the direct descendants of those who took part, organized by Canadian Serge Barbeau, which was exhibited in Mérida’s Museo de la Ciudad (city museum) and will go on to Paris and Munich.
By: Violeta H. Cantarell
With information from the Archivo General del Estado y del / and the Ayuntamiento de Mérida.
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