If you live in Yucatán, you must have heard of Tutul Xiu and Nachi Cocom; you have to be familiar with Avenida Itzáes, and, no doubt, you’ve visited our world-famous Chichén Itzá.
For many of us, these names are so common that we rarely stop to think about what they represent. That’s why today I’d like to shed some light on their origin and share a little about the characters behind them.
The story behind the famous names
The Xiu, Itzá, and Cocom families ruled the city-states that made up what was known as the “League of Mayapán,” an alliance between Uxmal, Chichén Itzá, and – of course – Mayapán. You could say that they were Yucatecan royalty before the conquest.
To make things easier, we can associate the Xiu with Uxmal, the Itzá with Chichén Itzá, and the Cocom with Mayapán. However, each dynasty went on to rule many more cities, such as Maní, Izamal, and T’Hó (what today is Mérida).
While the term “Tutul-Xiu” refers to the group of people, most people usually associate it with the great chief Tutul Xiu, who fiercely protected his people from the Spaniards before surrendering. Another warrior recognized for similar acts of bravery for his own is Nachi Cocom.
As you can imagine, these three dynasties intertwined in one way or another. The Xiu were, for years, the Itzá’s main rivals. This rivalry ended with the exodus of the Itzá from their domain in Chakán Putum, an event that led to the Itzá becoming divided. This division gave way to the Cocom group, which maintained their rivalry with the Xiu, who would be later defeated by chief Nachi Cocom.
The vestiges of the dynasties today
I think it’s impossible to talk about these dynasties without mentioning the massive legacy they’ve left in our state, despite the changes after the conquest and the passing of time.
A standout is the city of Chichén Itzá, a remarkable archaeological zone that has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site; just like it, the ancient city of Mayapán stands strong to this day. Maní wasn’t as fortunate, losing all traces of Maya civilization in an infamous “Auto da Fe” in the 1500s. Izamal and T’Hó suffered a similar fate, and became colonial cities. Despite this, in Izamal you can still see the remains of the Kinich Kakmó pyramid; Mérida (T’Hó), on the other hand, presents a valuable tribute to its Maya heritage in one of its most iconic monuments.
The next time you pass by the Monumento a La Patria, I invite you to take a closer look: the seashell-shaped necklace on the central figure’s neck is a reference to the Itzá and their marine origins in Tabasco. This and many other symbols, such as Ceibas, jaguars, and snakes proudly highlight the importance of the Maya dynasties in our history.
By Regina Zumárraga
Communicologist specialized in food and product photography. I’m passionate about learning about the culture and gastronomy of different places. In my free time, you can find me at the beach.
Photography by Laura Pasos, Cassie Pearse, Carlos Rosado, and Olivia Camarena Cervera for its use in Yucatán Today.
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