BIKE AND BUS: THE CASTE WAR ROUTE FROM FELIPE CARRILLO PUERTO TO TIHOSUCO AND VALLADOLID, NOVEMBER 2007 by John M. Grimsrud
Also published at: http://bicycleyucatan.wordpress.com
This is the seldom visited crossroads one gasoline station town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto that has the historical significance of formerly being the infamous Mayan capital city of Chan Santa Cruz during the Caste War where no European was safe.
Today it is almost too peaceful and quiet as you can see from this late afternoon photo as I sit in the central plaza surrounded by historical icons.
Ironically the large church behind me was built by slave labor that only appropriately was put up by captured Creoles under the Mayan whip.
These Indigenous Maya enslaved under the Inquisition crazed Spanish after all had been forced to tear down their sacred temples and erect countless cathedrals and convents for more than three hundred years.
As I sat and pondered this reversal of circumstance, I thought that these Maya missed a golden opportunity to erect a sacred pyramid to their gods of old.
Also behind me is a statue of Felipe Carrillo Puerto, one of the few of Spanish descent who dedicated his life to rectifying many of the wrongs done to the Indigenous Maya through his social democratic reform.
When the right-wing conservatives snatched power the then governor Felipe Carrillo Puerto and his brothers were marched out to the Mérida cemetery and summarily blown to oblivion…that was 1924.
We had just spent several days visiting our kids and friends in Tulum and this was the beginning of another bike-bus adventure across the Yucatan Peninsula to our home in Mérida. Felipe Carrillo Puerto was our first stop on the Caste War Route.
Our recently remodeled hotel “El Hotel de la Zona Maya” was only a half block from the park in the photo above and close to shopping, restaurants and buses.
The town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto has a long and tortured historical past but little remains today to tell the agonized story that I will attempt to summarize in this presentation from the Mayan point of view. Remember; peaceful places have no history.
The capitulated Indigenous Mayan people under the Spanish were beaten, tortured, degraded, brutally enslaved and starved nutritionally and spiritually while they attempted to protect their families, homeland and way of life.
The opportunist Yucatecan Spanish conquerors had no problem putting a gun in the hand of the Mayan people when they had a political ax to grind with the Mexicans, but could instantaneously change tactics when these cannon fodder services were no longer needed.
Above is a relic of the Mayan attempt to keep their own brand of spirituality while being indoctrinated into the Spanish version of Roman Catholicism.
This is the “Talking Cross” that became a sacred icon of the Caste War Indigenous Maya in this, their capital city then called; Chan Santa Cruz.
To this day a rotating team of loyal followers of this mythical deity icon keep one week vigils at this chapel and the adjacent cenote cave where the Talking Cross was discovered.
This beautiful Mayan lady is performing her rotating one week vigil at the “Talking Cross” chapel located on a quiet side street in downtown Felipe Carrillo Puerto.
Recently constructed, this chapel building enshrouds the Mayan “Talking Cross”. It is situated directly above the cenote where the cross originated.
In this stronghold of the Maya, the genetic power of ancestral heritage leaps to life in this 21st century artistic street painting.
Symbolism of ancient and modern clash with savage jungle and futuristic expression in this block long depiction of vented pent up socialistic frustrated expression.
Eyes, faces and strange dreamlike bizarre surreal images create a hieroglyphic communication attempting conveyance of far-away thoughts thrust into our present existence.
Talent of conveyance of thought puts a time-warp spin on this street art stretching across the centuries from the ancient pre-Columbian Maya to the Caste War town of Chan Santa Cruz and then into this 21st century world of Felipe Carrillo Puerto.
The Caste War route takes us to the quiet, removed jungle surrounded town of Tihosuco, Quintana Roo. Our folding bikes pack along in buses or colectivo taxis.
The Tihosuco church is a bizarre relic of Spanish Conquistadors. It collapsed in 1841 and was rebuilt then partially demolished in the Caste War, and abandoned for 80 years. It now remains in a state of frightful time-warp with its battle scars.
Looking out from the altar to the rear of this one-of-a-kind church you are astonishingly confronted by a shocking revelation. This otherwise complete structure has an entire wall totally missing and it has been gone since the beginning of the Caste War back in the mid-1800s.
If symbolic implications are intended then this edifice conveys an almighty message.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CASTE WAR IN YUCATAN
The Spanish Conquistadors took 19 years to get a foothold in Yucatan and did not totally subdue the Maya, but by 1700 the population of the Yucatan peninsula was reduced to 150,000 due to disease, displacement and starvation. By 1845 the Yucatan population had rebounded and risen to 580,000 including the Spanish minority.
Mexico became independent from Spain in 1821 and Yucatan a former territory joined the Mexican Union and the following history began to unfold;
The cultivation of henequen beginning in 1833 changed the economic, political and even the climatic conditions of Yucatan. (Henequen fiber is used in the making of sisal rope.)
Profitable sugarcane, prohibited under Spanish rule was also introduced to the peninsula.
These two products were extremely labor intensive so naturally the white Spanish land owners kept the Maya in a oppressed state of servitude indefinitely in serfdom.
In the book Incidents of Travel in Yucatan by John L. Stephens in 1840, Stephens relates a remark made to him by one of the hacienda owners from Yucatan; “I am so lucky to be here and not in Cuba or Louisiana where they have to buy their slaves”.
In 1839 a native of Campeche, Miguel Barbachano moved to Mérida wanting to establish autonomy from Mexico.
Santiago Iman a state militiaman initiated a revolt of independence from Mexico beginning in the Yucatan city of Tizimin, then the third largest city in the north central part of the peninsula. Santiago armed and enlisted the Maya to battle the Mexican troops promising them an end to federal tax and church tributes.
Previously the Maya were forbidden to serve in the military.
Next they captured the second largest city, Valladolid and with that victory thousands of Indigenous Maya joined Santiago Iman.
Federal troops were driven from the last city on the peninsula at Campeche by June of 1840 and that made Yucatan an independent country.
By March 31, 1841 Yucatan was a fully functional entity with Santiago Mendez as president and Miguel Barbachano as vice president.
This state of affairs irked the Mexicans who immediately barred Yucatecan shipping.
Yucatan in turn enlisted the independent Republic of Texas to guard their ports with its navy for a monthly fee of $8,000 just to keep the Mexicans out.
Officially on October 1, 1841 Yucatan was declared a Republic.
Mexican president Santa Anna attempted a negotiated return of Yucatan to Mexico which failed and next Mexico invaded.
(Santa Anna was the president that led the battle of the Alamo where his Mayan troops led the charge as cannon fodder. Santa Anna was defeated shortly thereafter at San Jacinto, Texas where he attempted to slip away disguised as a women and was the sole survivor. His next caper was to sell away a huge portion of Mexican territory to the U.S. which made him grossly unpopular at home.)
In 1843 Yucatan reunited with Mexico and political balance disappeared as long time grievances of renewed resistance escalated among the poorer impoverished peasants.
1845, General Santa Anna who had no love for the quarrelsome Yucatecans but needed their money reneged on open port agreements and taxed sugar and rum, so Yucatan again split off from Mexico in this ongoing shell game of political alliance.
By 1846 Yucatan voted neutrality in the war between the U. S. and Mexico. The governor, Miguel Barbachano capitulated and sold out to the Mexicans and at the same time claimed neutrality with the U.S. and begged for annexation.
In a crafty ploy Yucatan president Menendez sent Justo Sierra O’Reilly to the U.S. to negotiate for arms, help keep the Mexicans out, lift the blockade and end duties.
During this war Mérida armed the Mayas for the third time and promised special considerations but as soon as the conflict ended it was back to business as usual with the Indians.
Instability, centuries of degradation and deceit, dislocations, territorial disputes and extreme economic hardships set the stage for this tit-for-tat Caste War that raged for over half a century and still smolders on to this day.
In 1847 the disgruntled Maya troops rebelled in a caste war that they started in Valladolid, machete murdering 85 people to avenge ancient wrongs.
The Maya recognized the white man as their true enemy for robbing their land, imposing slavery; whippings and many other brutalities. The Maya then resorted to guerilla war tactics.
In retaliation the white Yucatecans invaded the ranch of one of the Mayan leaders and raped a 12 year old Indian girl. This drove the Mayan factions to unite against a common enemy and they pushed the white Yucatecans back to Mérida burning towns and pillaging as they went.
The Maya pushed south and east in Yucatan and Quintana Roo to Bacalar and established their capital of Chan Santa Cruz presently known as Felipe Carrillo Puerto.
This war became a vindictive bloody and brutal political shell game of opportunistic alliances because now independent Yucatan could not ask Mexico for assistance.
In 1848 president Menendez asked U.S. president Polk for two thousand troops to save the white Yucatecans from the heathen Indian savages also known as the Indigenous Mayan.
Here yet another example of America’s zealous enthusiasm for ridding the planet of Indians with their invasion of Yucatan. The above information is from the Caste War Museum in Tihosuco, Quintana Roo. Ironically the Caste War Museum in nearby Spanish held Valladolid, Yucatan, depicts the Maya as heathen savages. (Above is a rough translation of the Tihosuco Caste War Museum sign.) Certification of North American soldiers wounded. In 1848 at the port of Sisal, Yucatan 938 American soldiers arrived to annihilate the Mayas. In May of 1849 the Americans returned home after suffering the loss of 70 dead and 170 wounded.
Excerpts from Nelson Reed’s book; The Caste War of Yucatan p.110-114;
The Thirteenth Infantry Regiment, US Army, had been mustered out of Mobile, Alabama, in the summer of 1848, following the end of the Mexican War…they accepted an offer of the Yucatecan Government-8 dollars a month for enlisted men plus 320 acres of land after peace…they were the first American filibusters…shipped from New Orleans to Sisal in several schooners, 938 of them, and were sent down to Tekax, where the advance party was committed in September 1848.
The noise of their heavy boots as they marched, the constant load talking in the ranks, the pipe smoking and flower picking, all of this was noted with uneasiness by the Yucatecan veteran Juan de Dios Novelo, who was accustomed to more cautious deportment on that Ambush-laden trail. And there they met their first barricade, they laughed at Novelo’s suggestion of the usual flanking infiltration, fixing bayonets to make a frontal assault, knowing that no Mexican, much less an Indian, could face cold steel. They were wrong. The first volley caught them point blank, and Novelo had his hands full bring out forty casualties, one slung on either side of a mule.
Many of the American officers resigned after a week of such fighting, but others stayed on and gave a good account of themselves. Instead of easy loot and frightened Latins, they had suffered 70 killed and 170 wounded, and had nothing to show for it except a revised opinion of Yucatecans.
Nelson Reeds’s well documented adventuresome book filled with real life intrigue reads like a novel and you will find it an unforgettable volume tremendously impressive and memorable.
The British supplied guns and ammunition to the Mayas through Belize in exchange for exotic hard woods such as mahogany and zapote and later formed an alliance with the Mexicans abandoning the Maya which then led to the demise of the Indigenous cause.
In 1848 the Mexicans exploited this unrest and divided the peninsula into to three parts, Quintana Roo, Campeche and Yucatan, leaving Yucatan to fend for itself.
In 1849Yucatan governor Miguel Barbachano began the practice of expelling Mayan men between the age of 12 and 30 to Cuba as slaves to work in the sugarcane plantations.
Barbachano’s mandate was; “All Indians will be taken from their homes who had taken up arms against the Yucatan and be deported.”
War of the Castes that began in 1847; this oil painting is from a collection located in the Municipal Palace in Mérida, Yucatan, Mexico and painted by Fernando Castro Pacheco starting in 1971.
THE CASTE WAR; The so called “Caste War” in Yucatan lasted more than fifty years and cost 300,000 lives; it ended up reduced to historical ill-feelings, with no political peace and no armistice. It is, of course, one of the bloodiest episodes in the history of the peninsula. There are many theories regarding the motives that caused the war to start, one of which is that the outbreak was due to the build up of hatred and bitterness among the Mayan people faced with tyranny of whites who exploited and abused them.
More excerpts from Nelson Reed’s book; The Caste War of Yucatan p. 128
Yucatan’s only natural resource had been the land and the people to work it. Now the land was recovered, but not the people, and there wasn’t enough food for those that survived. Taking their chances with snipers and the machete as they harvested rebel Mayan fields, the soldiers weren’t happy to see that some corn wasted on captive savages. They didn’t take prisoners except under direct command, or occasionally for a five-peso reward.
With these facts in mind, Governor Barbachano took a step for which his name is still remembered in Mexico. He begin selling the Maya to Cuba. There were many apparent justifications: it saved their lives; they were rebels and thus liable to the most sever punishment (execution, or as was decreed by Congress, ten years’ banishment); they were sent on a ten year work contract; and finally the state needed money. But still, it was slavery.
The Maya were considered savages by the white Spanish.
In 1849 the first load of 140 slaves was sent off to Cuba. Self serving Cuban merchants conspired with the Yucatecan authorities for guns and ammunition in exchange for the Mayan slaves.
(There was a growing demand for slaves in Cuba due to the fact that the Spanish had outlawed slavery there.)
Ultimately this unscrupulous business took all Mayan regardless of whether they had been rebels or not and this despicable trade in human flesh continued until 1861.
The Maya held out until the end of the century though the war officially ended in 1855 after 247,000 were killed.
At their capital of Chan Santa Cruz, today known as Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Quintana Roo a religious cult sprang to life and was organized by Venancio Puc and called The Talking Cross. Puc was judge and jury, priest, general and absolute commander of his new religious sect, interviewing all visitors, appointing all chiefs and ordering assassinations. Puc made it perfectly clear that there could be no treaty or compromise with the whites and ordered all prisoners brought to Chan Santa Cruz for execution.
Ultimately Puc was killed and his Talking Cross fell silent. Puc’s loyal military followers discovered the deceit of the Talking Cross and attempted to expunge the fraud of the Cross that only spoke for thirteen years and died with Puc.
I don’t want to kill the intrigue of this extraordinary story by telling you all. I do however encourage you to read this history and discover a true narrative stranger than a fairy tale.
Quintana Roo did not become a Mexican state until 1974 and until recently was a duty free territory rift with smuggled goods.
During the years of the Caste War Mexico was a political mess of changing governments. President Santa Anna and Benito Juarez were in and out of office interspersed by Emperor Maximilian of the Hapsburgs. Not until Porfirio Diaz brought stability beginning in 1876 that lasted until 1910 did Mexico prosper. Porfirio Diaz however had a game plan for Mexico that was to ruthlessly exploit the Ingenious.
In 1899 federal general Ignacio Bravo came to Yucatan to crush all of the Maya with British complicity. The British had been supplying guns and ammunition to the Maya but had a change of heart and cut off their cooperation, thus leaving the Maya defenseless.
In 1901 federal troops conquered the Mayan capital city of Chan Santa Cruz and the government established Quintana Roo as a territory.
During the course of the war the Maya that could be rounded up were sold off to Cuba as slaves and the city of Tihosuco was totally abandoned for the next 80 years.
In 1915 Mexican revolutionary General Salvador Alvarado was sent into the Yucatan to restore order.
Yucatan had become Mexico’s most prosperous state due to the booming henequen and sugar industries.
Alvarado canceled all ‘debt labor’ and freed 60,000 Mayan and their families following 350 years of slavery and the Caste War ended after 60 brutal convoluted years.
At the Caste War Museum in Tihosuco Dr. Arturo Carballo Sandoval from the Instituto Tecnológico de Cancun presents a eco-tourism lecture to this group of interested ladies from the area involved in a cooperative effort of sustainable low impact travel such as our bicycle touring. We arrived at exactly the right time to be part of this informative lecture.
As part of the ongoing activities at the Tihosuco Caste War Museum, the guide Antonia Poot demonstrates the spinning of native cotton with talented coordination and her simple but authentic implements. Twirling a tapered and polished shaft of zapote wood balanced in the base of a jicara bowl with one hand she deftly dispenses with practiced dexterity cotton from a ball with the other hand miraculously transforming it into a neat finished product. The cotton thread will, among other things, go into making candle wicks that the local ladies will sell along with a variety of herbal Mayan remedies plus soaps and oils, all products of the wild uncontaminated jungle.
These Mayan ladies dressed in their traditional hand embroidered dress called huipil and the scarf known as a rebozo that has a multitude of uses that include head cover, shawl and baby sling are visiting the Tihosuco Museum from the nearby town of Tepich. They have come for a seminar on eco-tourism. They enjoyed seeing the photo I had just taken of them.
The Tihosuco Caste War Museum has as part of its presentation a Mayan herbal remedies garden complete with these eager and informative young tour guides.
A collection of village artifacts spanning the centuries is represented here in this amalgamation of folk art and hunters arrowheads donated by town folks.
Little Tihosuco has no hotel or restaurant but you can just the same get fed the exquisite local cuisine just by taking the advice of the museum administration and visiting the home of Doña Lucia. Here in the above photo are Doña Lucia and Jane plus numerous grand and great grandchildren of Doña Lucia of which she has 38. By the way, the food and service were excellent and they even pulled our bicycles into their living room when it started to rain.
To prove that the town of Tihosuco is located in the wild jungle this is the view out the doorway of Doña Lucia’s living room/local knowledge restaurant.
As I was snapping photos of this wild javelin or jungle pig, Doña Lucia emphatically informed me of the aggressive savage temperament of these unsociable creatures.
Valladolid, Yucatan’s third largest city is where we end the Caste War Route and take our bikes on bus back to Mérida. Valladolid is home to the other Caste War Museum, this one depicting the Creole version of that convoluted conflict.
In the cities municipal building situated on the central zocolo an unprecedented collection of murals dynamically depict the powerfully earthshaking and monumentally inspiring events that shaped our world of today.
Below the Mayan “diviner”, or h’men meaning the man who understands, obsidian dagger in one hand and in the other, his “clear stone” or zaztun in the other.
As the h’men gazes into his zaztun in terror stricken astonished amazement he discovers the fateful horror that awaits his ancient civilization.
THE CASTE WAR OF YUCATAN by Nelson Reed
YUCATAN A WORLD APART by Edward H. Mosley and Edward D. Terry
TIME AMONG THE MAYA by Ronald Wright
THE FOLK-LORE FO YUCATAN by Daniel G. Brinton
THE MAYAN ELITES OF THE NINETEENTH-CENTURY YUCATAN by Charlotte Zimmerman
THE CULT OF THE HOLY CROSS by Charlotte Zimmerman
YUCATAN’S MAYA PEASANTRY AND THE ORIGINS OF THE CASTE WAR by Terry Rugeley
JUAN de la CRUZ, VENACIO PUC, AND THE SPEAKING CROSS by Nelson A. Reed
REVOLUTION AND CONTINUITY IN SANTA CRUZ MAYA SOCIETY by Grant D. Jones
INCIDENTS OF TRAVEL IN YUCATAN by John L. Stephens (two volumes)