Yucatan Sisal Plantations
A common stop among Yucatan visitors is at the hacienda “henequenera”, or sisal plantation. Not visiting an Hacienda while in Merida, is like skipping Notre Dame in Paris or Central Park in NYC. Some of our US visitors say that our “henequén” or sisal also goes by the name of hemp or twine.
You can literally count a hacienda or two by town, village, or municipality in (mostly) central Yucatán state. The list of hacienda can seem endless, and many of them are just a mount of rubble. At our facebook page you can find images of Uayalceh, Yaxcopoil and Mucuyche, all of them at different stages of disrepair, but still giving an idea of what they once were
A bit of history on the sisal plantation…….
Haciendas of Yucatán were agricultural organizations that emerged primarily in the 18th century. They had a late onset in Yucatán compared with the rest of Mexico because of geographical, ecological and economic reasons, particularly the poor quality of the soil and lack of water to irrigate farms. Commonly the farms were initially used exclusively for cattle ranching, with a low density of labor, becoming over time maize-growing estates in the north and sugar plantations in the south, before finally becoming henequen estates.
“Haciendas henequeneras” refers to estates in the Yucatán which were created during the 19th century when the henequen industry debuted. The hacienda henequenera required large staffing for the cultivation of the fields, as well as, the development and maintenance of industrial processes, such as defibrating the leaves. One of the regions of Yucatán which had produced maize but evolved into the henequen industry is the area adjoining and near to Mérida. Along the main roads and in the “camino real” between Campeche and Mérida, these haciendas became established. By the 19th century, the hacienda henequenera developed on a wider scale throughout Yucatán, particularly in the north-central region, where the soil was better suited for the cultivation of henequen.
Previous to the emergence of the henequen industry, landowners lived in Mérida and treated their landholdings as occasional retreats. With the emergence of henequen and the wealth it produced, the farms were transformed into haciendas which typically had a grand manor house, the machine house, and a chapel. Because a large population was needed to take care of the properties, workers were provided with housing and the amenities of a community. The foreman usually has his own home, and there were storage buildings, the hydraulics or pump house, a school, an infirmary, a store, the stables and a jail.]
Servants on the estates lived in a situation that was very similar to that of the bonded serfdom of the peasants of medieval Europe. They were not slaves, as they retained some civil rights, but they were not free, as they were bound to the land, forced to serve against their will, and in the absence of any type of currency at the governmental level were paid in hacienda tokens. These coins were issued by the hacienda owners to pay workers, but could only be exchanged for goods on the hacienda or at the “company store”. As there were perpetual labor shortages, indentured servants were also brought in from China, Korea and the Canary Islands. In addition to their cultivation of the fields, workers were required to provide unpaid labor for the tasks necessary to keep the hacienda running.
The era of the henequen boom from the late 1800s to the early 1900s was known as the time of “green gold”. At the height of the boom, there were nearly 1,200 haciendas within an 80 km radius around the city of Mérida. The haciendas changed the development of Mérida, as many of them became what are neighborhoods of the city. Hacienda San Cosme is now Colonia García Ginerés; Hacienda Tecoh covered what now makes up Colonia San José Tecoh, Colonia Castilla Cámara, Colonia Mercedes Barrera, Cinco Colonias and the Fraccionamiento Zacil Ha; Hacienda San Isidro is now Colonia Melitón Salazar; Hacienda San Diego Azcorra is now Colonia Azcorra, Colonia Miraflores, Colonia Unidad Habitacional Morelos, Colonia Morelos Oriente and Colonia Salvador Alvarado Sur; Hacienda Wallis is now Colonia Chuminópolis and Colonia La Esperanza; Haciendas Petcanché and Hacienda Chichí Suárez are now Colonia Jesús Carranza, Colonia Miguel Alemán, and Colonia Chichí Suárez, just to name a few.
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