Yucatan: Past and Present

10424366386_a471a5aeed_o10416622376_7c0863ba83_o  A hacienda is basically a plantation holding a similar reputation to the cotton industry of the American South until the mid 1800s.  In the Yucatan, the big industry was henequen, a fibrous material produced by the agave plant.  The wealth generated by this industry was astonishing as until the advent of synthetic rope, henequen was the number one material used around the world for rigging boats and any other activity requiring rope.  Once the synthetic materials were produced, the entire henequen industry was crushed as the process of making the rope was very labor intensive, requiring armies of slaves and indentured servants years to grow the plants, harvest the leaves, crush the leaves by hand, extract the filaments, and weave them into the various types of rope.  After the fall of the industry, thousands of indigenous people that had been forced to work the lands were left to rebuild their lives and communities as the world moved on.

We arrived at the Hacienda Kancoba in the Yucatan, Mexico where a professor from Kent State University was basing his anthropology studies.  The purpose behind the professor’s study was both to excavate an ancient Mayan ruin located near the property, and also to rehabilitate the skeleton of the hacienda that had been abandoned over 100 years ago.  As we hopped from the back of several farm trucks, a band began to play jolly Mexican tunes while the women set a huge table with traditionally cooked Mayan entrees.  All those present were farm hands and laborers that lived in the area and were helping revamp the old Spanish style buildings on the degraded plantation.  All of them were descendants of the ancient Maya.  Their ancestors had undoubtedly spent their lives working their bodies to the limit producing by hand the henequen rope that made the European landowners great wealth.



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