Monday, May 28, 2012

Green Gold

We followed our Mayan guide through what was once a large henequen field, stopping here and there as he pointed out stone work that had transported water for irrigation.  “Mayan” he would say, indicating the well-worn limestone channels.   We were at Hacienda Yaxcopoil, touring one of the great haciendas and henequen plantations of the late 19th and early 20th century.   As we returned to the main building, he pointed to the stone stairway and again said “Mayan”.

Visiting the Haciendas was something I looked forward to as part of our adventure in Merida.  I had only a vague notion of their history.   Much of the land surrounding Merida belonged to the Indigenous people and had been sites of Mayan cities, temples and pyramids.  When the Spanish arrived and took the land, they created cattle ranches and farms and the haciendas were born.  Many of these haciendas that are today so beautiful to behold, were built atop of, and from the stones of,  these Mayan cities.  Yaxcopoil is one such hacienda.

It is a bittersweet experience to visit the haciendas, much like going to see the cotton plantations of the American South.   Planted with a type of agave plant called henequen, the Mayans were enslaved to work the fields, harvest the henequen and process it into sisal.  Sisal, a valuable commodity used around the world to make ropes, ship’s rigging, and twine came to be known as “green gold”.   Like cotton, it created fortunes for a few, but made life desperately hard for the many.  The rein of henequen ended when synthetics were developed, replacing the need for sisal.

Today’s haciendas range in condition from mere piles of rubble overtaken by jungle, to luxury resorts.  Many are open to the public and can be visited.  Some are private.  A few, such as Yaxcopoil, are museums kept in the style of the time, devoted to telling the poignant tale of the green gold.  

Kitchens were apart from the main house

Henequen processing machinery

Mayan artifacts from the property

Metates y manos

No comments:

Post a Comment