Maya rebellion is one of the most dramatic episodes in the history of Mexico. It all started with the revolt of the native Maya people of Yucatan in Mexico against Yucatecos, basically white and Mestizo oppressors belonging to the European descent for political and economic control of the State. This revolt began in 1847 and in just a year’s time, Maya rebels were almost successful in throwing their oppressors from their peninsula. To understand about the Maya rebellion, it is necessary to have knowledge of Maya Civilization. (Reed, The Caste War of Yucatan, preface).
Maya Civilization was considered to be most culturally dynamic society and densely populated. It is also known as Mesoamerican Civilization covering the areas from Tropic of Cancer in central Mexico, in South through the route of Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Western Honduras, towards Pacific lowlands of Nicaragua to northwestern Costa Rica. After the Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492, America was occupied by Spain. The Spanish began their conquests of the Maya lands in 1520s. Initially, with small settlements they extended their empire to Central America, most of the parts of South America, Mexico and Southern and Central areas of United States. (Wikipedia Encyclopedia, Maya Civilization, pp.1).
Under the Spanish rule, the Northern Yucatan was under the influence of number of small polities. The Spanish conquers also brought along them diseases which led to virtually reduce the Maya population. For the remaining Mayans, Spanish began to spread Catholicism and established European political system, but this was not fully successful, thus Spaniards removed most of the elite group of the Mayans or incorporated them into their colonial system, thus cowed down Maya-speaking rural peasants. Though, Spaniards had established administrative centers in 16th century at Merida in Yucatan, San Cristobal in Chiapas, and Antigua Guatemala in Guatemala, but they were all destroyed in a series of earthquakes in the 18th century, thus forcing Spaniards to shift their administrative center to Guatemala City.
By the end of 1855, the major battles were already over but these resulted in number of casualties, with more than half of the population either killed or fled the region. But the new religion was eventually built around Speaking Cross which gave support to their independence for complete fifty years. (Reed, The Caste War of Yucatan, preface).
There is no single cause which instigated the flames of the revolt. It was also thought that the revolt arose when three people of Maya decent were executed at Valladolid in Yucatan. According to historians, this was due to the uprising which was thought to be more for political purpose rather than a race war and after digging deep into the cause of the war it was found that the war occurred to protect the communal lands from the private owners.( Wikipedia Encyclopedia, Maya Civilization, Background to the War, para 1.). The under privileged class were crushed under the atrocities of the upper classes. The Spanish Government changed the status of public lands which were used by Maya people for farming, the contracts were broken and local peasants were succumbed to the adverse working conditions. (Kitchel Jeanine, Cast War of Yucatan, para 2.). In the late 18th century, there was a tremendous demand for cordage and fibers in the world market which led to the formation of henequen plantations all over the Northern region of the Yucatán Peninsula. Earlier villagers only had to pay modest taxes and submit labor drafts occasionally but by the end of the 18th century, lands were expropriated by Spaniards and became burdensome. These pressures led to rebellion between 1847–54, known as the caste wars, whereby the main goal was just to drive all European populations from the Yucatán Peninsula, and which was nearly successful. Never again Spaniards were able to suppress the blaze of revolt, and left the isolated areas without governmental control all through the 19th century.(Ansers.com, Encyclodictionalmanacapedia). When Mexico got independence from Spain in 1821, Yucatan government saw number of changes in its working, this included providing arms and weapons to Maya for them to surge the battle with the U.S. in Texas, as in 1848, United States had declared War on America. (Millicent Rogers Museum)
The weapons rose their spirit; fully equipped their hell broke loose and they backfired in Valladolid, to crush to death 85 people, ravaging the city and go to the extent of raping. To revenge the assault, Yucatecans fell upon the ranch of the Mayan leader and raped 12 year old Indian girl. Now why should Maya tribes lack behind? Eight of them joined hands together and joined forces and forced the entire royal families of the white population to pack their bags from Yucatan and drove them towards Merida. As soon as the Maya tribes too reached Merida, chasing them, the clouds appeared in the sky, which was the sign indicating that it was the time for the Mayans for planting Corns. In-spite of pleads by their chief, Mayans tribes left their machetes and headed back to their milaps i.e. corn fields. In 1848 again, Yucatecans came back, and after killing Mayan leaders and reunited themselves, but at that time Mayans had already harvested their corns in their fields hidden from Yucatecans, and resorted to guerrilla tactics to save their lives. As a result Mayans had to confine themselves only to the Eastern and Southern regions of the Yucatan and Quintana Roo using Chan Santa Cruz as their base. (Kitcheal Jeanine, para 2-4)
The years of struggle had shattered them, but soon they regained their confidence and it was solely due to the supernatural element. A revolutionary Jose Maria Barrera happened to come across a talking cross carved into a tree near a small cenote called Lom Ha meaning cleft spring. According to the Mayan tradition, this tree was called as the Maya tree of life known as La Ceiba, which sprang from a cave, the sacred spots for Mayans by a cenote, where it was believed rain Gods lived. Around it, a new religion was formed which was known as the cult of the speaking cross, and it was centered in the Tulum area. It was Barrerra, a mestizo who spread the word that cross had transmitted a message which was given as sermon by Juan de la Cruz but it was Barrera who by using the ventriloquist, a Manuel Nahuat, as the mouthpiece of cross and instill in them the spirit to raise the arms against the Mexican government assuring them the victory. (Kitcheal Jeanine, para 2-4).
Barera also used a ventriloquist, Manuel Nahuat, as the mouthpiece of the cross and through this directed the Maya in their war effort, urging them to take up arms against the Mexican government assuring the people of the cross they would attain victory. But this also was engulfed with controversy as it is said that Mayans never believed about this Cross story. According to the Chilam Balam, an ancient Maya text, it is clearly mentioned that priests heard the voices from the god. It is also believed that there were four crossed that were present in the tips of the cross that marked the boundaries of Cruzob Maya.
Between the years from 1847 to 1930s, this Caste War made it impossible for whites to take to streets in the eastern Yucatan or the territory of Quintana Roo, because this was the only place whereby only native Maya population were safe.
The war came to an end in 1901, when the capital of Maya was occupied by the Chan Santa Cruz army, but the skirmishes still continued, and finally it ended in 1935, with half-hearted truce.
Kitchel Jeanine, “The Caste War, the Church of the Speaking Cross, and the Cruzob Maya,” Tales From the Yucatan, Mexican Forum, 2004, extracted on 17th February, 2007, from World Wide Web: <http://www.planeta.com/ecotravel/mexico/yucatan/tales/0409castewar.html>
Reed Nelson, The Caste War of Yucatán, Revised Edition, 2001, 32 illustrations, 6 maps, preface, pp. 448
Wikipedia Encyclopedia, “Caste War of Yucatán,” extracted on 18th February,2007 from World Wide Web: