Notes for a history of the Mexican Caribbean. Introduction
Updated: Sep 28, 2022
In order to get to know the secrets of the ancient history of the Mexican Caribbean, we need to plunge into the intricate network of underground rivers to find the vestiges of marvelous prehistoric animals and skeletons of human beings that lived here approximately fourteen thousand years ago.
In the twisted turnings of submerged caves, the skeletons waited for millennia to be discovered and reveal that this coasts were inhabited by mastodons, camels, horses and many other large mammals that disappeared around ten thousand years ago, during the last ice age.
Skeletons from a more recent age have been found in this subterranean waters, which belonged to people who lived in the historical horizon of the Mayan culture, whose origin is traced back around four thousand years ago by the specialists, as the first villages of sedentary agriculture appeared, thus giving birth to the first cities.
The Mayan civilization is, undoubtedly, one of the greatest civilizations of the ancient world, as appreciated and studied as the old Egypt, China or Greece. What really makes it so attractive and enigmatic is its long-term stay in an adverse and extremely fragile ecological environment.
One of the factors that help to explain the spectacular development of this civilization is the intense trade exchange that occurred throughout the whole region.
The whole political and economic Mayan system collapsed upon the arrival of the Spanish invaders, despite the fact that many regions of the Mayan area remained outside of the Spanish stranglehold. One of the regions that never bowed down was the eastern fringe of the Yucatan Peninsula, known today as the Mexican Caribbean, in the state of Quintana Roo.
The impact of the Spanish conquer was devastating. Nowadays, the historians believe that the population of the peninsula got reduced from five million to less than five hundred thousand in about one hundred years of subjugation. Diseases brought by the Europeans favored the outbreak of gruesome epidemics, the constant wars and famine weren’t the only causes of demographical demise.
After the Mexican independence, things didn’t change much for the peninsular Mayans. The slave-holding system was established in the haciendas (large estates) and the resistance zone began to be invaded by the white Yucatecans’ haciendas. Around 1847, the invasion of lands provoked a violent reaction on the eastern Mayans. A big rebellion arose in the whole Yucatan Peninsula. In that same year, Mexico was being invaded by the United States army, but as soon as that conflict was solved, the Mexican army traveled to Yucatan to quell the rebellion. The rebels fold back into their resistance zone and remained independent from the government for the next 50 years. This extended struggle is known as the “Caste War of Yucatan”. It wasn’t until 1901 that the army managed to besiege Santa Cruz Balam Nah, the rebellious capital, known today as Carrillo Puerto. Henceforth, the eastern Mayans who called themselves masewales, slowly started embodying the national context.
A very particular resin to be found in the jungle was the latex from chicozapote or sapodilla trees. This product abruptly introduced the Mayans to the international market. Such resin, if prepared according to the Mayan tradition, made chewing gum. Mexican president Antonio López de Santa Anna gave a sample of it to an American entrepreneur whose surname was Adams.
Big territories were granted to companies for the exploitation of the resin, as well as cedar and mahogany trees. These trees were coveted in the world for the special features of their wood. The Mayan leaders slowly made a pact with Carranza’s revolutionary government to obtain similar concessions, although this caused inner conflicts because the masewales didn’t understand to be receiving lands that had always been theirs. The same situation happened when Lázaro Cárdenas government (1934-1940) created the “Agrarian Reform” and distributed lands to the Mayans that already belonged to them.
That was the trampled way in which the masewales were incorporated to the national scene.
The tourism industry arrived in the last stage of this late colonization process. Even though the coast between Cancún and Tulum was uninhabited, the impact has been noticeable in various ways on the Mayan communities, the main cause is the imposition of a global economy. The impact has been different in Tulum because the Mayan community has been deprived of their land, marginalized from the economic development, moreover, its culture and daily life had been crushed. The original Tulum settlers only obtained miserable wages for their unqualified labor in return. The most troubling part is that this model might spread towards the south, where communities could offer tourist attractions such as their culture, their well-preserved rainforest, their fantastic lagoons and an endless amount of cenotes and caves. All of this is a hearty dish for a kind of tourism that is looking for new experiences, being in touch with nature and relating to different cultures.
If you want to enjoy the experiences that México Kan Tour brings you, it’s important to consider that a responsible tourist is always the best guarantee that a destination will develop in a sustainable way. We invite you to come and be a protagonist of the construction of a new tourism model in the Mexican Caribbean.