C rdoba discovered Isla
Mujeres in 1517 and sailed down the Yucat n Gulf coast to were he suffered heavy
losses at the hands of the Maya. Cort s set sail in 1519 and landed in Veracruz.
He conquered the Aztecs in a year, but it took another 20 years to conquer the
Yucat n. In 1526 Francisco Montejo set out to conquer the Yucatan.
The Maya fought the invaders for 20 years, but eventually succumbed. The Maya
were slaughtered during the battles with the Spaniards, but imported European
diseases decimated the population. The Maya were moved into villages and paid
heavy taxes to the Spanish government. There were periodic rebellions against
The Yucatan Maya launched a major uprising starting in July 1847 called the
Caste War. The Spanish were distracted by the war between the US and Mexico and
nearly lost the peninsula. The Maya attacked Spanish villages armed by English
settlers from Belize and with guns distributed to defend Yucat n's secession in
1846. They regained 90% of their lands and held all of the Yucat n except
Campeche and Merida.
At the height of their revolutionary success, the Maya inexplicably withdrew
to their villages - reputedly to plant corn for the season. The war with the US
ended in 1848 and reinforcements were sent to the Yucat n, where they drove the
Maya back to Chan Santa Cruz. The Maya resisted for several years, but disease
and weapons shortages forced them to surrender in 1901.
After 50 years of independence, their lands became federal territory. In
reality, the Southern and Eastern half of the peninsula remained a virtual no
man's land to outsiders where the Maya lived almost as they pleased. This
changed in the late 1960s when coastal development began.
Maya are around today
n spite of the invasion of foreign tourism, Mayan culture has remained
amazingly intact. Many of the Yucatan Maya whose ancestors were hunters, chicle
farmers and fisherman now work in hotels and other tourist related businesses.
More than 350,000 Maya living in the Yucatan speak Yukatek Maya and most speak
Spanish as a second language, primarily learned in school.
Maya women can be seen wearing huipils, simple cotton dresses decorated with
embroidery. The designs in their embroidery and weaving can be traced back to
pre-Columbian times. Although Maya in other parts of Central America choose to
limit contact with outside influences, Maya working in the tourist industry are
generally open to conversation with polite strangers and if asked will teach you
a Mayan phrase or two.
The Maya proper seem to have entered Yucatan from the west. As usual with
ancient nations, it is difficult in the beginning to separate myth from history,
their earliest mentioned leader and deified hero, Itzamn , being considered by
Brinton to be simply the sun-god common to the whole Mayan stock.
He is represented as having led the first migration from the Far East, beyond
the ocean, along a pathway miraculously opened through the waters. The second
migration, which seems to have been historic, was led from the west by Kukulcan,
a miraculous priest and teacher, who became the founder of the Maya kingdom and
civilization. Fairly good authority, based upon study of the Maya chronicles and
calendar, places this beginning near the close of the second century of the
Christian Era. Under Kukulcan the people were divided into four tribes, ruled by
as many kingly families: the Cocom, Tutul-xiu, Itz and Chele.
To the first family belonged Kukulcan himself, who established his residence
at Mayapan, which thus became the capital of the whole nation. The Tutul-xiu
held vassal rule at Uxmal, the Itz at Chichen-Itz , and the Chel at Izamal.
To the Chele was appointed the hereditary high priesthood, and their city
became the sacred city of the Maya. Each provincial king was obliged to spend a
part of each year with the monarch at Mayapan. This condition continued down to
about the eleventh century, when, as the result of a successful revolt of the
provincial kings, Mayapan was destroyed, and the supreme rule passed to the
Tutul-xiu at Uxmal.
Later on Mayapan was rebuilt and was again the capital of the nation until
about the middle of the fifteenth century, when, in consequence of a general
revolt against the reigning dynasty, it was finally destroyed, and the monarchy
was split up into a number of independent petty states, of which eighteen
existed on the peninsula at the arrival of the Spaniards.
In consequence of this civil war a part of the Itz emigrated south to Lake
Pet n, in Guatemala, where they established a kingdom with their capital and
sacred city of Flores Island, in the lake.
On his second voyage Columbus heard of Yucatan as a distant country of
clothed men. On his fifth voyage (1503-04) he encountered, south-west of Cuba, a
canoe-load of Indians with cotton clothing for barter, who said that they came
from the country of Maya.
In 1506 Pinzon sighted the coast, and in 1511 twenty men under Valdivia were
wrecked on the shores of the sacred island of Cozumel, several being captured
and sacrificed to the idols. In 1517 an expedition under Francisco de Cordova
landed on the north coast, discovering well-built cities, but, after several
bloody engagements with the natives, was compelled to retire.
Father Alonso Gonzalez, who accompanied this expedition, found opportunity at
one landing to explore a temple, and bring off some of the sacred images and
gold ornaments. In 1518 a strong expedition under Juan de Grijalva, from Cuba,
landed near Cozumel and took formal possession for Spain.
For Father Juan Diaz, who on this occasion celebrated Mass upon the summit of
one of the heathen temples, the honour is also claimed of having afterwards been
the first to celebrate mass in the City of Mexico.
Near Cozumel, also, was rescued the young monk Aguilar, one of the two
survivors of Valdivia's party, who, though naked to the breech-cloth, still
carried his Breviary in a pouch. Proceeding northwards, Grijaba made the entire
circuit of the peninsula before returning, having had another desperate
engagement with the Maya near Campeche.