Mayan history

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 Spanish.

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.

Modern Maya

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.

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