Yucatán

Yucatán

[yoo-kuh-tan; Sp. yoo-kah-tahn]
Yucatán, peninsula, c.70,000 sq mi (181,300 sq km), mostly in SE Mexico, separating the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico. It comprises the states of Yucatán, Campeche, and Quintana Roo, Mexico; the country of Belize; and part of Petén, Guatemala. Mérida, Campeche, and Cancún, Mexico and Belize City, Belize are the chief cities of Yucatán. The inhabitants are predominantly the modern descendants of the Maya.

The peninsula is largely a low, flat, limestone tableland rising to c.500 ft (150 m) in the south. To the north and west the plain continues as the Campeche Bank, stretching under shallow water c.150 mi (240 km) from the low, sandy shoreline. The eastern coast rises in low cliffs in the north and is indented by bays and paralleled by islands and cays in the south; Cozumel is the largest island. Short ranges of hills cross the peninsula at scattered intervals. The only rivers are those flowing E and NW from Petén.

Climate

In the northern half of the tableland, rainfall is light and is absorbed by the porous limestone. Water for people and livestock comes from underground rivers and wells (cenotes) from which it is often pumped by windmills, and from surface pools (aguadas). The land has tropical dry and rainy seasons, but generally in the north the climate is hot and dry, and in the south hot and humid. The peninsula is subject to hurricanes.

Economy

Most of the northern half, although covered with only a few inches of subsoil, is one of the most important henequen-raising regions of the world; the uncultivated area is under a dense growth of scrub, cactus, sapote wood, and mangrove thickets. Subsistence crops, tobacco, and cotton also are grown. Magnificent forests of tropical hardwoods in SW Campeche, Petén, and Belize provide the basis for a lumber industry. This area teems with tropical life, including the jaguar, the armadillo, the iguana, and the Yucatán turkey. Fishing is important along the Yucatán coast. Many of the peninsula's fine beaches and archaeological sites have been developed for tourism, which is a significant part of the peninsula's economy. By the early years of the 21st cent. resort development in Mexico on the peninsula's E coast was extensive, especially at Cancún and to its south along c.60-mi (100 km) stretch of beach popularly known as the Mayan Riviera. Yucatán also possesses large oil deposits, and Mexico in particular has developed a substantiael oil industry on the peninsula.

History

Centuries before the arrival of the Spanish, Yucatán was the seat of a great civilization (see Maya). Probably the first Europeans to arrive were the two survivors of a Spanish shipwreck (1511)—Gonzalo de Guerrero, who joined the Maya, and Gerónimo de Aguilar, who was rescued by Hernán Cortés in 1519 and became his interpreter. Later (1524-25) Cortés made an epic march across the base of the peninsula to Honduras. Francisco Fernández de córdoba had in 1517 already skirted the coast, and in the following year Juan de Grijalva had explored the same area. The battling with the Maya began in 1527 by Francisco de Montejo and continued until 1546, when his son, Francisco de Montejo the younger, crushed the revolt of a coalition of Mayan groups. Mayan resistance to Spanish (and later Mexican) rule perpetuated into the early 20th cent.

Bibliography

See F. F. Blom, The Conquest of Yucatan (1971); E. H. Moseley and E. D. Terry, ed., Yucatan: A World Apart (1980); G. D. Jones, Maya Resistance to Spanish Rule (1989).

Yucatán, state (1990 pop. 1,362,940), 14,868 sq mi (38,508 sq km), SE Mexico, occupying most of the northern part of the Yucatán peninsula. It lies between Campeche and Quintana Roo. The principal industry is tourism and the cultivation and preparation of henequen—mostly exported to the United States. Citrus production has gained in importance in recent years, and textile production, tobacco and other farming, and fishing are also important. Roads and rail lines connect many of the larger towns with the capital, Mérida. By 300 B.C., and until Columbian times, Yucatán was populated by the Maya. Cortés came to Yucatán in 1519. It became a state when Mexico won independence (1821) but seceded from 1839 to 1843. There were severe political uprisings in 1847 and in 1910. Several of the most famous Mayan ruins, including Tulúm, Chichén Itzá, and Uxmal, are located here.

Yucatán is one of the 31 states of Mexico, located on the north of the Yucatán Peninsula. The Yucatan peninsula includes three states: Yucatán, Campeche, and Quintana Roo; all three modern states were formerly part of the larger historic state of Yucatán in the 19th century. The state capital of Yucatán is Mérida.

Geography

The State of Yucatán is located on the Yucatán Peninsula. It borders the states of Campeche to the southwest, Quintana Roo to the east and southeast, and the Gulf of Mexico to the north and west. As a whole, the state is extremely flat with little or no topographic variation. The exception are the Puuc hills, located in the southern portion of the state.

Government and politics

The Constitution of the State of Yucatán provides that the government of Yucatán, like the government of every other state in Mexico, consists of three powers: the executive, the legislative and the judiciary.

Executive power rests in the governor of Yucatán, who is directly elected by the citizens, using a secret ballot, to a six-year term with no possibility of reelection. Legislative power rests in the Congress of Yucatán which is a unicameral legislature composed of 25 deputies. Judicial power is invested in the Superior Court of Justice of Yucatán.

The most recent local election in Yucatán was held on May 20, 2007. (See main article: Yucatán state election, 2007.)

Municipalities

The State of Yucatán is divided into 106 municipalities, each headed by a municipal president (mayor). Usually municipalities are named after the city that serves as municipal seat; e.g. the municipal seat of the Municipality of Mérida is the City of Mérida.

Major cities

Food

Yucatecan food is its own unique style and is very different from what most people would consider "Mexican" food. It includes influences from the local Mayan culture, as well as Caribbean, Mexican, European (French) and Middle Eastern cultures.

There are many regional dishes. Some of them are:

  • Poc Chuc, a Mayan/Yucateco version of barbecued pork.
  • Salbutes and Panuchos. Salbutes are soft, cooked tortillas with lettuce, tomato, turkey and avocado on top. Panuchos feature fried tortillas filled with black beans, and topped with turkey or chicken, lettuce, avocado and pickled onions. Habanero chiles accompany most dishes, either in solid or purée form, along with fresh limes and corn tortillas.
  • Queso Relleno is a "gourmet" dish featuring ground pork inside of a carved edam cheese ball served with tomato sauce
  • Pavo en Relleno Negro is turkey meat stew cooked with a black paste made from roasted chiles, a local version of the mole de guajalote found throughout Mexico. The meat soaked in the black soup is also served in tacos, sandwiches and even in panuchos or salbutes.
  • Sopa de Lima A turkey, lime and tortilla soup.
  • Papadzules. Egg tacos bathed with Pumpkin Seed sauce and Tomatoes.
  • Cochinita Pibil is a marinated pork dish and by far the most renowned from the Yucatecan food.
  • Xcatik is some kind of chilli.

History

Pre-Colombian era

Before the arrival of the Spanish in the area, Yucatán was the home of the Maya civilization, and in particular the Yucatecan Maya people. Archaeological remains show ceremonial architecture dating back some 3000 years; some Maya hieroglyphic inscriptions found in the area date back to the Maya Preclassic period (200 B.C.). Maya cities of Yucatán continued to flourish after the central and southern lowland Classic period Maya cities collapsed (c. A.D. 900), including the Puuc flouresence during the Terminal Classic, the rise of Chichen Itza at roughly the same time, and the subsequent rise of other sites, such as Mayapan, during the Postclassic. Several sites continued to be occupied up to and beyond the 16th century arrival of the Spanish. The ruins of well over a hundred Maya sites of varying sizes can still be found on the peninsula, such as Chichen Itza and Uxmal, though most sites have not been extensively investigated. Other important ancient Maya cities were built over by the Spanish, and their sites are still occupied today, such as Izamal (Itsmal in Yucatecan Maya) and Mérida (T'ho in Yucatecan Maya).

Arrival of the Spanish

See also: Archdiocese of Yucatán.
According to Hernán Cortés' first letter (Cartas de relación) to the King of Spain, "Yucatan" represents a mis-naming of the land by his political antagonist Diego Velázquez. Cortés alleges that when Velazquez initially landed in Yucatan and asked about the name of the well-populated land, the indigenous people answered, "We don't understand your language." This was supposedly rendered as Yucatan by the Spaniards, who were unfamiliar with the phonetics of Mayan. However, there was political antagonism between Cortés and Velázquez, and this story evidently represents an attempt to defame Velázquez. The actual source of the name "Yucatan" is the Nahuatl (Aztec) word Yokatlān, "place of richness."

The conquest of the Maya city-states took decades of long fighting.

African slaves brought by the Spanish also played a major role during Yucatan conquest, many of them declaring themselves free after a revolt led by Gaspar Yanga took place. A lot of the freed slaves settled in small towns called Palenques and declared themselves independent. They also interacted with the indigenous Maya mixing both cultures in to what is now know as Zambo or Afro-indigenous ancestry.

Three Spanish expeditions explored the coastal areas of Yucatan from 1517 to 1519, but no major effort was made to conquer the country until 1527 when the first expedition under Francisco de Montejo landed with Spanish crown authority to conquer and colonize Yucatán. While the chiefs of some states quickly pledged allegiance to the Spanish crown, others waged war against the Spanish. Montejo was forced to retreat from Yucatán in 1528. He came back with a large force in 1531, briefly established a capital at Chichén Itzá, but was again driven from the land in 1535. Montejo turned over his rights to his son, also named Francisco, who invaded Yucatán with a large force in 1540. In 1542 the younger Montejo set up his capital in the Maya city of T'ho, which he renamed Mérida. The lord (also known as Tutul Xiu in the Yucatec Maya language) of Mani converted to Roman Catholicism and became an ally, which greatly assisted in the conquest of the rest of the peninsula. When the Spanish and Xiu defeated an army of the combined forces of the states of eastern Yucatán in 1546, the conquest was officially complete.

As of 1564 Yucatan became a captaincy general and from 1786 an intendencia, as a result of the Bourbon Reforms in the administration of the Indies.

The Spaniards were granted land and natives to work it for their benefit. Priests and monks set to bringing the population into the Roman Catholic Church. The first bishop of Yucatán, Diego de Landa, burned all the Maya books that could be located (saying "they contained nothing but the lies of the Devil") and suppressed any remnants of pagan beliefs with such vigour that he was for a time recalled to Spain to answer charges of improper harshness. The book he wrote (in the 1560s) in his defense, Relación de las cosas de Yucatán ("Relation of the Things of Yucatán"), is one of the single-most detailed accounts of Yucatán and of indigenous life from the time of the Conquest. Segments of this work would much later prove to be of instrumental value in the much-later decipherment of the pre-Columbian Maya writing system.

While the Maya embraced Christianity, many took it on as an addition to rather than a replacement of pre-Columbian beliefs, and some Christian Maya continue to offer prayers to the ancient agricultural deities in addition to the Christian God and saints.

There were periodic native revolts against Spanish rule, including a large one led by Can Ek in 1761.

Independence and the turbulent 1840s

In February 1821, Mexico achieved independence from Spain. On 2 November of that year, Yucatán became part of independent Mexico. The State of Yucatán at that time included the territory of what is now the states of Campeche and Quintana Roo as well.

In 1835, a conservative unitary system of government was instituted in Mexico (a centralized dictatorship unconstitutionally brought forth and held by the then-President: Santa Anna). Yucatán became a department, and authority was imposed from the center. Discontent increased and an insurrection erupted in Tizimín in May 1838, advocating Yucatecan independence. In 1840, the local Congress approved a declaration of independence of Yucatán. At first, Governor Santiago Méndez blocked it, saying that Yucatán would again recognize the rule of the central government in Mexico City if the Mexican Constitution of 1824 were reinstated. Andrés Quintana Roo, sent to Mérida in 1841 by President Antonio López de Santa Anna, succeeded in settling the differences and signed a treaty with the local government. But when Santa Anna later ignored the provisions of this treaty, hostilities resumed, and Governor Méndez ordered all Mexican flags removed from Yucatecan buildings and shipping in favor of the flag of the "sovereign nation of the Republic of Yucatán", two red and one white stripe, with a quincunx of stars in a green field. The Yucatecan Constitution was modeled in part on the 1824 Mexican Constitution and the Yucatán state constitution of 1825.

Santa Anna refused to recognize Yucatán's independence, and he barred Yucatecan ships and commerce in Mexico and ordered Yucatán's ports blockaded. He sent an army to invade Yucatán in 1843. The Yucatecans defeated the Mexican force, but the loss of economic ties to Mexico deeply hurt Yucatecan commerce. Yucatán's governor Miguel Barbachano decided to use the victory as a time to negotiate with Santa Anna's government from a position of strength. It was agreed that Yucatán would rejoin Mexico so long as various assurances of right to self-rule and adherence to the 1825 Constitution within the Peninsula were observed by Mexico City. The treaty reincorporating Yucatán into Mexico was signed in December 1843.

Once more, the central government rescinded earlier concessions and in 1845 Yucatán again renounced the Mexican government, declaring independence effective 1 January 1846. When the Mexican-American War broke out, Yucatán declared its neutrality.

In 1847 the so-called "Caste War" (Guerra de Castas) broke out, a major revolt of the Maya people against the Hispanic population in political and economic control. At one point in 1848, this revolt was successful to the point of driving all Hispanic Yucatecans out of almost the entire peninsula other than the walled cities of Mérida and Campeche.

The government in Mérida appealed for foreign help in suppressing the revolt, with Governor Méndez taking the extraordinary step of sending identical letters to Britain, Spain, and the United States, offering sovereignty over Yucatán to whatever nation first provided sufficient aid to quash the Maya revolt. The proposal received serious attention in Washington, D.C.—the Yucatecan ambassador was received by US President James K. Polk and the matter was debated in the Congress, with no action taken other than an invocation of the Monroe Doctrine to warn off any European power from interfering in the peninsula.

After the end of the Mexican-American War, Governor Barbachano appealed to Mexican President José Joaquín de Herrera for help in suppressing the revolt, and in exchange Yucatán again recognized the central government's authority. Yucatán was again reunited with Mexico on 17 August 1848.

Frequent skirmishes and occasional large battles between the forces of the Yucatecan government and independent Maya of the eastern part of the peninsula continued through 1901, when the Mexican army occupied the Maya capital of Chan Santa Cruz. Some Maya communities in Quintana Roo continued to refuse to acknowledge Ladino or Mexican sovereignty as late as the 1910s.

See also Caste War of Yucatán.

Mid-19th century through mid-20th century

In 1857 Campeche broke off from Yucatán to become a separate state. On 24 November, 1902, President Porfirio Díaz proclaimed the creation of the territory of Quintana Roo, separating that territory from the state of Yucatán.

Sisal for making rope was probably the first major export crop of the Yucatán Peninsula. The region prospered from this lucrative crop until alternative rope materials came into wider use after World War I and henequen (sometimes called "green gold") was planted in other places around the world, setting up competing industries. The decades of the henequen boom was a fairly progressive era for Yucatán; the city of Mérida had electric streetlights and trolley cars before Mexico City. It is said there were more millionaires in Mérida at that time than anywhere else in the Americas. Today, the Paseo de Montejo, an avenue patterned after the Champs-Élysées in Paris, is lined with both abandoned and renovated mansions from that era. And the Yucatan countryside has over 300 haciendas, also built during that time, which are also in varying states of disrepair and renovation.

Late 20th century: An end to relative isolation

Until the mid-20th century most of Yucatán's contact with the outside world was by sea; trade with the USA and Cuba, as well as Europe and other Caribbean islands, was more significant than that with the rest of Mexico. In the 1950s Yucatán was linked to the rest of Mexico by railway, followed by highway in the 1960s, ending the region's comparative isolation. Today Yucatán still demonstrates a unique culture from the rest of Mexico, including its own style of food.

Commercial jet airplanes began arriving in Mérida in the 1960s, and additional international airports were built first in Cozumel and then in the new planned resort community of Cancún in the 1980s, making tourism a major force in the economy of the Yucatán Peninsula.

The first Maya governor of Yucatán, Francisco Luna Kan, was elected in 1976.

Today, the Yucatán Peninsula is a major tourism destination, as well as home to one of the largest indigenous populations in Mexico, the Maya people.

See also

External links

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