Hacienda Petac: A Retrospective, Part III

What follows is a continuation of the history of Petac and an expansion on the Yucatan’s henequen years as the industry affected the Hacienda in particular.

 

Part III. THE HENEQUEN YEARS AT HACIENDA PETAC

 

As Hacienda Petac’s earliest known historical document substantiates, Señor Bernardino C. Loza and his wife Bruna Dominguez owned Petac when the hacienda, with many other Yucatecan estates, transitioned from livestock plantation to henequen hacienda in the mid 19th century. The couple, and then their sons, oversaw Petac throughout the zenith of its agricultural affluence and the Loza family, in fact, retained possession of the Hacienda for almost a century.

In 1875 Hacienda Petac acquired a portion of land called Tombul under the Loza family’s stewardship. The Tombul annex came with a recently built henequen processing plant and a new collection of machinery that greatly increased production. At Petac, as at other henequen haciendas, workers planted the plants in straight rows over hundreds of acres. They had to nurture the plants for seven years before harvesting them for the fibrous content of the leaves to be manufactured as rope. Previously unused plots of land were transformed into acres henequen fields.

Henequen processing equipment, such as this piece photographed by Arnoldo Torres, greatly expanded the industry throughout the Yucatan.

As Petac and the haciendas surrounding it grew and the plots of land expanded, portable railways, known as ferreas portatiles, were built to Mérida to make both personal transit and the transport of henequen easier. Light gauge railways were installed through the fields and horses or mules hauled the “trains” of fiber to Port Sisal to be exported to the U.S. As a result of these better production, manufacturing, and shipping methods, the Yucatan became one of the richest states in Mexico by the 1880s.

When his wife died in 1877, Señor Loza gave Hacienda Petac to his two sons Licenciado Miguel and Francisco to care for. Five years later, Licenciado Miguel – at this point 41 years old and married – bought out his brother Francisco, who had become a doctor, and became Hacienda Petac’s sole owner. By this time the hacienda had grown to ten times its original size, and measured, in 1882, at 11 million veras (Petac’s original footprint measured about 11,452 square veras).

During the height of the henequen years, over 18,000,000 plants were grown in the region.

Political upheaval would soon dethrone the henequen industry as the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century swept through and the agrarian reform movement gained ground. The henequen boom did, though, find its way into the turn of the century. During that time, countless hacendados – the landowners who cultivated the fiber – created vast fortunes and lives of privilege from the Yucatan’s “green gold.”

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Hacienda Petac: A Retrospective, Part II

The following is part two in a five part series about the formation of Hacienda Petac and the historical context surrounding the estate’s evolution.

 

Part II. THE HENEQUEN YEARS

 

By the latter half of the 19th century, Spanish colonization had redefined the Yucatan. An agriculture-based structure of international trade had been built and the hacienda system was expanded to support it. Around 1870, the revival of an ancient Mayan plant – henequen – brought an economic groundswell to the region and redefined Hacienda Petac as a competitive agricultural plantation.

A photochrome of a hacienda in 1884 by William Henry Jackson, from the World Digital Library.

Often confused and used somewhat interchangeably, sisal (Agave Sisalana in Latin) and henequen (Agave Fourcroydes) are two closely related species of agave. Both native fibers of the Yucatan Peninsula, they were harvested for centuries by the Maya for roping, hammocks and rugs. Their resiliency and slight elasticity made for an ideal material, as the fibers didn’t snap under weight or dry out in the heat.

Originally a Maya word, henequen is sometimes used colloquially to describe either fiber. Meanwhile sisal, named for the Yucatecan port from which it was exported, is often used to describe henequen outside of the Yucatan, as the shipping crates for both fibers feature the port city name “Sisal” stamped on the exterior. Henequen plants, with taller trunks and thorns on the edges of their leaves, were cultivated considerably more in the Yucatan.

 

In 1870, a surge of interest in the plant came from America, where the agricultural economy was still in rapid expansion. A cheap and durable substance for making rope and bailing twine – especially one that wouldn’t hurt farm animals if swallowed – was vital.

Hacienda workers, harvesting henequen around 1922.

Due to the increased demand, the traditional Mayan methods of hand scraping, soaking and retting failed to produce the necessary amount of henequen fiber. The Yucatecan government established a competition to encourage the development of a new tool to extract the fiber faster. New large central fiber extraction machines, or decorticators, were developed to remove the skin, water, and pulp of the plants, extracting the fiber, letting it dry, and allowing it to be processed into rope. Conveyor belts fed the leaves into the machine where a series of bladed drums and high-pressure bursts of water scraped the leaves. As henequen was later found to be a good reinforcement agent in concrete, the industry continued to boom, and a trade relationship with the United States flourished.

 

Modern farmers dry henequen out in the sun just as hacienda workers did hundreds of years ago.

Throughout the next several decades, the Yucatan reigned king. For a period of about thirty years, it is believed that the Yucatan’s henequen and sisal were responsible for ninety percent of the rope and burlap bags used worldwide. After a while, though, while henequen remained in the area, sisal was introduced and quickly adopted in other tropical climates. Brazil, Florida, East Africa and China all established competing markets. By the turn of the century the price of the plant began to fall in the region.

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Hacienda Petac: A Retrospective

The tale of Hacienda Petac and its transition from a quaint agricultural estate to a world-renowned historic resort and spa is one that covers hundreds of years and spans the colonization of an entire region, the founding of a country, a string of political upheavals, and an eclectic collection of owners. The following 5-post series speaks to each segment of the Hacienda’s history and examines the major events, trends, and renovations that make Hacienda Petac what it is today.

 
Part I. RISE OF THE HACIENDA SYSTEM IN THE YUCATAN

 

As the Spanish colonization of the New World progressed thro
ughout the 16th and 17th centuries so too did the crown’s interest in the natural resources of the agriculture-rich Yucatan. Efforts to ensure control over these resources quickly gave birth to the hacienda system, a land grant scheme established by the Spanish crown as a reward method for Spanish nobles. As thanks for their loyalty or as a means to lure them to the New World, conquistadors and noblemen were given enormous tracts of land and personal estates in the newly colonized territories.

Historical map of the Yucatan, published in 1671.

These estates were known as haciendas, constructed with a main manor house called the casa principal, and an often fully self-sufficient town surrounding it. Many of these haciendas became villages unto themselves.  The estates, whether plantations or mines or even early factories, and the goods produced on them, were the cornerstones of the colonial economy.

 

It is in this vein that Hacienda Petac was founded. Like some of the immediately surrounding estates, with their uncomplicated and pragmatic constructions, Petac built itself initially upon livestock and simple crops. Cornfields, for example, accounted for a significant portion of Petac’s original footprint, which measured about half a league, or 11,452 square veras. (A vera is an antiquated measurement and, considering it was made from a stick, somewhat arbitrary unit of measurement.)

 
Although Hacienda Petac produced initially only for the local economy, the emergence of a new, far-reaching agro-industry later propelled the entire region into international fame. This allowed Petac to revitalize entirely the hacienda’s infrastructure and layout.

 

NEXT: Part 2, THE HENEQUEN YEARS

Link to: http://www.haciendapetac.com/blog/hacienda/petac-history-part-ii

 

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Uxmal Photography: Magic Lantern Slides

We’ve found a fantastic portal to Hacienda Petac’s past in a previously forgotten collection of magic lantern slides from the late 19th century. Magic lantern slides, the predecessor of the slide projector, have been around since the 1600s, long before the advent of photography. A relatively simple premise, magic lanterns use small glass slides with images hand painted on them. Illuminated originally by candle – then kerosene lamp and, later, electricity – they are projected onto a wall so that the image appears much larger than it actually is. Once all hand drawn and used primarily as a means for entertainment, magic lantern slide images of the late 19th century grew serious and became reliable historical tools with the technological advances of modern photography. Although by the 20th century they had lost favor after the invention of the more practical slide and overhead projectors, magic lanterns still offer us a charm-filled glimpse into our area’s history.

Frederick Catherwood’s 1844 drawing of Uxmal

Our own collection includes photograph slides from the Yucatán before restorations were made to Maya ruins as well as images of henequen haciendas from their heyday. While some of the glass slides were hand painted and colored, others are in black and white, but they are all 3.5” x 4”, a size common of the late 19th, early 20th centuries. This first set – some of our favorite images – show the ancient Maya city of Uxmal, now a UNESCO historical site, about an hour south of Petac.

Magic Lantern photographic slide of Uxmal

Magic Lantern photographic slide of The Pyramid of the Magician at Uxmal

Magic Lantern photographic slide of The Governor’s Palace at Uxmal

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Virgin of Guadalupe—The Queen of Mexico

 

The month of December teems with holidays, saints’ days, and festivals throughout Mexico and the Yucatan. As in most other Catholic countries, the beginning of December marks the time to celebrate the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This holiday, near and dear to our hearts here at Hacienda Petac, features a few weeks of masses and pilgrimages that culminate in a feast for the Virgin Mary on December 8th. A holy day of obligation, it is filled with folk dances, decorations, and, as ever, plenty of food.

 

Four days later, on December 12th, our region honors the Blessed Virgin again with the celebration of her icon, the Virgin of Guadalupe. The story of the Virgin and how she came to be the patroness of Mexico dates as far back as 1531, when she appeared miraculously before Aztec-born Juan Diego as he traveled near what is now Mexico City.

 

As the story goes, the apparition of the Virgin Mary, beautiful and shining on the hillside, came into view before Juan Diego, offered him kind words, and asked for his help to build a shrine in her honor. Uncertain, he sought advice from the Spanish archbishop, who demanded proof of Mary’s existence. Three days later, on December 12th, the Virgin appeared before Juan Diego once more, calling him, “her son” and gently suggesting that he go pick roses from a nearby valley – a place that, during December, grew no flowers. Juan Diego followed her instructions, found the promised roses and returned to the archbishop. When he opened his tilma, or cloak, to reveal the miraculous flowers, an image of the Virgin herself was emblazoned on the inside of it. Stunned and impressed, the archbishop ordered the building of the church after the Virgin and Juan Diego became legendary.

 

Not until 1745 did the Vatican recognize Juan Diego’s vision as a genuine miracle, but by that time the apparition was already dubbed the Virgin of Guadalupe and the story was enmeshed in Mexican celebrations and folklore. The basilica, indeed built on the spot that she requested, still houses the original tilma with the untarnished image of the Virgin on the inside.

 

Not a strictly Catholic icon, La Virgen de Guadalupe is portrayed as a young Indian woman with traditional clothing – including a cloak of the color we call Maya blue – and has come to represent the blending of Spanish, Aztec and Mayan cultures. At Hacienda Petac we feature a modern figure of La Guadalupe in the large chapel that serves the village and in which we have wedding ceremonies. She is now the most popular religious and cultural symbol of the area and is celebrated for two weeks each December with daily parades leading up to the 12th, various sacrifices, food, dance and much prayer. Children dress as Juan Diego, donning moustaches and cloaks, and adults fashion altars to the Virgin from palm fronds, flowers and balloons.

 

If visiting Hacienda Petac in the next few weeks or the area nearby, you might even see one of our favorite parts of the holiday: the Virgin’s torch runners. The runners, who have trained throughout the year, go throughout the city and across the country with torches alight in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Some plan long lone expeditions all of the way to Mexico City, some are cheered on by a motorcade, some participate in relays and travel short distances, but all run as thanks for prayers fulfilled in the past year or as promises for the upcoming one. By 10 am on December 12th, the runners return to Mérida, where processionals, music, confetti and fireworks welcome them to morning mass and the rest of the day’s celebrations.

 

This time of the year makes us feel a bit nostalgic here at Hacienda Petac, and we find ourselves humbled every time we walk past the Hacienda’s modern statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe as she sits in the beautiful, full-sized chapel on the Hacienda grounds. We aren’t the only ones, already are there sounds of fireworks from the village in anticipation of the celebrations. Come see La Guadalupe for yourself, hear the mañanitas, the morning songs that people sing on the way to Mass, eat some poc choc, and cheer for the torch runners as they make their way to the city.

 

 

Sources:

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/629932/Our-Lady-of-Guadalupe

http://www.mexconnect.com/articles/2614-our-lady-of-guadalupe-tonantzin-or-the-virgin-mary

http://weber.ucsd.edu/~dkjordan/nahuatl/nican/nican7.html

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Lounge in Mayan Hammocks (and Learn More About Their History)

Mayan Hammocks at Hacienda Petac

 

Considered a cultural and economic essential throughout Mexico, the Mayan hammock was first developed almost a thousand years ago in the Caribbean and brought to the Yucatan peninsula by Spanish colonists. Initially made from woven tree bark and natural fibers, hammocks were airy in the humid climate, elevated from insects and critters on the ground below, and easily transportable; they offered a pragmatic and comfortable way to sleep.

 

Adapted by the Maya, hammocks soon came to be crafted from henequen, the agave-derived fiber that made the Yucatan famous for rope production and was once our own primary product here at Hacienda Petac.

 

Still made predominantly in the city of Mérida, the capital of the Yucatan, hammock production accounts for a major source of income for the entire region, and is, in fact, second only to tourism. The practicality of the hammock’s design and the durability of the product – many hammocks are now made from cotton or even nylon – make them a staple in most homes in the area. Even the most majestic Yucatecan homes feature hammocks for elegant relaxation.

 

As both a domestic object and one very popular with travelers, hammocks have become a canvas with which to demonstrate Mayan artistry, color palettes and designs. Hammock making is a proud trade, a family specialty, and, as most are still handmade, no two hammocks are ever exactly alike. Many still feature the original sprang-woven pattern, with interlocking parallel threads that are static in one direction but elastic in the other so that the hammock fibers hug the contours of the body.

 

In 2011, a Swiss research team published a study positing that the swinging motion of a hammock helps synchronize our brain waves, which makes us fall asleep faster and, in fact, achieve a deeper state of sleep and calm. Here at Hacienda Petac, we haven’t done any official research on the subject, but we can attest to just how lovely an afternoon spent lounging in one of our poolside hammocks is. You bring your favorite book; we’ll supply your favorite cocktail. Let the leisure ensue.

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Season of Los Gremios History and 2012 Schedule

September 27th marks the beginning of Merida’s Season of Los Gremios, the spiritual – and spirited – time for the city’s gremios, or guilds, to give their thanks.

 

The annual tradition dates back to 1654 when a fire in the neighboring village of Ichmul destroyed everything except the local cathedral’s wooden Christ figure. Although slightly blistered and damaged, the figure of Christ was relocated to the cathedral in Merida’s centro. Considered a protector of the city’s citizens ever since, the “Christ of the Blisters” is paid homage every year throughout three weeks of celebration by the city’s proverbial butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers.

 

Christ of Blisters - Merida Cathedral

 

 

The holiday is structured so that the members of each gremio, or guild, have two reserved days in which to publicly give their respective thanks. Beginning on September 27th and ending on October 17, each syndicate’s pilgrimage begins at the cathedral with a noon mass, and ends the next day after another early morning mass. Once one gremio has left the cathedral, another group of workers enters for their own noon mass. While book-ended by humble prayer, the celebratory day in between for each group is replete with music and dance, costumes and color, and the underlying hint of competition as each trade tries to outdo the others for best show. As the season continues, the processions become an increasingly raucous affair.

 

Season of Los Gremios Procession

 

 

Ultimately, at the close of three weeks, the Christ of the Blisters is paraded throughout the cathedral, more thanks are given, and the entire city turns to a final revelry of fireworks, food and festivals, or ferias.

 

Look below for a calendar of each guild’s procession:

 

September:

27 Construction workers

28 Small business owners

29 Devotees of Christ

30 Mirror, aluminum and glass workers

 

October:

1 Shoemakers

2 Seamstresses and embroiderers

3 Taxi drivers

4 Painters

5 Mechanics and ironworkers

6 Carpenters

7 Ladies

8 Business owners and hacienda owners

9 Shop owners

10 Shop owners and workers

11 Teachers and students

12 Bakers

13 Trainworkers

14 Trinket stall owners and employees

15 Professionals

16 Market stall workers

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