The following article was written in Spanish by our Town Historian,
Fidel Villanueva Madrid
It was published today in Recuerdos de Isla Mujeres, in Spanish (LINK)
Foundation of the Town in the year 1850
In the 165 years since its institution, Isla Mujeres has experienced severe transformations, evolving abruptly from an fishing village to a community where tourism and trade have taken over the top two positions, relegating fishing to number three. These changes, in addition to generating wealth, have caused environmental and urban problems; ranging from the depletion of living space and environmental deterioration, to acculturation, so that the customs and traditions of the founding families are becoming mere memories.
Accounts of the Elders
This town was founded in 1850 by people fleeing a civil war, who suffered a great deal to adapt to this environment, since 99 percent of them were farmers. It could not have been easy at first to survive at the edge of the Caribbean Sea and its violent currents.
The abundance of marine products facilitated the process. The elders explained how sharks would chase schools of mullet, attacking the rapid groups of fish, whose rhythmic leaps would end when they became stranded on the beach, putting nature's bounty into eager hands. The elders said that gathering conch, octopus, and lobster did not require much effort, because they could be collected in shallow water that was only knee deep. The same was true of the turtles, whose abundance provided a great deal of fresh red meat, which was similar in taste and texture to the beef of the Yucatan haciendas, which were far away and embroiled in civil war. Turtle fat and eggs also supplemented their diet.
Thus, in 1850, the few inhabitants could meet their needs with catches of snapper, pompano, mullet, or snook. Leftover fish were salted to be eaten when the weather was bad, or to be exported to Cuba, Yucatan, or Belize, or sold to agricultural workers or logwood (palo de tinte) laborers.
Speaking of agriculture, the central part of the island was planted with vegetables and fruits. Isla Mujeres became known for its watermelons, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and garlic. Surpluses of red onion and garlic were sold in Cozumel, especially by the families whose last names were Gómez, Martínez, Garrido, Povedano, Ancona and Magaña. These families were engaged in providing agriculture as an alternative to fishing. Lastly, many residents who came from the northern part of Yucatan knew how to exploit salt, which was a resource that yielded good harvests.
In this manner, those who had arrived since 1847, decided to put distance between themselves and the armed conflict, and little by little they adapted to this environment, and were able to try and forget the horrors they had lived through, including watching family members die and losing their properties.
First Inhabitants of Isla Mujeres
The first Resident Documents (Relaciones de Habitantes), located in the Yucatan archives, indicate that one of the first settlers to arrive was Bartolomé Magaña, a tailor from San Román, Campeche. According to the documents, and to oral history, he was a natural leader who knew how to organize the settlers of the island, creating an urban plan for the distribution of plots of land, where rustic homes were then constructed. Bartolome was elected as the first Justice of the Peace in 1850, when the village was officially erected on the northern part of the island. This appointment was the equivalent of being the Municipal President (Mayor), but that title was reserved for towns with larger populations.
Ausencio Magana Rodriguez told how his grandfather Bartolome arrived by virtually swimming, after walking for weeks along the coast. In Punta Sam, he built a raft and oars, loaded his family aboard, and managed to get to Isla Mujeres. According to documents from that time, boats from Cuba and Campeche rescued hundreds of refugees, who had been besieged by Mayan rebels and fled to the coasts at the northern part of the peninsula. Some made their way to Cozumel, others ended up going to locations in Belize, including San Pedro, Corozal and Orange Walk.
It is important to clarify that this migration was led mainly by mestizos, whose status as descendents of both races engaged in the conflict, white and Maya, caused problems for them from both sides. A smaller number of the refugees were of raza autóctona (indigenous), as is seen in the names given below, those given in the Relaciones de Habitantes, and in a population census conducted in 1865 by the Empire of Maximilian, which was published in 1866. The names indicated in bold are still prevalent (except the copy I am translating from is on FB, so none are in bold.).
Names of Founders of Isla Mujeres
José Acosta, Pedro R. Aguilar, José Lucio Alamilla, Felipe Alavéz, Gabriela Alcocer, Joaquín Ávila, Rafael Alcalá, Damiana Álvarez, José Ancona, Saturnino Argüelles, Eusebia Ayala, José Azueta, Bernabé Balam, María Batúm, |Manuel Baas, Josefa Borja, Pedro Pablo Basto, Emeteria Brito, Nicolás Caamal, Darío Cabero, Matea Cahum, Lorenza Campos, Marcos Canto, Saturnina Cárdenas, Tomás María Casanova, José Castilla, Tiburcio Castro, Francisca Catzín, Mariana Celis, José Coral, Juan Cupul, Mateo Kumul, Valentín Cutz, Pedro Chacón, Anacleto Chalé, Manuela Chan, Juan Chí, Cayetana Chim, Apolinaria Chuc, José Chunab, Néstor Díaz, Feliciano Dzul, Justo Erguera, Martina Escalante, Isabel Escamilla, María Inés Esquiliano, Magdalena Euán, Rosario Encalada, Francisco Fernández, Lorenza Franco, Tomás Gamboa, Silveria Garrido, Gregorio Gasca, Tomás Gómez, Juan de Dios González, María Cristina Kú, Severo Leyro, Eduardo Lizama, Casiano Lope, Cesárea López, Pedro Luna, Bartolomé Magaña, Ceferino Maldonado, Eulalia Manrique, Quirico Martín, Buenaventura Martínez, José May, Manuela Medina, Dionisio Mena, Feliciana Moguel, María Nah, Crescencia Nájera, Carlota Novelo, Crisanta Ojeda, Carmen Oribe, Juan Osorio, Teresa Oxté, Tomasa Pantoja, María Ignacia Parra, Raimundo Pastrana, Timoteo Paz, Jacinto Pech, Crescencio Peniche, Florencia Peraza, Tomasa Perera, Desiderio Pérez, Laureana Poot, Pedro Povedano, Gregoria Puc, Clemencia Ricalde, Leonarda Rivero, Eugenio Rodríguez, Lucas Rojas, Facundo Rosado, José María Sabatini, Alejo Salazar, Gertrudis Saldívar, Víctor Sánchez, Arcadio Sabido, Manuel Santos, Isidora Solís, Carmen Tah, Diego Tamayo, Micaela Tabasco, Rudesindo Torres, Agustín Tejero, Atilano Trejo, Miguel Tuz, Marcelina Uc, Faustina Urruña, Marcos Várguez, Gerónimo Vázquez, Romualdo Velázquez, Manuela Viana, Claudio Xooc and Felipe Zetina.
This list is just a sample of the names recorded in the
General Census (Padrón General)
In 1866 there was a census of the people of the island and the municipality, including the number of men, women, and children.
To create the listing above, the author selected, from every name in the census, those of adult age who were present in the year 1866, among all the residents of Isla Mujeres, excluding those residing elsewhere who were under the responsibility of the municipal government.
In 1866, the total population of the island was 424 inhabitants.
Men over 18: 108
Women over 18: 117
Total Adults: 225
Males under 18: 108
Females under 18: 91
Total Minors: 199
Total population 424
The founders of the town, principally coming from Yucatan and Campeche, are very identifiable by their customs and traditions which are evident in everything about them. An example would be that all of their festivals had a profound Catholic religious influence, because that was the mandatory religion according to the Mexican Constitution of that time. The ongoing presence of the Cuban-Spanish fishermen on the island, and nearby, strongly influenced these traditions and customs, providing Isla Mujeres with a Mayan-Caribbean culture, with its own characteristics, worthy of being analyzed separately.
To return to the settlers, having previously been familiar with working in the fields; they had to adjust to harvesting from the sea. Within a few years, they were transformed into self sufficient fishing community, which evolved to be a force in the late 19th century, known as the Queen of the Eastern Yucatan Coast, with its growing economy, based on logwood and Guayacán (a hardwood), as well as fishing.
Isolated from the rest of the country, the island maintained a very low rate of population growth, until the middle of the last century when it began to increase following the completion of the road between Valladolid and Puerto Juarez. This is evident from the fact that in 1950, Isla Mujeres had only 657 inhabitants, indicating that its population had not even doubled in 100 years. However, ten years later, in 1960, the number of residents had already tripled, increasing to 2109 inhabitants.
This rapid population growth allows us to understand why, to this day, some islanders are resistant to losing what little remains of the harmonious place where they have lived without personal wealth, but also without having the uncertainty imposed by the modern world. This attitude is not a question of nostalgia or romance, but rather of self-preservation.
The violent impact at every level to such a small geographic area has not yet been totally assimilated. With this in mind, on this Anniversary of the Foundation of Isla Mujeres, let us reflect about what kind of future we want....and what awaits us if we fail to organize ourselves to defend what is ours, as our grandparents did in previous decades.
Colaboración de: Fidel Villanueva Madrid.
Cronista Vitalicio de Isla Mujeres
Agosto de 2015.-
Translated by Ronda Winn Roberts