Saturday, August 16, 2014

Special Edition for the Anniversary of the founding of Isla Mujeres as the town of Dolores in 1850

Dolores:  Refuge from the Caste War
Source: Dolores, el refugio de la guerra By Fidel Villanueva Madrid, town historian of Isla Mujeres. The comments in blue are mine. The original article  in Spanish,  can be found HERE ~ Ronda

        Isla Mujeres had been a shelter for pirates until 1821, when it was occupied a few months of the year by a handful of fishermen from Campeche, Yucatan, and Cuba, who expressed nostalgic memories of "“Mesié” Lafitte, and his kindness to them.
      In southeastern Mexico the Spanish regime had ended (with Mexico's War of Independence 1810-1821) and Yucatan had retained its independence, before acquiring statehood voluntarily in 1824. Nationally, new laws were being made, and it was very difficult to reconcile the regionalist interests the very large country, with its heterogeneous cultures and races, with the dictates of nationalist concerns, subjecting the new states to the whims of the president, and then an emperor.   
    In the Yucatan, there were constant disputes and regional clashes for the next sixty years, with the government alternating between local politicians and those sent from the center of the country.  Despite these difficulties, Yucatan went through a period of sustained economic boom until the fourth decade of the nineteenth century, associated with the exploitation of the Maya by the whites. There was a seven year period when the Yucatan peninsula was an independent Republic (1841–1848)  before rejoining Mexico.
    At that time, Yucatecan society consisted of three main classes or castes. The upper class were the whites (ladinos) and Creoles (criollos) who held the economic and political power. Below them were the mestizos, people of white and Mayan blood who were despised by the whites and by the Maya, and at the bottom were the Maya, also called macehuales (commoners/peasants), as well as some other caste groups of mixed heritage. 
     On July 30, 1847, in Tepich, Cecilio Chí lit the fires of a social war whose flames covered the entire peninsula within months. Acts of terrible cruelty took place among the combatants and the Yucatan government was unable to stop the rebellion. The British in Belize saw an opportunity to expand their territory and supplied arms and ammunition to the Mayans, resulting in a conflict that lasted throughout the second half of the nineteenth century.

Foundation of Dolores, Isla Mujeres

 People seeking peace, who wanted to escape the warring factions, went to places like Isla Mujeres and Cozumel in 1847, causing a migration of population to areas that were previously unpopulated. This is evident from statements such as those by illustrious American John L Stephens, who is considered the Farther of Mayan Archaeology. He visited the island in 1842, five years before the Caste War broke out, recording the presence of only two huts and an enramada (shelter made with branches), whose inhabitants consisted of three fishermen and two 'indezuelos'. The 'inhabitants" were fishing for turtle, and the three fishermen nostalgically remembered the good times with the Lafitte pirates. Less definite reports from visitors in 1825 said there were about a dozen huts.
      Research indicates the first settlers were people of all ages and sexes, including orphans, widows, and the elderly, seeking refuge from the horrors of war, coming mostly from Campeche, Valladolid, Dzemul, Dzidzantún, and Yobaín. Migrants fled to the Isla Mujeres and Cozumel in whatever manner they were able. Some took advantage of whatever ships could be hired along the coast between Campeche and Belize. Those who fished seasonally in the area came in their small canoes and launches. Others walked down the coasts and built rickety boats to cross from Punta Sam to the island.
       Isla Mujeres was a place of passage for people escaping the peninsula, many of whom went on to settle in Cozumel and Belize. Many of the people who came through were people who had worked the land, and Cozumel offered spaces for farming.  The cruel war came close to Isla Mujeres, and with its proximity to the coast, there was fear that the rebel Mayas would come across the short distance. There is an oral history from the Islanders of various nights when there were bonfires on the coast and chilling screams were heard in the darkness. (If this means human sounds traveling from the mainland to the island, that seems incredulous to me, but quién sabe? )
       The refugees who wanted to become residents petitioned the  government, and after repeated requests, and intervention from politicians and the Catholic Church, they were allowed  to found the town. Cozumel was founded in November 1849 and Isla Mujeres was founded on August 17, 1850.
     Strict regulations were imposed upon these settlers, including that no one could leave without permission, nor be absent for more than six months, or they would risk losing rights to their land. They could obtain final possession of their land after six years of residency.
     The Yucatan government imposed the name Dolores upon the new settlement in Isla Mujeres, which is considered an attempt by the Governor to ingratiate himself with the national, centralist powers. The peninsula and its government had been separatist, having been an independent Republic that had just recently rejoined the national Mexican government. Dolores was the place where Hidalgo had raised the cry for independence by Mexico against the Spanish, and thus the name attested to the good intentions of the republicans of the Yucatan.
    The regulations required that the settlers themselves build the streets, church, and schools and they must provide the teachers, and other services like keeping the town clean, doing repairs, building a barracks (Cuartel) and a Public building (Casa Publica). The early days were not easy and the people worked together. They were incommunicado, in an unhealthy environment without services for water or electricity, threatened by war and forgotten by the government. They made repeated requests for help to higher authorities that went unanswered. We must be aware of the tenacity, courage and perseverance of those who preceded us
By Fidel Villanueva Madrid.
Cronista Vitalicio de Isla Mujeres.
Agosto de 2013.
Por Colaboración Especial - Isla Mujeres
Translation: Ronda Winn Roberts

US & Mexico:  At war 1846-1848

While the Yucatan was an Independent Republic & considered itself neutral

The key says:   Pink= States of Mexico
                      Gold=Territories of Mexico
                       Grey=Other Countries

Before the war began, Mexico's borders included more than one-third of the North American continent, with a population of slightly more than seven million people. North of the Rio Grande, Mexico's holdings extended from the western borders of Texas and the Arkansas River in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west. This included more than one million square miles of land in what today are the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. The geography included portions of the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada, desserts, valuable agricultural land, and  important deep water ports.  Map from Wikimedia In 1841 Yucatan declared independence from Mexico & was a Republic for a second time, rejoining Mexico in 1848.

How did the Mexican-American war  play a part in the founding of Isla Mujeres?

   At the onset of the Mexican-American war, (aka La Intervención Estadounidense) President Polk's objectives were to seize as much territory in northeastern Mexico as possible. The United States coveted Mexico's lands north of the Rio Grande to support its rapidly growing population of approximately eleven million by 1840. Looking westward to expand, the nation justified its demand for land with the concept of Manifest Destiny, a belief that God willed the US to control the entire North American land mass.
     When the US occupied Mexico in 1846, the Mexican government was theoretically a representative democracy, with federal system modeled on the US Constitution, with the same three branches of government, electing legislative and executive officials  by popular vote. However, in reality, only a fraction of Mexico's population met the property requirements necessary to vote. For example in Mexico City, less than 1% of the population of  200,000 people could vote, with even lower statistics in the outlaying areas. This was a common cause for rebellions across Mexico. Between 1846 and 1848, there were 35 separate outbreaks of  revolt across Mexico, among the now armed peasants, against the wealthy elite and symbols of federal authority.
  By 1848,  the success of US General Scott's campaigns against the Mexican Army resulted in a destabilization of the country's power structure. Without fear of reprisals,  peasants across the country rose up in revolt, targeting the wealthy elite. The US officials realized that if the peasant revolts that swept through Veracruz targeted Scott's army, all would be lost. With these revolts growing steadily in size, frequency, and violence, they were threatening to engulf the US forces.
      A large revolt in the Yucatan peninsula in early 1848 pitted 30,000 Mayans against wealthy white land owners and merchants. The governor issued a plea for help to President Polk & the US Congress, saying the peasants were waging a "war of extermination against the whites".

If Congress had said "Yes" when the Yucatan offered itself to the US , what would Isla Mujeres look like today? 

  In April 1848,  agent of the Yucatán government, Don Justo Sierra, appealed to Pres. Polk for military aid against the rebellious Mayan, who threatened to drive the whites into the sea. He offered the United States "dominion and sovereignty" over the state of Yucatán, in return for its support, adding that the same appeal had been extended to England and Spain. The offer of annexation was declined, and the US advised the Yucatan government that offering themselves to European powers would NOT going to be tolerated by the Americans.
    On April 19th, Polk, addressed Congress  saying,  "No future European colony or dominion shall…be planted or established on any part of the American continent." Meanwhile, Valladolid had been abandoned & the Yucatan was on the verge of military collapse.  The United States ignored the Yucatan government's requests for assistance & would not tolerate them seeking aid from European countries by offering sovereignty. Meanwhile, the British were supplying arms from Belize to the revolting Mayan peasants, and three Spanish ships had landed in Sisal with two thousand rifles, gunpowder and other supplies. Thousands of non- indigenous residents fled the Yucatan by catching boats from Isla Mujeres and Cozumel.

Early history by Maryje Zuniga

  (Translation by Ronda Winn Roberts)
The first traces in Isla Mujeres date back to 564 AD. The island was a strategic location for Mayan  seafarers, who in the post-classical period, built a lighthouse at the south end to aid navigation. In the continental region of the municipality of Isla Mujeres, there are archaeological ruins  now known by the name of El Meco (due to the nickname of a local resident of the nineteenth century). 
    These settlements are believed to have been abandoned around 600 AD, until they were populated between the years 1000-1100 AD;  possibly by a group linked to the Itza and later by the Cocomes of Mayapan. It became very important to commerce and navigation by 1200 AD. When the Liga  of Mayapan disintegrated, the island belonged to the Mayan chieftainship of Ekab. 
      In the early sixteenth century, Isla Mujeres was a sanctuary dedicated to the goddess Ixchel (goddess of weaving, happiness, Moon, wealth and medicine, among other virtues).  Young Mayan girls came to the island during the transition from childhood to adulthood and left a typical offering, a figurine in the shape of a female. 
      In 1517,  Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba left Cuba  with three ships. The pilot was Antón de Alaminos, an experienced sailor who had served under Christopher Columbus. On this island, inside a building of stone, they found some gold objects and hundreds of figurines representing the Mayan goddesses: Ixchel, Ix Chebel Yax, Ixbunic (Ix Hun Ye Ton), Ixbunieta (Ix Hun Ye Ta). Because of this discovery, the Spanish named it Isla de Mujeres/Isle of Women. Shortly after the outbreak of the Caste War in the Yucatan, Mayan and Yucatecan fishermen came to the island and founded the town of Dolores in 1850. (Our historian, Fidel Villanueva Madrid says the settlers learned to be fishermen after they moved here & had previously earned their livings via agriculture, mostly.)
     The Spaniard Fermin Mudaca (sic) de Marecheaga, who known as a pirate and slave trader, had fled to the island after being pitted against British ships in 1860. He occupied 40% of the total territory of the island, on the southern part, and founded the Hacienda Vista Alegre. The hacienda established organized agriculture and animal husbandry on the island, thus consolidating a permanent population on Isla Mujeres. By the late nineteenth century, the island had a population of 651 inhabitants and a defined urban area.
Photos & Drawings below from the 1880's by Augustus & Alicia le Plongeon

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