Friday, November 15, 2019

Campeche's Hacienda Uayamón

Arched portales of the hacienda's henequen mill, seen through jungle foliage. Hacienda Uayamón is one of Campeche's oldest and most important plantations. As anyone who follows my blog well knows, I am very interested in Mexico's old haciendas. So, I made it a point to stop here while we were looking for ancient Maya ruins near Campeche. In 1997, the ruins of Hacienda Uayamón were transformed into a boutique hotel. It has a nice restaurant, so we decided to have lunch there. There were no other restaurant customers or hotel guests, so we the entire place to ourselves. After our meal, I was able to wander around and take photographs to my heart's content without any pesky tourists walking through my shots.


Hacienda Uayamón is located not far outside of the city of Campeche. The drive takes you 21km (13mi) southeast of the city through an area that is a mixture of lush farmland and deep jungle. During our visit to the state of Campeche, all the roads we traveled in the state were well-paved and maintained except those in the most remote areas. Unlike some other areas of Mexico we have visited, directional signs in Campeche are generally plentiful and accurate.

The Maya word Uayamón means "where the spirit descends" or "place where sorcerers go down." Jungles have always seemed mysterious to me, so I'll go with the definition about the sorcerers. An access road leads from the #60 highway through the forest to the hacienda. The map above is a screenshot from this Google map, which you can use for a more detailed look at the area.

View of the casa grande from the beautifully landscaped parking area. In the photo above, the casa grande appears to be painted a bright yellow. This is an illusion, however, created to by the bright mid-day sunshine. In subsequent photos, you will see that it is actually more of a rust-orange. We had no reservations and no one knew we were coming, so I was uncertain of the welcome we might receive. I should have known better than to worry. In Mexico, the expression "mi casa is  su casa" (my home is your home) is taken seriously. We were greeted graciously and given free run of the place.

View of the casa grande from the right. It sits at the end of a long grassy courtyard, with an old mill and an administrative building bordering either side. Both were in ruins. Above, a staircase leads up between two guest rooms to a dining area on a terrace-arcade with arched portales. The flat roofs of the two guest rooms are miradors (viewpoints) from which the whole front courtyard can be viewed.

Hacienda Uayamón was founded in the mid-1500s, not long after the conquest of the Yucatan Peninsula. During the 1600s, Spain's settlements along the Gulf and Caribbean Coasts were plagued by pirate attacks. The old colonial city of Campeche is still surrounded by walls and fortifications built to resist these depredations. Hacienda Uayamón did not escape these attacks unscathed.

Along the right side of the front courtyard are the ruins of the old mill. People unacquainted with old haciendas often assume the term refers to a grand old home. However, the word hacienda comes from the Spanish verb hacer, which means to make or do something. Therefore the term refers to a whole economic operation, usually a ranch or farm, but sometimes a mine.

A hacienda's economic focus often changed over the centuries, as new markets opened up. This was true of Hacienda Uayamón. During the latter part of the 16th century, large-scale cattle ranching was the focus. However, over the next 400 years, corn, sugarcane, henequen and .Palo Campeche, or "dye stick" were added to its mix of products.

Dye stick was one of the most lucrative. It comes from the logwood tree (Haematoxylum campechianum) and produces a brilliant red-orange dye. The Spanish first encountered Palo Campeche in 1540, when they conquered the Maya city of Kin Pech (Campeche). When the new dye was imported into Europe, it revolutionized the 16th century textile trade.

Along the left side of the courtyard stands an elegant building. Its position and structure suggest that it may have contained the hacienda administrator's offices and possibly his residence. Hacendados (hacienda owners) often did not reside permanently on their properties, which were usually quite rustic in the early centuries. Usually they lived in plush mansions in the nearest large town or city. An administrator was employed to live on-site and run the day-to-day operations.

The building seen above was constructed in the late 19th century, when Hacienda Uayamón was at the height of its wealth and power. Only a couple of decades later, the hacienda system in Mexico was overthrown by the Revolution. The brutal economic and social exploitation on which the system depended was destroyed and most of these old estates fell into ruins. Some of them, like this one, have gained a new lease on life from enterprising new owners who restore the old structures and refashion them into hotel/resorts.

La Casa Grande

The casa grande, seen from the roof-top mirador of one of the guest rooms in front. While many of its architectural details seem accurate, it is unclear to me how much of the structure above is original and how much is the product of the 1997 restoration by Mexican architect Luis Bosoms Creixell. In any case, haciendas often underwent changes, restorations, and enhancements over the centuries. The early structures were simple adobe, later upgraded to rough-cut stone, and then elegant brick.

casa grande was more than just the hacendado's residence. It was the nerve center of the operation and often included offices, meeting rooms, and a tienda de raya (company store). Sometimes, there was even a jail for workers who were insubordinate or who were recaptured after running away from debts owed to the hacendado. The owner and his family would have elegant apartments in the casa grande, for use during their periodic visits to the property.

The mirador, viewed from the terrace of the casa grande. In the background you can see the ruins of the old mill. The small, horse-shoe shaped structure on the front wall of the mirador is a campanario, where a bell once hung. Few workers had clocks or watches, so bells were used to alert them at the beginning and end of their workday. The bells could also warn of dangers such as fire or the approach of potentially hostile strangers.

From the late 16th century through the beginning of the 18th, the city of Campeche and its hinterlands were repeatedly raided by pirates. One of the greatest of these buccaneers was Laurens de Graff, known to the Spanish as Lorencillo. He was a Dutch privateer, working for the French in their war against the Spanish.

Privateers were essentially businessmen who contracted with governments to attack an enemy power's shipping in return for a share of the captured loot. Pirates, on the other hand, had no government association and shared their profits with no one but their fellow crew members. As his career progressed, de Graff decided to freelance as a straightforward pirate. In 1685, he seized the city of Campeche and held it for two months. During this time he sacked Hacienda Uayamón. Although he secured provisions for his forces, he found little in the way of treasure.

The terrace restaurant overlooks the front courtyard. Carole and I were the only lunch customers at the time. The white columns and rough vigas (ceiling beams) indicate that this is probably part of the original pre-restoration hacienda. The food was as elegant as the setting. After our lunch, I left Carole to enjoy the terrace view and went inside to photograph the interior.

This large dining room faces the rear patio. The structure of this room suggests that it may once have been a rear terrace. Its transformation into a large dining room was probably part of the 1997 restoration. Hacendados usually had large families, so big dining rooms are common features of casas grandes. Others dining with the family might include key employees, such as the hacienda's administrator, a priest assigned to the chapel, or a teacher employed to educate the hacendado's children. In addition there were occasional guests.

Haciendas also functioned as way-stations along roads leading to the interior. Travelers might stop for the night, enlivening dinner conversations with news  of the outside world. In the mid-19th century, early archeologists John Stephens and Frederick Catherwood were welcomed at haciendas all over the Yucatan Peninsula during their expeditions to find ancient Maya ruins.

A library with a checkerboard tile floor is just off the front terrace. Notice the small writing desk built into the middle of the bookshelves. Usually, the only literate people on a hacienda were the hacendado, his family, key employees, and the occasional visitor. The Maya field workers had a deep understanding of the natural world around them, but few were literate and most had little sense of the outside world.

Most hacendados were just fine with this situation, viewing an illiterate workforce as easier to control. Fernando Carvajal Estrada was one of the more enlightened of Uayamón's hacendados. In the late-19th and early 20th centuries, he sponsored a school for his workers and their families and even provided them with on-site medical services.

A smaller, more intimate dining room might be used for family-only meals. In the early centuries, hacienda furniture was made on-site from local materials by resident carpenters. The result would have been far more rustic than the elegant set seen above. As haciendas became more established and connected to the outside world, stylish furniture was often imported from abroad. 

When railroads were introduced in the last half of the 19th century, luxury goods became much cheaper and more easily obtained. In fact, the benefits of railroad transportation moved in both directions. Fernando Carvajal Estrada was one of the key promoters of the Campechano Railroad, which revolutionized the economics of haciendas like Uayamón. Suddenly, getting products to market took hours, rather than days or even weeks. As a result, hacienda profits skyrocketed, allowing the importation of even more luxury goods.

A circular seating area is located in the rear patio of the casa grande. This structure puzzled me at first. Then I remembered a horse-powered grinding process that I have observed in Oaxaca. In that case, the horse was grinding up maguey piñas to make mescal liquor. I believe that the structure above is the remnant of a similar process for grinding the hacienda's maiz. The animal would have been harnessed to the post. As it trudged around the circle, it would have ground the maiz by propelling a large millstone inside the circular space that is now filled with water. 

Seashells are thickly embedded in the ring surrounding the pond. At first, I assumed that the seashells were some sort of decorative element added in modern times. Upon further research, I discovered that seashells have long been used as aggregate to help bind concrete. Since the Gulf Coast is less than 20 miles away, a plentiful supply would have been available to those who built the horse-powered mill. After the hacienda was restored as a hotel, the old mill became the seating area we see today.

Raised-bed gardens produce food for the guests. While produce can easily be purchased elsewhere and brought to Uayamón, vegetables and herbs freshly picked from its own gardens make the hotel's meals especially tasty. In earlier times, growing your own food was not just desirable, but essential.

Haciendas were often located in areas some distance from external supplies. What takes a mere 30 minutes drive on today's asphalt highways would have required a whole day by horse or wagon along jungle trails in the 19th century. Haciendas attempted to be as self-sufficient as possible. In addition to a vegetable garden, there was usually an orchard to produce fresh fruit for the owner's table. 

El Molino

Ruins of el molino (the mill) where henequen was processed in the 19th and early 20th centuries. However, in the 16th and 17th centuries, cattle ranching was the main economic focus at Hacienda Uayamón. This was largely due to the population crash caused by Spanish diseases, from which the native people had little resistance. Cattle ranching was much less labor-intensive than farming. 

During the 17th century, Don Francisco de Cisero built the hacienda's cattle operation into one of the largest in Campeche. In addition to being a rich hacendado, Don Francisco was Colonel of the White Militia and a politician. By the beginning of the 18th century, the labor supply had rebounded somewhat and Uayamón began to raise maiz (corn) on a large scale. 

Chimney of the henequen mill. It may also have served during the time when sugar was one of Uayamón's main cash crops. Tall chimneys like this are typical features of hacienda mills. Sugar was one of the earliest cash crops in Spain's New World possessions. Cultivation was initiated first in the Caribbean islands and then on the mainland after the Conquest of the Aztec Empire in 1521. Hernán Cortez himself owned a very large sugar hacienda near Cuernavaca in the early 16th century. 

However, the conquest of Yucatan took much longer than that of central Mexico. Consequently, Spanish settlement of the Peninsula's interior was much more gradual. Along with the indigenous population crash, this probably accounts for the delay in adopting sugar as a cash crop at Uayamón. In fact, it was not until the second half of the 18th century that sugar became important to the hacienda.

The base of the chimney contains a plaque with the owner's name and the date of construction. Rafael Carvajal Iturralde bought the hacienda in the mid-19th century and was the owner when the mill was built in 1895. He came from a wealthy and illustrious family. His father, José Segundo Carvajal, had been the Governor of Yucatan in 1831. Rafael followed his father's footsteps and served as Governor from 1850-1853. By 1877, Rafael had made Uayamón the second richest hacienda in Yucatan. Rafael's son, Fernando Carvajal Estrada, was the hacendado who promoted the railroad from Campeche, brought electricity to the hacienda, and provided a school and hospital for his workers.

Inside the mill, graceful arches support an internal wall. I never fail to be impressed by the artistry used in constructing old structures like this, even when they are to be used for purely utilitarian purposes. The production of sugar requires a large number of field hands for planting, cultivation, and harvesting. In addition, highly skilled factory workers and technicians are required to operate the mill's machinery. By the time Uayamón started into the sugar business, Mexico had won its independence. The technicians would have been educated Mexicans with a smattering of Europeans.

In colonial times, many sugar mill workers were African slaves. Interestingly, the colonial Spanish found that the Africans they imported to the New World were particularly good at sugar mill work and favored them over indigenous workers. In some cases, they even used their African slaves as foremen over non-slave indigenous work crews. The last of Mexico's slaves were freed in 1829 and, after that date, the mill workers at Uayamón would have been free men, whether of African descent or not.

View through an internal window and external door into the courtyard. The red building across the courtyard is the administrative building. Today, the interior of the mill is only a hollow shell of what was once an intensely busy area. Still, I found it very photogenic with its arched doors and windows and other interesting architectural touches. 

Henequen (Agave fourcroydes lemaire) was Uayamón's other major cash crop. The fibre from the leaves of this plant has been used since pre-hispanic times to make rope, sandals, hammocks, and various textiles. In 1831, an American named Cyrus McCormick invented a mechanical reaper to harvest wheat. The machine baled the wheat straw with wire in a process that was much quicker than could be done by hand. 

Trial and error proved that henequen twine was much superior to metal wire, since it was less likely to become entangled in the machine. Since the Yucatan Peninsula was the only source of henequen at the time, haciendas producing it became immensely wealthy. McCormick's company  (today's International Harvester Corporation) was the world's largest purchaser during the great henequen boom of 1860 to 1910. At the time, henequen was called oro verde ("green gold").

Rafael Carvajal Iturralde's name also appears over the arches of the administration building. The date 1891 displayed on the building indicates that, like the mill, it was constructed during the height of the henequen boom. In addition to external demand, other factors helped create the boom. In 1847, the Maya Caste War erupted. One of the causes was the sugar industry's displacement of maiz, which the Maya considered sacred. In the conflict, the sugar industry was nearly destroyed. Ironically, this freed up labor for the emerging henequen industry. Later in the 19th century, a Mexican named Manuel Cecilio Villamor y Armendáriz invented a mechanical henequen shredder, which further increased production. 

However, when the Mexican Revolution broke out in 1910, the hacendados' good times came to an end. Although Fernando Carvajal Estrada was an enlightened employer for his time, elsewhere the Maya workers had been brutally exploited by the hacendados producing henequen, who were known as henequeneros. During the bitter fighting that occurred around Campeche, Hacienda Uayamón was occupied and its henequen machinery destroyed. 

The turmoil in the Yucatan Peninsula led to the planting of henequen in other parts of the world, causing prices to fall. Then, during the years following the Revolution, the government broke up Mexico's great haciendas and redistributed their lands to the campesinos (farm workers). By the early 1920s, the great henequen haciendas were in serious decline and many, including Uayamón, fell into ruins. 

This completes my posting on Hacienda Uayamón. I hope you enjoyed it and, if so, you will leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below or email me directly.

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Hasta luego, Jim