>> Thursday, February 25, 2010
From a post on the blog Gorbman.com
Henequen represents slavery, rope, the conquest, heavy labor, and haciendas. It is, of course, the plant and fiber produced on most of the the huge haciendas of Yucatan. Henequen, a type of agave, is uniquely suited to northern Yucatan’s rocky, torrid terrain. It takes at least five years for a henequen plant to mature on its own (there are chemical ways to accelerate this) to the point that the leaves are fibrous and useful. The plant is sterile; it does not reproduce on its own. As it is dying, at about the age of twenty, it shoots off seven baby plants, which are gathered and cultivated.
The Maya, of course, were using henequen hundreds of years before the Spanish got to Yucatan. They used the fibers for string and clothing. But the Spanish mechanized production and shipped henequen products and fiber all over the world, making Yucatan one of the wealthiest states of Mexico by the early 1800s.
Maya towns were built up to serve the haciendas. Haciendas were similar to American southern plantations in that they had closed monetary systems and horrendous work practices. Owners supplied housing (so to speak), access to medical care (truly so to speak) and other amenities, to keep workers close. The company store sold food with “money” earned from field labor. If a man incurred a debt, such as a medical one, upon his death, the debt was transferred to his son. This was slavery, or at the very best, indentured servitude.
These haciendas are the origin of the old money of the Yucatan. They were hugely profitable.