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Hacienda tokens from Yucatán (introduction)

Haciendas developed late in Yucatán compared with the rest of Mexico because of geographical, ecological and economical reasons, particularly the poor quality of the soil and lack of water to irrigate farms. Commonly the farms were initially used exclusively for cattle ranching, with a low density of labour, becoming over time maize-growing estates in the north and sugar plantations in the south, before finally becoming henequen estates. One of the regions of Yucatán which had produced maize but evolved into the henequen industry is the area adjoining and near to Mérida, where haciendas were established along the main roads and the highway to Campeche.  By the 19th century, the hacienda henequenera developed on a wider scale throughout Yucatán, particularly in the north-central region, where the soil was better suited for the cultivation of henequen.

"Haciendas henequeneras" refers to estates in the Yucatán which were created during the 19th century when the henequen industry began. During the development of this industry, "the traditional land-owning families, owners of latifundia, encomiendas, and estancias, whose prestige came from the colonial period, demonstrated a mysterious ability to adapt to the changing economic order." They were part of "a group of 20 or 30 industrialists, who concentrated land ownership, were able to produce 50% of the henequen, control about 90% of its trade and, of course, direct the regional political destinies; in other words, they formed an oligarchy," also known as the divine caste, whose members forged "untold fortunes, placing them among the richest men in the Americas.Elsie Montiel, Yucatán's Green Gold, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México."

John Kenneth Turner, pointed out that the families belonging to the Yucatecan oligarchy,

lived in expensive palaces in Mérida and many of them have houses abroad. They travel a lot, generally speak several languages, and they and their families are a very cultivated class of people. The entire Yucatan Peninsula depends on [them]. Naturally, these men control the political machinery of their state, and naturally operate the machinery for their own benefit. Turner, John Kenneth Turner, Barbarous Mexico, 1910.

Gilbert Joseph, described the families that made up this oligarchy as a group that:

They confidently made their way through an army of waiters waiting for them with bowed heads to the roulette tables of the Casino di San Remo in Italy, rubbing shoulders with Peruvian magnates in the silver industry, Argentine cattle ranchers and American steel industrialists. French lessons became a trend in the most select circles of local society and, at least once a year, a team of dressmakers and milliners from Paris visited Mérida to take orders from the most distinguished ladies. Yucatecans made sure to polish their newly acquired language skills and show off their fashion splendor abroad, while local social columnists faithfully reported their European triumphs.Gilbert Michael Joseph, ed., Revolution from Without: Yucatán, Mexico, and the United States, 1880-1924 ,1988, Duke University Press .

The hacienda henequenera required large staffing for the cultivation of the fields, as well as, the development and maintenance of industrial processes, such as shredding the leaves. Previous to the emergence of the henequen industry, landowners lived in Mérida and treated their landholdings as occasional retreats. With the emergence of henequen and the wealth it produced, the farms were transformed into haciendas which typically had a grand manor house, the machine house, and a chapel. Because a large population was needed to take care of the properties, workers were provided with housing and the amenities of a community. The foreman usually has his own home, and there were storage buildings, the hydraulics or pump house, a school, an infirmary, a store, the stables and a jail.

Servants on the estates lived in a situation that was very similar to that of the bonded serfdom of the peasants of medieval Europe. They were not slaves, as they retained some civil rights, but they were not free, as they were bound to the land, forced to serve against their will, and in the absence of any type of currency at the governmental level were paid in these hacienda tokens, which could only be exchanged for goods on the hacienda or at the "company store" (tienda de raya).

The majority of these tokens do not have a monetary value but refer to certain tasks:

Pencas (leaves}: a hard-working peon could cut and scrape from 1,500 to 2,500 pencas in a day. But 2,000 pencas was only 50 centavos for a full day’s wages.

Hijos (sons) was the name given to the chupones (suckers) which sprout at the base of the henequen plant. These were removed by peons to be transplanted to form new henequen fields.

Mecate chapeo was 400 square metres of land cleared of weeds and cleaned

Acarreo was cartage probably for a load of 1000 pencas.

Although national legislation, such as Porfirio Díaz' laws of 10 May 1886 and 25 March 1905, prohibited the use of such vales, this was ignored with impunioty. However, with the Revolution, the governot Toribio V. de los Santos ablolished peonage, and the payment in tokens, in his decree of 8 February 1915.

Most of the information on these Yucatán issues comes from the works of Rene G. Bagundo CrespoRene G. Bagundo Crespo, Monetaria Particularia Particular de la Peninsula de Yucatán and Exonumía de la Península de Yucatán, both {available in the USMexNA online library. I have relied on him for the location of haciendas.