Today, I took a two hour drive south-east of Mérida. Along the way, I saw abandoned mansions and large fields of agave, a type of cactus plant. This is all that remains of an important time in México’s history.
At Sotuta de Peón, I got to explore a fully restored hacienda. The word hacienda has two meanings. First, it is an estate or large piece of land. Second, it can also be a factory or plantation that is located on a large estate.
The history of haciendas began when Spanish explorers came to the New World. To convince nobles and other powerful people to travel to México, the Spanish government would sometimes give them large pieces of land perfect for farming and raising livestock.
The 1800s to early 1900s was the busiest time for the haciendas.To keep up with all of the farm and factory work, the owner of the hacienda had a large staff. Most hacienda workers were native people. Some haciendas had more than 100 employees and their families lived with them on the estate. This created a major source of income for hacienda owners who shipped their goods back to Europe.
Most haciendas were closed in the early 1900s, during the Mexican Revolution. Many of them became abandoned. But, over the last 10 to 20 years, many have been restored to be used as hotels and restaurants. Hacienda Sotuta de Peón has been restored to look and operate as it did in 1900.
Each hacienda focused on growing one crop or material. In the Yucatán, henequén meant big money! Also called green gold, henequén is a natural fiber that comes from agave leaves. It is used to make rope and twine. Be sure to see the video of the process that turns these leaves into the final product!
From 1880 – 1916, the Yucatán had about 200 factories for producing henequén. In the 1950s, synthetic fiber was invented and henequén production slowed down. Today, there are fewer than 20 plantations that produce henequén. I’m glad that there are some people who still prefer using natural products over synthetic ones.