Sisal in the Yucatan Peninsula

Sisal was grown on large estates (or haciendas) in the northern part of the Yucatan peninsula. The maguey cactus grows throughout the tropics around the world. Industrial machinery from Europe allowed the cactus to be stripped on an industrial scale. For forty years immense fortunes were made by the Spanish-descendent land owners who exploited the Mayan Indians who worked on these estates. After the Mexican revolution, in the 1920s, the nationalization and redistribution of land sisal haciendas began their decline. Until the early 1970s, many haciendas were stilling producing sisal -- was my first trip to the Yucatan. By 2004, only a little sisal is still being produced for the handicraft market. Today, Brazil, Kenya, Tanzania, and Madagascar continue to be significant exporters of sisal.
Study this material: Let's visit a working hacienda (in 1970, when I first went to Mexico) and a well-preserved historic hacienda (in 2004, from my second visit to the Yucatan). The Mayan Indians continue to live very differently. The wealth from sisal was displayed in Merida, the major city of the Yucatan peninsula. Visit Merida's mansion district.

1) Visit the web site of Hacienda Yaxcopoil.
2) Many former haciendas are now for sale as hotels or private homes: check out the photos by one realtor.

Land reform in Mexico, as elsewhere, eliminated or decreased the importance of the historic landed gentry and replaced them with capitalist farmers while the peasants, even if they received some land, in the form of ejoidos in Mexico, were left behind.

UW-Eau Claire Seal


Created by Ingolf Vogeler on 1 February 1996; last revised on 24 September 2010.