Sunday, August 28, 2011

Exporing Jalisico's old haciendas: Part 3, the small city of Etzatlán

A busy afternoon at Etzatlán's Plaza de Antonio Escobedo I. Danza. In the background, the steeples of the Templo de la Purisima Concepción rise against the sky. My hiking buddies Jerry, Chuck, and Lee accompanied me on a visit to this small city about an hour's drive west of Guadalajara. It's about the same driving time, or a possibly bit more, from my home in Ajijic on Lake Chapala. Etzatlán lies in the heart of Jalisco's old hacienda country. The town once served as a hacienda supply point, and also as a transit point on the road from the old colonial port of San Blas to Guadalajara and other points in the interior. To locate Etzatlán on a Google map, click here.

In the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs, Ezatlán means "place of the Itzás". The first Spanish arrived in 1524 under Don Francisco Cortés de San Buenaventura, a close relative of Hernán Cortés. They found a community of about 19,000 people led by a chieftain named Coyula. The Spanish believed that the people were a mixture of Toltec and Aztec. They mistakenly connected them to the Itzá, a Maya people who built Chichen Itzá in faraway Yucatan. Hernán Cortés, in his letters to the King of Spain, described the community his relative Fransico had discovered as Itzatlán. However, it is unlikely the people Don Fransico found were Itzás because Chichen Itza is more than 1945km (1208mi) southeast of what Cortés called Itzatlán. Further, several centuries before Cortés' time, the Itzá tribe had abandoned Chichen Itzá and retreated even further away to northern Guatemala, making the connection even more unlikely. At any rate, the name stuck and eventually evolved into present-day Etzatlán.

Two of my compañeros on this adventure. Jerry (left) and Chuck (right) have accompanied me on numerous hikes and adventures. They immediately volunteered when I suggested a expedition to locate and explore some of Jalisco's old haciendas. On the way to Etzatlán, we stopped off at ex-Hacienda San Isidro Mazatepec (see Part 2 of this series). By the time this picture was taken, the old hacienda home and most of the other plaza structures had been repainted to the light green you see above.

A couple of conquistador brothers, Juan and Pedro Escárcena, were granted the first encomiendas over the indigenous people in the area of Etzatlán. The encomienda system was a form of slavery that became the preferred method of controlling the colonial-era hacienda labor force. A couple of years later, Franciscan friars Andres de Córdoba and Francisco Lorenzo arrived to instruct the local people in Catholicism, a requirement of the encomienda grant. When the greedy and murderous Nuño Bentran de Guzmán showed up in 1530, he tried to get the Escárcena brothers and the Franciscans to agree that the area should fall under his jurisdiction. Loyal to Francisco Cortés, they refused. Beltran de Guzmán hung around for awhile, hoping the depredations of his army would force an indigenous uprising that would justify his intervention. Juan Escárcena outsmarted him by telling the people to flee into the mountains rather than fight. In frustration, Beltran de Guzmán departed to carry out his murderous rampages elsewhere.

Templo de la Purísima Concepción was originally built by the Franciscans. The beautiful old church was closed when we visited, so I don't have any interior photos. However, a couple of important artifacts are said to be inside. One is the first carved stone baptismal font ever crafted by indigenous people for the Spanish. The other is a 16th Century crucifix made by the Cerda brothers of Patzcuaro, with a corn stalk paste image of Jesus. My friends and I were charmed by the colorful old town. At the time we had very little information about Etzatlán, so we began to poke around, seeing what we could find.

Construction on the church began in 1527, only 3 years after Don Francisco arrived. Eminent Franciscan Fray Martin de Jesús got the ball rolling and other Franciscans supervised its construction using encomienda labor. According to early records recently discovered in the Vatican, when the Spanish arrived, they found palaces, a ball court, and temples. The church is built on the foundation of one of those temples. Local legend has it has it that there are tunnels leading from the homes of prominent colonial parishoners to the church. By 1534, the indigenous congregation had grown, but the newly Christianized people were so harassed by a warlike tribe of Chichimecs called the Coan, that recently-arrived Captain Diego Vasquez was forced to intervene militarily on their behalf. In 1537, Etzatlán was granted the title of "town".

In front of Purísimo de la Concepción are 4 statues of early Franciscans. The one above is Fray Juan Calero of Seville, Spain who died in nearby Atliltic, Jalisco on the 5th of June, 1541. He was one of several local priests killed in the Mixtón War, an indigenous uprising resulting from the cruelties of Beltran de Guzmán, and the injustice of the encomienda system. The church seen behind Fray Calero is the Capilla de Santa Cuevita (Chapel of the Virgin of the Holy Cave), built in 1825-1826 by the brothers Manuel and Jose Maria Ramos. It is one of only two such chapels in Mexico devoted to the Virgin of the Holy Cave.

In 1540, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado set off in his ill-fated quest to find the fabled "Seven Cities of Cibola", supposedly built with gold. His expedition through the Southwest US and into Kansas stripped the defenses of Nueva Galicia (present-day Jalisco), and left it in a weakened condition in the face of rising unrest among the indigenous people. When the Mixtón revolt erupted, it nearly overwhelmed the Spanish and resulted in a siege of Guadalajara so severe that the commander, Captain Cristóbal de Oñate, was forced to appeal to Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza for help. With the assistance of Aztec and Tlaxcalan mercenary troops, the Viceroy finally managed to crush the rebellion. Spanish could never have held New Spain (modern Mexico) without the collaboration of such indigenous allies. Ironically, for all the damage his absence caused, Coronado found no gold and died bankrupt in Mexico City.

Bordered by gracefully arched portales, a shady walkway runs along one side of the plaza. The steeple of La Purísima de la Concepción rises in the background. The building lined by the portales appears to be occupied by government offices.

In 1542, Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza visited Etzatlán and the local indigenous people greeted him warmly. Most of them had not been involved in the Mixtón unpleasantness and perhaps they were happy they had escaped the fate of those who lost the struggle to lift the Spanish yoke. In 1543, Captain Cristóbal de Oñate discovered silver in the area, setting off a mining boom that lasted well into the 20th Century. The ruins of the Amparo mine and several others can be found within a few miles of Etzatlán. While silver mining enriched the haciendados who ran the mines, along with the Spanish Crown, it was a disaster for those indigenous people drafted as miners under the encomienda system. They often worked  until the day they died. They worked in sweltering holes deep underground  from before sunup to well past dark. They often never saw daylight again from their first day at the mine until the day they died.

A young boy clutching a book races along past the portales. Probably late again. We were impressed at how prosperous, and well-scrubbed everything in Etzatlán looked. Clearly the people in this community have a lot of pride in their public areas.

In 1677, 153 years after Don Francisco Cortés arrived, the indigenous people of Etzatlán finally caught a break, at least in a small way. Governor Francisco Romero of New Galicia prohibited branding the foreheads of indigenous people with a hot iron. Such branding had been a routine practice since the early days of the Conquest. Little else changed as decades, then centuries, rolled by.

Old, yet not out of date. An ancient stone water trough seemed anachronistic on the sidewalk next to the shiny new cars parked at the curb. However, I remembered that horsemen are still common on the streets in these old towns, and horses get thirsty too.

Suddenly, with the outbreak of the War of Independence in 1810, things began to change. A local priest, Cura José Maria Mercado seized Etzatlán for the rebels with a group of 50 men. He encountered no resistance, and proceeded on to the Pacific Coast port of San Blas in an attempt to stop the escape of the Spanish. Later that year, Father Miguel Hidalgo, the first great hero of the Independence War, passed through the Etzatlán area on his way to Guadalajara. At about this time, the energetic Cura Mercado took Tepic with 200 men. In January of 1811, the body of the Cura was found in a canyon outside of San Blas, apparently betrayed to the Spanish. The Royalists took further revenge on Cura Mercado's family by arresting his father, José, in Etzatlán. He was hanged in San Blas for the crime of having a rebel son. Things seem to have quieted down in Etzatlán after that, and not much of note happened there during the rest of the War of Independence.

Many Mexican woman carry umbrellas for shade against the brilliant sun. The store this woman is passing apparently sells everything from plastic buckets to balls. Plazas in Mexico usually have a church on one side, a government building on another, and the remaining two sides are filled with small shops like this, along with restaurants and ubiquitous ice cream parlors.

After the end of the War of Independence in 1821, Etzatlán, like the rest of Mexico, was torn with conflicts--called the Reform War--over the proper form of government. Nationally, the conservatives wanted a continuation of the old, highly centralized Spanish model, with the lower classes tightly controlled, and wealth and power in the hands of the elite. The conservative base included the haciendados, the military, and the clergy. The liberals wanted a federal republic, similar to that in the United States, with power decentralized to the state governments, freedom of speech and the press, and a reduction in the power of the Catholic Church. Oddly, both factions became identified with Masonic lodges, the conservatives with the Scottish Rite branch, and the liberals with the York Rite. These lodges became the basis for the early Mexican political parties. Initially, the federalists won the argument when the Constitution of 1824 was written. However, this was followed by conservative revolts and liberal counter-revolts from 1824 until 1876 when Porfirio Diaz took power and established a 30 year dictatorship. All during this time, control of Etzatlán see-sawed between the York Rite/ federalist/ liberals and Scottish Rite/ centralist/ conservatives.

Plaza Antonio Escobedo I. Danza was named after an Etzatlán "native-son" who became Jalisco's Governor. The original name was Plaza de Armas. According to the Vatican documents cited earlier, the plaza was built over the ancient Ball Court of the pre-hispanic city that occupied this site. The kiosco seen above, as well as the wrought-iron benches and other features, were constructed in the style popular during the Portifio Diaz era, and contributed to the city by the Government of France.

In 1846, a federalist Colonel named Santiago Felipe, based in Etzatlán, launched a revolt against the centralists. His effort succeeded in reviving federalist fortunes in Jalisco and later throughout Mexico. Twelve years later, in 1858, 15 federalists held off centralist Colonel Sánchez Román during a two-day siege. The federalists, stationed in the steeples of La Purísima Concepción and led by Norberto Cerritos, fired down on Colonel Sánchez Román's men in the plaza below. Cerritos and two other men were killed in the fighting. The struggle had become very bitter by this time. The federalists were especially angry about the Catholic Church's support for the centralists. In 1859, federalists removed the bones of the Franciscan friars martyred in the 1541 Mixtón War from La Purísima Concepción and threw them in the street.

Lee makes a connection. Lee (right) is very gregarious, as you can see above. He retired as a public employee in Texas and recently moved with his wife Cindy to Ajijic. They are thoroughly enjoying their new life, and Lee is getting a real bang out of adventures like this.

The Reform Wars, followed by the invasion of the the French and their Austrian puppet Maximilian in 1862, caused a great deal of social disruption. The victory of Benito Juarez in 1867 resulted in the demobilization of thousands of soldiers. Many of these took to banditry out of boredom or as a way to support themselves. They preyed on the haciendas and silver mines to such an extent that in 1869 the government in Guadalajara decreed the death penalty for thieves and robbers. Under the dictator Diaz, the haciendas and their owners prospered. The remains of three of these haciendas can still be found in the area around Etzatlán. Hacienda San Sebastian was built in the 17th Century. It produced mostly corn on 1000 hectares of land (1 hectare = 10,000 sq. meters). Hacienda San Rafael produced mostly livestock. Hacienda Santa Clara operated a mill to crush ore and produce silver ingots.

Flying dragons hover over the plaza. The dragons white ball lamps are another touch from the Diaz era. Mexican whimsy is often expressed in the architectural features of public areas.

The tranquility and prosperity (at least for the wealthy elite) of the Diaz period came to an end with the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution in 1910. The Revolution arrived in Etzatlán in 1913 with the Revolutionary forces (called Constitutionalists) under Julio Dominguez. They were followed shortly after by those of Constitutionalist General Alvaro Obregón. However, counter-revolutionaries under Julian Medina attacked Etzatlán in 1914 and burned the City Hall. Later that year, General Obregón returned. Etzatlán briefly became the seat of government of Constitutionalist Jalisco.  The war officially ended in 1917, but fighting continued in fits and starts until the end of the 1920s. In 1920, Etzatlán's population stood at approximately 15,000. This was 4,000 less than Don Francisco Cortés found when he arrived in 1524. Over all, Mexico lost 1 out of 7 of its people to the holocaust unleashed by the Revolution.

Relaxing in the plaza, this elderly couple was amused by my request for a photo. They were very good-natured about it and the man straightened up on his perch, not quite able to suppress a smile. His wife impishly stuck her tongue out at me when I clicked the shutter. The easy good humor of Mexico's country people make them a joy to be around.

In 1926, Mexican President Elías Calles began to strictly enforce the anti-clerical provisions of the 1917 Constitution. Some of these harkened back to the provisions enacted by Benito Juarez in the 19th Century Reform War. Church property was siezed, the numbers, movements, and activities of priests were limited, monasteries and convents were abolished, and education was secularized. Catholic reactionaries revolted in the bitter and brutal Cristero War (1926-1929). On November 11, 1926, fighting broke out in Etzatán. In 1927, government troops arrived and set up a barracks in the former convent. They remained there, as they fought the Cristeros, until the war ended in September of 1929. In the 1920s and 30s many of the old haciendas were broken up and their lands distributed to impoverished campesinos. In 1935, Etzatlán resident Everardo Topete was elected Governor of Jalisco. He was a friend to campesinos and workers, accelerating land distributions and supporting laborers when they struck for better wages and working conditions. In 1977, Etzatlán was officially recognized for its contributions to pre-hispanic, colonial, and Mexican history, and in 2006 the town inaugurated its Casa de la Cultura (Cultural Center) to highlight and celebrate these contributions.

This completes Part 3 of my 3-part series on Jalisco's haciendas. Our visit to Etzatlán, and my research for this posting has inspired me to organize another expedition to explore the haciendas, silver mines, and pre-hispanic ruins in the area, as well as to check out the various colonial buildings in the town itself. So there may ultimately be a 4th part to this series. We'll see. If you would like to leave a comment, please use the Comments section below or email me directly.

If you leave a question in the Comments section PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Exploring Jalisco's old haciendas: Part 2, San Isidro Mazatepec

An elegant entrance passage connects the town plaza with a cool, quiet courtyard. Carole and I, along with our friends Maya and Charlotte, visited the small town of San Isidro Mazatepec in search of the ex-hacienda of that same name. We not only found it, but were warmly welcomed by its current owner and her family. After 4 years exploring Mexico, I am still astonished by the friendliness and hospitality of the people we meet. This has been our consistent experience whether they are well-to-do hacienda owners or simple back-country farmers. The town of San Isidro Mazatepec is located about one hour's drive northwest of Lake Chapala. To locate it on a Google map, click here.

Mazatepec is a Nahuatl word meaning "place of the deer", a name given by the original Coca inhabitants. Deer were apparently abundant in the area centuries ago. Discoveries in the area of a variety of stone and fired-clay domestic implements indicate a long period of indigenous settlement before the Spanish arrival. The first conquistador who passed through the area was Nuño Guzman de Beltran in the 1530's. His cruelty and rapacious greed were so extraordinary that they shocked even his contemporaries, who were no slouches themselves in these matters. He founded nearby Guadalajara, but he left such a trail of destruction behind him that it ultimately resulted in his deportation to Spain in 1537, where he died in prisonThe 16th Century Franciscan friars who evangelized throughout colonial Mexico usually assigned a patron saint to local indigenous villages, in this case San Isidro. Hence, the name of the colonial hacienda that later became the nucleus of the town. 

The Plaza of San Isidro Mazatepec

The Plaza of San Isidro Mazatepec used to be the center of the hacienda complex. In the center is the obligatory kiosco, or bandstand, a 19th Century addition. Along one side of the plaza sits the lovely Iglesia de San Isidro. The original church was built in the 17th Century as part of the hacienda. Colonial haciendas were self-contained operations that included everything the haciendados needed, in this case a church. The building you see above was erected in 1893, to replace the old church. Since we visited, the church and many of the buildings around the plaza have been repainted a light shade of green. I personally prefer the previous color you see in the photo above, but who can account for taste?

The lands around Mazatepec were originally conceded by the Spanish Crown to Nuño Guzman de Beltran, but after his disgrace they passed into the hands of others. In 1550 they came into the possession of Diego Lopez, a gentleman from Seville, Spain. Later, in January of 1615, the ownership of the hacienda was transferred to a Señor Porres Baranda de Estrada by order of Alonso Pérez Merchán, who was governor and captain of the forces in the area. Apparently the Porres Baranda family owned the property for a very long time, passing it down to the eldest son--or occasionally the eldest daughter--in each generation. 

The home of the haciendados occupied the northeast corner of the plaza. The current home is just the eastern, or right side of the corner seen above. The section to the left side is now owned by others. The covered porch behind the arched portales is comfortable and shady and contains rustic chairs and tables. When I first spotted this corner, I thought it might contain a museum or other public facility, or possibly a B&B as is the case for many others of Mexico's old colonial structures. However, after looking it over, I realized that it was a private home and I retreated to avoid any possible offense to the owners. 

Under the encomienda system set up by the conquistadors with Crown approval, the indigenous people in an area became, for all practical purposes, the slaves of the haciendados. In theory, this system involved an exchange: protection from hostile tribes by the Spanish owner in return for required labor. Of course, nobody bothered to ask the indigenous people if they agreed to such an exchange. Those that resisted faced extreme punishment including death. By the end of the 17th Century, 500 of such "protected workers" labored to produce the wheat that was the primary product of Hacienda San Isidro Mazatepec at that time. 

View of the hacienda warehouse from the plaza's kiosco. Only the bottom of this two-story building is currently occupied. The second story is a hollow shell with empty windows facing the plaza like gaping eye sockets of a skull. Other than the church, this is the tallest building of those surrounding the plaza. The warehouse was the point where bushels of wheat were collected before shipment. In addition to wheat, the hacienda also produced maiz (corn), papas (potatoes), and naranjas (oranges). The plaza area was very quiet the morning we visited, and the local people looked us over with veiled curiosity. Apparently, few Gringos visit this small town. However, a brand-new four-lane highway now passes just south of San Isidro Mazatepec, part of the new route that bypasses the congestion of southern Guadalajara. More tourists could end up here, which may account for the new paint job on the plaza's buildings.

In 1700, a new owner acquired the hacienda. On April 24 of that year, the Governor Don Francisco de Niezu of Nueva Galicia (including Jalisco and parts of surrounding states) authorized the transfer of the property to Señor Gaspar Carrillo de Baeza. In May of 1706, Gaspar Carrillo concluded another deal that included 128 "indios segadores y pasajeros" (indigenous harvesters and passengers) purchased at the price of 2 reales for the harvesters and 1 for the passengers. "Passengers" may mean dependents. The indigenous workers and their families were brought to the hacienda from villages around the area. 

El Punto Café now occupies the bottom floor of the old hacienda warehouse. At first, I was baffled by the name, which I initially read as "Punt". I could find no such word in my Spanish dictionary. Then I realized the red circle made it read "Punto", which in Spanish means "point, spot, or place". Puzzle solved! El Punto was closed when we came by so I never learned whether it was a restaurant, bar, or coffee house, and whether any of the old architectural elements had been incorporated in El Punto's decor. Perhaps I will on another visit.

During the later 18th and the 19th Centuries, the hacienda was owned by the family of Señor Fernando Fernandez de Somellera. This family retained ownership until the property was purchased by the Cobián family at the beginning of the 20th Century. Señor Cobián's sons José and Joaquin actively bought and sold ranches in the area, expanding the hacienda's size and economic importance to such a degree that the railroad heading west from Guadalajara was diverted so that the hacienda could have its own station

Iglesia San Isidro Mazatepec

The interior of the church is startlingly modern in appearance. While wandering through the church I encountered a man who appeared to be the caretaker. He was very kind about allowing me to photograph the interior (this is forbidden in some churches) and explaining a little of what I saw. He indicated that, while much of the church interior had been rebuilt, the 4 pillars you see above had been retained and are the oldest architectural elements. 

There had been a chapel on the hacienda from its earliest days. Teaching Catholicism to the indigenous workers had been one of the requirements of the encomiendo system. While the Franciscans who evangelized the indigenous people may have seen it as saving their souls, such teachings also provided the ideological underpinning for the social and economic system imposed upon them. Iglesia San Isidro was under the curate of Tlajomulco, which in turn came under the Bishop of Guadalajara.

San Isidro, the patron saint of Mazatepec.  Although not a Catholic, or even a believer in religion, I have developed a fascination with the art and architecture of the old Spanish churches. There is a deep feeling in the portraits and statues. The statuary is often very realistic, sometimes including a startling amount of gore when it involves the crucifixion of Jesus or the martyrdom of a saint. I was baffled at first when I discovered that there were actually at least 3 San Isidros. 

Isidore of Chios was a Roman naval officer who was martyred in 251 AD when he confessed to his ship captain that he had become a Christian. Isidore of Seville was a bishop during the Dark Ages (560-636 AD) who managed to convert the king of the barbarian Visigoths. I finally solved the problem when I matched up the official May 15 Feast Day for Mazatepec's patron saint with Isidore the Laborer who lived in Spain from 1070-1130 AD. San Isidro (St. Isidore) is the patron saint of farmers, peasants, and day laborers, which seems to fit well with a farming hacienda. He was associated with a number of miracles, including the enlistment of angels to do his plowing so he could pray. His patron discovered this when he came to investigate whether Isidro was doing his share of the farm work after his fellow workers tried to get him in trouble. I was amazed to find that he was married to yet another saint, Maria Tobia, known as Santa Maria de la Cabeza, famed for ending droughts. After their son was miraculously saved from drowning in a well, they pledged celibacy and lived in separate houses. Isidro was canonized by Pope Gregory XV in 1622

Mailing yourself to heaven? While exploring the inside of the church, I discovered this rather odd-looking bank of what appeared to be postal boxes. Not so, said my new friend the caretaker. They are small family crypts where the ashes are kept. I stood for some time, bemused, not having ever seen anything quite like it. Actually, it probably makes a lot of sense. Why use up valuable land for burials? However, it occurred to me that the limited number of boxes probably means that only the well-to-do, or at least well-connected, would find a final resting place in this corner of the church. There is, in fact, a panteon (cemetery) at the edge of town.

A more traditional corner of the Iglesia San Isidro. I often find the side chapels of a colonial church to be the most interesting parts, and sometimes the most elaborately decorated. This chapel is to the left of the church's main entrance. The style is Neo-Classic, popular in the 19th Century.

The old Hacienda house

The porch and front entrance of the former home of the haciendados. Above, you can clearly see the graceful, column-supported arches called portales. The rust colored objects protruding from the wall above the portales are drain pipes. These are necessary for the proper runoff of rain from the traditional flat-roofed Mexican homes. The cool shade of the porch seemed especially inviting on a warm day. After my initial retreat, upon discovering that this wasn't a public building, we suddenly found ourselves invited inside. Our friend is Maya a very gregarious person. While wandering the plaza she encountered a handsome young man named Carlos Alfonso Gonzalez Sanchez. Maya is partial to handsome young men. Carlos turned out to be the son of the owner of the old hacienda house, and immediately invited Maya to visit his mother's home. When Maya mentioned she was with friends, Carlos insisted that we all come inside.

Hacienda San Isidro Mazatepec reached the summit of its economic and political power in the early 20th Century under the Cobián family. The property grew to 2760 hectares (a hectare is 10,000 square meters), one of the largest haciendas in the area. During this time, cattle became a big part of the operation, and large pastures for raising them were maintained. Apparently the Cobiáns left the running of the operation to a professional hacienda administrator. Like many absentee-haciendados, the family probably preferred life in a luxurious Guadalajara mansion, supplemented by travel in Europe. They only visited the property for brief vacations or when some business required it. 

A walkway lined with portales, facing the interior courtyard. After passing through the elegant entrance seen in the first photo of this posting, we found ourselves on an interior porch or veranda, looking through another set of portales into a large courtyard. The climate in this part of Mexico is so mild that much of life is conducted outdoors. People sit and socialize in the comfortable shade of a veranda like this, or bask in the warm sun as it bathes a large patio with light. Even during one of the summer rainstorms, this would be a nice place to sit and read a book. Decorating the long walkway inside the portales were plants, family photos, and odd sculptures like the skinny giraffe on the left. After introducing us to the owner of the house, his mother, Carlos soon disappeared to prepare for his participation in a charreada (Mexican rodeo). We will meet him again before this posting is over.

Other parts of the operation included a mill to produce brown sugar for rum, a tavern on the plaza that sold tequila, and a company store. The workers purchased tortillas, milk, and other necessities on credit from the store and paid whatever the hacienda owners demanded since there were few other options for shopping. The owners and their agents actually encouraged these debts because they bound the workers to the hacienda. The old encomienda system, along with outright slavery, had been abolished during the 1810-1821 War of Independence. The haciendados invented the company store as a method of ensuring a stable workforce through the creation of debt-slavery. Few workers were literate. Who but the haciendados or their agents could understand the books they kept, or could say what was really owed? Legally, a man could not leave the hacienda while owing it money and a man's children were responsible for his debts if he died. The haciendas could not have functioned as they did without a captive workforce. The company store was a perfect solution, for the haciendados at least.  

A broad, shady courtyard spread out just beyond the portales. From this point you are looking back toward the portales seen in the previous photo. An inviting set of wrought-iron patio furniture seemed like a perfect place to while away an afternoon. Around the sides of the courtyard were numerous rooms for visiting family members or guests. All faced onto this courtyard.

In contrast to the elegant lifestyle of the Cobián family and their administrators, the hacienda workers lived in tiny, dirt-floored, adobe huts. If the workers complained about their circumstances, the owner would tell them that they were free to leave and find work elsewhere. But, of course, they could not. Those with debts were bound to pay them off. Those few without debts were still largely stymied. Very likely, they had been born and grew up on the hacienda, as had their parents, grandparents, and so on. With little or no education, they were ignorant of the world or how to do anything but hacienda work. In addition, a worker who left without the approval of the haciendado might experience great difficulty in finding a job on neighboring properties. The haciendados knew how to stick together. For a campesino, it was much better to keep one's mouth shut, tip one's hat to the haciendado, and forget one's troubles with a few shots of tequila in the hacienda tavern. Put in on the tab, please.

Before leaving us, Carlos introduced us to his family. Carlos' mother, Ma. Nahum Gonzalez Rodriguez, is seated on the left, wearing a green blouse. Although she spoke no English, her warmth and courtesy easily crossed the language barrier. Moments after we arrived, a large party of family members suddenly arrived from Houston. We wondered if we might be intruding but everyone quickly made us feel welcome. Above, leaning on the chair behind the family matriarch, is her son Luis Miguel Sanchez Gonzalez. In the pink blouse next to him, is his sister Maria Luisa Sanchez Gonzalez. Next on the right and seated, is her husband, Oscar Alberto Mata Jiménez. I am especially indebted to Oscar for helping me with all of these rather complicated Mexican names. My apologies to anyone whose name I get wrong. Oscar and my wife Carole are examining Tony Burton's book, Western Mexico, A Traveler's Treasury, from which we located ex-Hacienda San Isidro Mazatepec. Seated, to the right of Carole, is our friend Maya. At the extreme left, also seated, is our other good friend Charlotte. The table and chairs are the famous equipale-style Mexican furniture, made from rough-cut leather and pieces of hand-carved wood. Hernán Cortéz' conquistadors remarked upon it when they first visited the Aztec capital.

Oscar and his wife Luisa. Oscar spoke excellent English and smoothly stepped in as the unofficial translator. While grateful for his help, we also tried to practice some of our slowly improving Spanish. Oscar was very kind and worked hard to make us feel welcome and answer our many questions about the old hacienda. He told us a story about the unfairness involved in hacienda's old company store. His mother-in-law mentioned a legend about buried treasure somewhere on the hacienda property, hidden to protect it from bandits or revolutionaries. When someone accidentally dropped a few pesos on the floor, I immediately claimed that it must be part of the tesoro (treasure), which drew a big laugh and further broke the ice.

Although the Cobián family managed to hang on to the hacienda through the shooting part Mexican Revolution, in 1931 a reckoning came for 500 years of exploitation under the encomienda system and the later debt-slavery scam. The hacienda was broken up and much of the land distributed to the families living there. The debt-slavery system was abolished and people could work where they wanted. Eventually the Cobián family passed from the scene and later in the 20th Century, the Gonzalez Rodriguez family came into possession of parts of the old hacienda, including the main house and the old administrator's house. The family are clearly very well-off and, judging from reactions I saw in the street, they are considered by others to be leading members of the community. However it is also clear that they are not the arrogant old haciendado elite. Those days, hopefully, are gone forever.

Sras. Nahum and Luisa chat with Charlotte on the verenda. Past them on the left are a group of family photos, many of them wedding shots. The warm, rust-colored tiles on the floor are very popular in Mexican homes. The family suggested that if we returned, we could stay in some of the many rooms that surround the patio. We all felt like honored guests, yet only a short time before we had been complete strangers. We were moved by such warmth and hospitality. Carole joked later that if we'd stayed much longer, they might have adopted us. 

Carlos' sister, dressed gorgeously in her charra outfit. This was one of the many family photos on the veranda wall. Nahum Sanchez Gonzalez was not home at the time we visited. Apparently she shares Carlos' interest in charreadas. Women used to be banned from participating in such events, but they have broken through the old barriers. There is now a special event for women's teams who perform highly skilled choreography with their horses. Such teams are called Escaramuza Charra, and there is a National Championship for them.

The Hacienda Administrator's house

The hacienda administrator's house is on the south side of the plaza, facing the church. This old mansion, now just a shell, is owned by Carlos. Oscar gave us a tour and it appears that Carlos has been doing a bit of work on the place. The lintel over the main door and the window frames are of elaborately cut stone. Clearly, the person who stayed here was a man of some importance on the hacienda.

During the last two decades of the 19th Century and the first of the 20th, Mexico's hacienda system reached its peak. This was the period of the Porfiriato, so-called because of the dictatorship of Portifio Diaz. Originally a reformer of the Liberal Party under Benito Juarez, Diaz turned conservative after achieving power in 1876. His political base was comprised of the new industrialists, foreign corporations, and the old hacienda elite. All three groups grew immensely wealthy as Diaz crushed labor strikes, brutally suppressed uprisings by the campesinos, and put down any other political opposition that surfaced. Debt laws that virtually enslaved the hacienda workers were strengthened and strictly enforced under the Diaz regime.

Front door lintel of the administrator's house. It is not clear from my research whether this building was used as a home or an office. At least one source indicates that the administrator may have used this as an office and lived in the main house, since the haciendados were so seldom present. This would have been an impressive entrance for either an office or a home.

Ironically, even as the power and wealth of their haciendas increased, fewer and fewer haciendados actually ran them or even lived on them. Instead, they hired professional administrators such as those that ran Hacienda San Isidro Mazatepec while it was owned by the Cobián family. These men (and they were always men in the Mexico of that day) were part of the growing technically-skilled middled class, and were important figures in the hacienda world. 

Railing along the ruined back porch. The rear of this property is now a stable for the family's horses. The elegance of this old stone railing harks back to an earlier era. Little details like this always fascinate me. They leave me wondering what sorts of activities may have occurred on this porch and what important figures of the time may have trod the steps.

Because of their expertise and professionalism, the hacienda administrators could move around, working for one family or another, according to how they viewed their own interests. They could demand great authority in running the hacienda's day to day operations, and keep it as long as they produced the profits that paid for the haciendados' opulent city homes and leisurely vacations in Europe. They could also demand fine accommodations for themselves on the hacienda such as the once-luxurious administrator's house at San Isidro Mazatepec. They could even live in the main house itself, as long as they made it available during the owners' infrequent visits.

A secret tunnel. This doorway, at the base of the porch stairs, leads to a blocked tunnel. The family thinks this may have been a secret passageway between the administrator's house and the main house across the plaza. Its purpose is still a mystery. Was it for a quick escape should bandits attack? Does it lead, beyond the blocked area, to a secret cache that might hold treasure?

Problems the administrators faced included raids by bandits. Some bandits were former soldiers from the innumerable wars that raged through Mexico during the 66 years between the beginning of the War of Independence in 1810 through Diaz' rise to power in 1876. Demobilized soldiers often find it difficult to settle down. Others were campesinos, who turned to banditry to make a living after being dispossessed by haciendados who had illegally seized their lands. The Revolutionary General Pancho Villa himself got his start as a bandit leader after a haciendado casually raped his sister. He hunted down and killed the culprit, then rode off to join a bandit gang in the mountains of Chihuahua. When the Revolution started in 1910, the haciendas had to deal with marauding armies from all sides. Then, from 1926-1929, there was the Cristero War, a Catholic revolt against reforms implemented by the Revolutionary government. The war was especially intense in this area of Jalisco State. True to form, after that war ended, many former Cristeros turned to banditry. Haciendas like San Isidro Mazatepec, often isolated by poor roads and long distances, had to depend on their own resources for defense and protection of valuables.

Preparing for the charreada. It seemed Carlos was not the only one getting prettied up for the charreada that afternoon. From the back porch, I spotted a couple of workers washing this magnificent animal. I don't know a lot about horses, but this one was unmistakably special. Apparently Carlos would be putting him through his paces later at the big event.

Oscar seemed to have a special affection for this horse. He spoke quietly as he stroked this beauty. I was curious about Oscar and his family and asked him why they live in Houston rather than Mexico. "It is for the children," he answered. "Things up north move much more quickly, and that is good for them." I considered this for a few moments, then responded. "I moved down here for just the opposite reason. Things move much more slowly here, and I like that."

The streets of the pueblo 

You encounter lots of horses and their riders in small Mexican towns. If the cars would disappear, it would be easy to believe you have stepped into the 19th Century. Even in Ajijic, with its heavy presence of foreigners and 1st world infrastructure, I have gotten used to the clop, clop, clop of horsemen riding by under my window on the old cobblestone streets. Although he was an older man with white hair, the rider on the golden horse above sat erect and handled his animal with the perfect ease and confidence of a lifelong horseman.

Regal disdain. I am a dog lover from way back. While strolling the streets we passed this noble-looking hound sitting in the back of a thoroughly beat-up pickup truck. From his expression and posture, he could have been sitting on a throne. I approached him with soft words, but he gave a deep rumble in the back of his throat. The message was clear: "Don't even think about putting your hand inside this truck!" I backed off, but managed to get a quick photo anyway.

Dressed in his 19th Century charro finery, Carlos talks on his 21st Century cell phone. After completing his preparations for the charreada, Carlos reappeared at last to walk us out to the plaza as we  left. I always enjoy how Mexico operates simultaneously on several different time scales. One finds modern technology utilized in ancient settings. Centuries-old traditions like the charreada continue to exist and thrive in the Space Age. As we left ex-Hacienda San Isidro Mazatepec, I reflected upon how wonderfully we had been treated by this family and hoped we would have the opportunity to see them again and perhaps return their hospitality.

This completes Part 2 of my series on Jalisco's old haciendas. I hope you have enjoyed this look into a different world and a different time. I always enjoy reader responses. If you would like to leave a comment, please do so in the Comments section below, or email me directly.

If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE include your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Exploring Jalisco's old haciendas: Part 1

Hacienda bell tower in Zapotitán de Hidalgo. The small farming community of Zapotitán de Hidalgo lies just off Highway 15, a few miles to the northwest of the city of Jocotopec, which itself lies on the western tip of Lake Chapala. Anyone who travels this way from Lake Chapala to Guadalajara will pass by the turnoff to the town soon after turning north on Highway 15 on the western outskirts of Jocotopec. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that I am fascinated by the old Mexican haciendas dotting the countryside, especially in Jalisco State where  Carole and I live. Many are in ruins. Some have structures, like the one above, that are now used by local people for other purposes. Still others are in full operation as farming/business operations just as they always have been under various owners leading back to the original conquistadors. During the spring and summer of this year, we explored several of these old sites. This is the first of a series of 3 postings that will detail the results of those visits.

The bell tower is part of one of the main hacienda structures. The exact function of this building is unclear. The bell tower and the series of arches, now bricked up, originally led me to believe it was the old hacienda church. However, there is another church in the village, the construction of which appears to be as old or older than this bulding. I have since come to the belief that this may have been the home of the haciendado, or owner of the operation. The bell tower could well have been used to signal the beginning of work, or to warn of the approach of bandits or other dangers. The arches may have been windows, or perhaps portales supported by columns along a covered walkway. The size of the building and the gracefulness of the bell tower and arches indicate to me that this was an important structure on the property. Tony Burton, author of "Western Mexico, A Traveller's Treasury", says that the Zapotitán hacienda dates from the mid-19th Century. Tony's book is an invaluable guide for locating old haciendas and much more.

Stately columns guard the entrance to a recently-planted field. The tops of the old Classical-style columns are truncated. Originally, they may have been connected by an arch. Many of the old hacienda structures have been destroyed or so altered that only by looking for details like this can you begin to imagine what the original hacienda may have looked like. Foreigners often misunderstand what is meant by the term "hacienda", thinking the word just refers to an old mansion. The word in Spanish means "place where something is done or made." They were full-blown economic operations, often fully self-sufficent, particularly in the early days. They were not all farms, and a hacienda could be built around a mine or other rural business (see my posting: Marfil's old haciendas). If it was a farm, the owners generally grew cash crops such as wheat, sugar cane, agave. Other haciendas raised livestock such as cattle, horses, or sheep. Mexican haciendas operated much like plantations of the US's pre-Civil War South. From the earliest times of the Conquest until the Revolution of 1910-1917, haciendados possessed major economic and political power in Mexico. Their owners formed the core of the old conservative elite. They achieved the height of their power and influence during the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz (1876-1910). 

High, thick walls surrunded some of the property. The archway above leads out from the courtyard where I took the photo and into the village plaza where the local tianguis, or open market, was then underway. Many old haciendas have fortresslike aspects. The thickness of these walls was impressive and led me to conclude that they were prompted by raids of indigenous tribesmen or bandits. All is peaceful in modern Zapotitán, which is inhabited by about 3000 people, 2/3 of them adults. There are about 20 indigenous people (as opposed to mestizo or mixed) living here, and 5 of them still speak an indigenous language. The local people are mostly farmers, raising corn, sorghum, strawberries, chile, garbanzo beans, and agave. It is unclear what happened to Hacienda Zapotitán de Hidalgo but most likely it was broken up during or after the Revolution of 1910-1917, and the land distributed to the hacienda's former workers. The hacienda system in many cases was little better than the slave system of American's Old South. After the 1810 War of Independence, slavery was formally abolished in Mexico, but haciendados found other ways to bind their workers to the soil. One popular method was the hacienda store. Workers had little opportunity to travel to town to purchase goods, so they bought them on credit from the haciendado's store. Since the workers seldom knew how to read or write, the only ones who really knew the amounts owed were the haciendado or his agents. If the workers tried to leave, they could be arrested for abandoning their "debts." If they became too ill to work or died, their children became responsible for the debts, and so the system continued seamlessly through the 19th and into the 20th Centuries. 

Templo de Zapotitán de Hidalgo. This old church is the one whose presence on the plaza led me to believe that the first structure I showed was the haciendado's house. For a look inside the Templo, click here. The building's flying buttresses show a Gothic style. This style was popular in the late medieval Spain through the 16th Century, and was imported to Nueva Galicia (the Jalisco area) from there. Notice the streamers above the door, leftovers from a recent fiesta. A great many of the small towns in Jalisco grew up out of the ruins of the haciendas. The old buildings often became public offices, small tiendas (stores), or were divided up into living spaces. The former hacienda workers became the town residents and life went on--but without its feudal superstructure. 

Old-style stonework lends another clue. Many of the walls of early Mexican buildings were constructed with jumbles of uncut stones mixed with pebbles, as you can see above. The fiesta streamers are in the colors of the Mexican flag, demonstrating once again the close historical relationship between church and state. The Revolution brought about a strict separation that, when enforced, resulted in the eruption of the Cristero War of 1926-29. Raging all through the Jalisco area, the war was named for the battle cry of the rebels "Viva Cristo Rey" (Long live Christ the King). After the war, many unemployed Cristeros devolved into banditry. This may have resulted in considerable clanging of the bell in the tower of the Zapotitán haciendado's house. In the book by B. Traven on which the famous Humphrey Bogart movie "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" was based, the bandit characters were former Cristeros.

Bell tower of Templo Zapotitán de Hidalgo. As we drove down a cobblestoned country lane heading toward our next hacienda visit, I looked back and couldn't resist a final, evocative photo of Zapotitán. Somewhere there must be a detailed history of old places like this, but for now speculation and educated guesses will have to do.

Hacienda Huejotitán

Welcome to Huejotitán!  About a mile up the country lane from Zapotitán de Hidalgo you come to Huejotitán, site of another former hacienda. The little park and mural above graces a fork in the road leading into town. We had barely stopped to get our bearings when a local man greeted us cheerfully and  encouraged us to view the mural's history of the area. Before we visit the old hacienda buildings, we should take a look at how the local artist, Eduardo Xilonzochitl,  saw that history. His name is of Nahuatl origin, the language of the Aztecs. He may be indigenous, or perhaps just adopted the name for artistic purposes. For a map showing Huejotitán's location, click here.

Early Spanish colonists plan their hacienda. On the right stands a group of three Spaniards who, by their dress, appear to be of the colonial elite. They seem to be making a land deal. The man on the right hands a bag of gold and points to the roll of paper, probably a deed, held by the person on the left. The man in the middle records the transaction. The four indigenous men in the foreground were of great interest to me. The two kneeling men are obviously craftsmen. Another man hovers over them apparently giving directions. The fourth man stands, holding what appear to be the 16th Century equivalent of blueprints. These last two wear distinctive hats that seem to give them a higher status than the craftsmen, and the standing man with the plans also wears an intricate necklace. A great deal of the "Spanish" colonial architecture and sculpture was actually created by indigenous craftsmen using traditional skills dating back thousands of years. People like this built the great temples and palaces of the Mesoamerican empires. The higher-status indigenous men may be nobles from one of the kingdoms conquered by Hernán Cortéz and his successors. Many of these nobles continued to occupy a privileged position under Spanish rule. The relative handful of Spanish conquerors could not have controlled millions of indigenous people without the help of the indigenous nobility. The people in this area when the Spanish arrived were Cocos. However, the conquistadors arrived with large numbers of Nahautl-speaking Otomi warriors and luggage-bearers from around present-day Querétaro. These people then became the dominant indigenous group. 

A local religious procession of the later colonial period. Notice the Virgin of Guadalupe emblem in the upper right. She is the special protector of campesinos and indigenous people. In the distance, a cross-like structure has been built of corn stalks, attended by two of the men. Since the corn god was one of the most important figures in indigenous pantheon, this subtly reminds us that the Catholicism of Mexico is often a thin veneer over deep layers of traditional religious practices. The Virgin of Guadalupe herself was first sighted in a ruined temple dedicated to an indigenous goddess, and many aspects of her clothing and other related symbols are connected to ancient Mesoamerican religious beliefs. For this reason she was very controversial among the early Spanish religious authorities. They suspected that the devotion of the indigenous people was actually a way of covertly worshiping the old goddess. However, the authorities relented when they realized her usefulness in converting the the masses of indigenous people.

Hacienda scene from the 19th Century. A woman fills her clay pots at a well pump, while two men chat in the background. The man on the left may be the haciendado or one of his administrators giving instructions to the campesino with the oxen. Then again, he may just be just passing the time of day. I suppose it is not unusual that the only one in the scene doing any actual work is the woman. The author B. Traven wrote another novel called "The Carreta" (Spanish for a two-wheeled ox cart). The story was set on just such a hacienda, with a main character who hauled freight with just such a carreta. In the end, he had to give up his cherished carreta and go to work for the haciendado to whom his sick father owed debts incurred at the hacienda store.

Hacienda Huejotitán. The graceful old dwelling and grounds now house an orphanage. Because of a sign discouraging uninvited visitors, we did not go inside, but were able to get some nice shots anyway. The village of Huejotitán nestles at the base of Cerro Viejo (Old Peak).  At 2960m (9711 ft), it is the highest mountain in the immediate area around Lake Chapala. The one-story house has arched portales along the side and a dramatic entrance leading into a large courtyard garden. Huge trees, ancient and knarled, grow in the middle of a plaza onto which the house faces.

An archway leads to more arches. While we refrained from entering the house or its patio garden, I did manage to take a few discreet photos in areas not being used by the orphans. These contained fascinating remnants of past glories. Huejotitán's population of 1011 is even smaller than Zapotitán de Hidalgo. A bit over 1/2 are males, and about 1/3 are children. 7 of the local citizens speak an indigenous language, most probably Nahuatl, as well as Spanish. A substantial number of people here are poor, and about 10% live in homes with no floor. Of the 1011 residents, almost 100 are illiterate. The people of Huejotitán engage in the same farming pursuits as their neighbors in Zapotitán de Hidalgo.

In Mexico, as usual, color is everywhere. I scaled a tall wall to find a perch from which I could photograph some of the arches and other ruins seen in the previous photo, but from a different angle. A local woman walking by in the plaza glanced at us, and seemed amused at our antics.

Nearby, we found the shell of an old brick building with an interesting window.  In addition to the nicely crafted arch over the door, the building has a rather stylish looking round window, with another matching it in the back. Once again, we were left baffled as to the use of this building, or of the arches seen in the previous two photos. Perhaps on another visit we will take the time to meet the orphanage staff and ask for a tour. According to Tony Burton, the staff is friendly, but we had a great deal of ground to cover so we moved on.


Abundance of water is always an issue to farmers. The aqueduct above is near the little community of San Juan de los Arcos (St. John of the Arches). I am not clear when this aqueduct was built, but it was at least in the 19th Century, and maybe earlier. The technology involved is not fundamentally different than that used when Appius Claudius built the first Roman aqueduct in 312 BC. Although the Spanish or Mexicans who built this one inherited their technology from the Romans, aqueducts actually go much further back in history. The Assyrians used them in the 7th Century BC, and the very earliest ones are on the Indian subcontinent.

Another aqueduct at Teuchitlán. This one leads into the lake on the outskirts of Teuchitlan. At the time I took this photo, lirio, also known as water hiacynth, choked the areas along the shore. There is a wonderful restaurant right next to this aqueduct, a great place to take a break from a hacienda ramble.

Lirio flowers are pretty, but the plant is a real pest. It is not a native species, but was introduced in the 19th Century by haciendados as a decorative plant for their garden ponds. Having no natural enemies, and a very high propagation rate, the plants can take over huge areas of lakes such as this one and Lake Chapala if they are not regularly cleaned out.

This completes Part 1 of my series on Jalisco's old haciendas. Next time we will visit a hacienda where we met the family and were greeted with extraordinary warmth and courtesy. I hope you enjoyed this posting. If you would like to leave a comment, please do so in the Comments section below, or email me directly. 

If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so that I can reply.

Hasta luego, Jim