The Spaniards may have conquered the Yucatán with relative ease, but destroying the spirit of the Maya proved a far more difficult task. From the very beginning of the conquest and up into the twentieth century, the Maya fought back against their oppressors, bending but never breaking. The stories of their struggle are told in the Museo de las Guerra Casta, in the village of Tihosuco.
The Yucatán is a large peninsula with vast stretches of jungle, and it provides plenty of cover for those who know the territory, which explains in part why the Maya resistance proved so troublesome to the Spanish (and later, the Mexicans). For centuries, attacks flared up, cities were taken and re-taken, semi-independent territories were established, and vicious retaliations inflicted. The Conquest of the Yucatán is not a story of a docile, vanquished people, always the pitiful victims. The Maya were not to be trifled with.
During what’s come to be known as the Caste War, one of the most successful indigenous uprisings in the history of humanity, the Maya very nearly succeeded in taking back the entire peninsula. In 1847, Maya troops who had been stockpiling arms in Quintana Roo set out on the march. They took Valladolid. They took Izamal. They marched within 24 kilometers of Mérida, gaining momentum and support every step of the way. The white landowners and clergy were in panic, and those who could had already fled. There’s little doubt that, had they proceeded, the Maya would have conquered the capital and won the war. But then the rains came.
The rains! At the very heart of the struggle for independence was a respect for ancient traditions, which had been under attack for centuries. And these traditions called for men to return to the farm during the milpa, or corn harvest. Although victory was within grasp, the men abandoned the front. By the time they were ready to rejoin the fight, the Yucatecan troops had been bolstered with reinforcements from Mexico. The tide of the war had turned irrevocably.
The small museum in Tihosuco does a nice job of illuminating this story with paintings, artifacts and a top-notch guidebook in multiple languages. Tihosuco itself played an important part in the war as the scene of a major early battle. The church in the town square, the Iglesia del Niño Dios, is still in ruins, and serves as an evocative reminder of the conflict.
It’s not near any other touristic sights, but an excursion to Tihosuco is worth the considerable effort of getting there. If you’re feeling hungry after visiting the museum, ask around for Doña Nachita’s, near the church. The “restaurant” isn’t anything more than a table in her living room, but the food is great.