Spaniards and Indians in Southeastern Mesoamerica: Essays on the History of Ethnic Relations

By Murdo J. MacLeod; Robert Wasserstrom | Go to book overview

The Last Maya Frontiers of Colonial Yucatan

Grant D. Jones

Throughout the Spanish colonial period the southern portion of the Maya lowlands was well beyond effective, continuous centralized control. Present-day Belize, the Guatemalan Petén, and most of present-day Campeche and Quintana Roo, though in some cases subjected to brief flurries of conquest activity, remained beyond the mainstream of colonial society. These regions constituted a vast frontier hinterland beyond the more densely populated, more fully administered regions of northern Yucatan and eastern Guatemala. It is therefore not surprising that the peoples of this frontier region are poorly known to students of colonial-period Maya society. There has been only one intensive, focused study of a colonial- period Maya group in the southern lowlands,1 and the few other writings attempt to do little more than to outline the potential for future study.2

Nevertheless, one now senses an increasing concern among archaeologists, historians, and ethnohistorians for combining forces in the intensive study of protohistoric-and historic-period society in the Maya frontier zones.3 Two primary factors, among others, may be responsible for this renewed interest. First, there is an increasing awareness that the dynamics of colonial society in the more fully administered regions -- northern Yucatan in particular -- were deeply affected by the continued existence of a relatively "free" frontier zone beyond their borders. Second, it is increasingly apparent that the internal dynamics of the frontier zones were far more coherent, structured, and extensive in scale than had been previously imagined. The frontier zone comprised far more than a few scattered pagan settlements beyond the pale of civilization. It was, in fact, a critical element in the total colonial society, a force that played a central role in the affairs of Yucatan from the level of the ranchería, or hamlet, to the very seats of colonial government.

This discussion focuses on a limited region of the vast southern "Chan

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