The Political Geography of the Yucatan Maya

The Political Geography of the Yucatan Maya

The Political Geography of the Yucatan Maya

The Political Geography of the Yucatan Maya

Excerpt

The Province of Ah Canul was one of the larger native states in the northern and more thickly populated half of the Yucatan peninsula. It occupied the western coastal plain from Punta Kopte on the north coast to the Río Homtun, not far north of Campeche, a distance of about 145 km. north and south. From the west coast it extended eastward for an average distance of about 50 km.; but with a few exceptions the historic towns lie within a belt less than 20 km. wide, which narrows down to a single line of towns at its southern end. This is hardly an indication of the agricultural resources, for the archaeological remains cover a much wider area. Nevertheless, along the low seacoast there is a fairly wide strip of land that is little used for farming. A tax list of 1549 indicates that there had been a population of something over 26,000 after the Spanish conquest, but it was rapidly decreasing at that time.

Although there is some variety of climate, much of the province is dry, especially in the northern part. Away from the belt along the coast there was some agriculture almost everywhere, but over a large part of the area droughts were frequent and severe. The many ruined sites and the size of the population at the time of the conquest may be accounted for partly by the profitable fisheries and salt beds along the coast. It is possible that much of the land that seems rather poor for raising maize may have been more favorable for the production of cotton; but practically no cotton has been grown in northern Yucatan for a long time, and the records seem to tell nothing about the conditions under which it flourished. We do know that much cotton cloth was exported from Yucatan in pre-Spanish times, as it was during the colonial period.

The name of the province is referable to certain members of the Canul lineage, whose career at Mayapan and subsequent migration to western Yucatan are well known. The term Ah Canul had several meanings. It meant any member of the Canul name group, all of whom bore this patronymic. It was also applied to the members and descendants of the other groups who accompanied their leaders to the Province of Ah Canul, although as individuals they continued to retain their own patronymics. Ah canul could also mean "protector," and as such it may be referable to the verb canan, "to guard or protect." Persons whose patronymic was not Canul bore this title as guards of the gates of Mayapan. Moreover, Jesus Christ is said to be the ah canul of our souls, and A. Villa R. tells of certain guardian spirits who are still called ah canulob in Quintana Roo (Roys, 1933, pp. 69, 125; Villa R., 1945, p. 102).

Landa repeatedly refers to the group who migrated from Mayapan to Ah Canul as Mexicans, but there is little evidence of a Mexican origin in the Crónica de Calkini, which is our chief source for knowledge of these people. Much . . .

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