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

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

Whose Caste War? Indians, Ladinos, and the Chiapas "Caste War" of 1869

Jan Rus

Between 1868 and 1870, the people of Chamula and several related Tzotzil-speaking communities of the Chiapas highlands rose in a savage and cruel war of extermination against their "ladino" neighbors. Mobilized by an unscrupulous leader who fooled them into believing he could talk to a set of crude clay "saints," they first withdrew to the forest, where they built a temple to their new religion. Here the leader, in order to increase his power, had a young boy crucified on Good Friday, 1868, as an Indian "Christ."

Conscientious ladino authorities, horrified by such barbarity, strove for more than a year to make the Indians see the error of their ways and return to civilization. Unfortunately, all of their efforts were finally in vain: joined by a mysterious ladino outcast who trained them in military maneuvers, the Indian hordes swept out of the mountains in June 1869, pillaging and slaughtering all not of their own race. Their first victims were the very priests and school-teachers who had gone among them to enlighten them. In short order, they also massacred the families of small ladino farmers who had dared to take up vacant lands on the borders of their territories. Finally, they attacked the nearby capital of San Cristóbal itself, retreating only when driven back by ladino reinforcements spontaneously rallied from throughout the state. Although soundly beaten in every subsequent engagement, such were their fanaticism and cunning that it was still to be almost a year before the state militia was able to run the last of their renegade bands to earth.


Introduction

This version of the " Caste War of 1869," essentially that handed down to us by nineteenth-century ladino journalists and historians,1 is still in-

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