Cacao, vanilla and annatto: three production and exchange systems in the Southern Maya lowlands, XVI-XVII

centuries Author(s): Laura Caso Barrera and Mario Aliphat Fernández Reviewed work(s): Source: Journal of Latin American Geography, Vol. 5, No. 2 (2006), pp. 29-52 Published by: University of Texas Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 16/09/2012 14:00
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Cacao, vanilla and annatto: three production and exchange systems in the Southern Maya centuries1 lowlands, XVI-XVII
Laura Caso Barrera
Etnoecologta Eahoratorio

ColegiodePostgraduados, Campus Puebla

Mario Aliphat Fernandez

ColegiodePostgraduados, Campus Puebla


Abstract are examined; two of in theMaya Lowlands In this paper various historic agrosystems them specialized in semi-intensive and intensive production of three main crops: cacao,

and vanilla. The paper also examines the political and military pressure exerted these valued and Manche Choi territories which produced the Itza on the Lacandon by exer of Verapaz, crops. After the conquest Spanish civil and religious authorities also traded cised constant pressure over these territories and the encomienda towns of Verapaz with as an them to obtain example cacao and annato. The Manche plantations. lowlands, trading systems,It%d Maya, Choi cacao orchards are presented of true cacao


cacao, annatto, vanilla, chocolate,Southern Maya Keywords: Manche Choi, Eacandon.

Resumen En en las tierras bajas mayas, dos de los cu este articulo se analizan diversos agrosistemas en la semi-intensiva e intensiva de tres cultivos relevantes: ales se especializan production se examina la los cacao, achiote y vainilla. Tambien presion politica y belica que ejercieron en cuyos territorios de los lacandones itzaes sobre las poblaciones y choles del Manche, las auto se estos de la conquista de La Verapaz, cultivos. Despues producian apreciados tambien ejercieron una presion constante sobre estos ridades civiles y religiosas hispanas con los lacandones territorios, lo mismo que los pueblos de encomienda que comerciaban

cacao y achiote. Las huertas de cacao de los choles y choles para obtener principalmente como considerarse del Manche plantaciones." ejemplos de "verdaderas pueden clave: cacao, achiote, vanilla, chocolate, tierras bajas mayas, sistemas de intercambio, itzaes, Palabras cholesdel Manche, lacandones.

us with the first glimpse of the than fifty years ago, Rene Millon provided and trade inMesoamerica of cacao production where, in his words, "money on trees". and regions of cacao cultivation were Property rights, production truly grew first laid-out as a product of his seminal research (Millon 1955). More complexity and intensification of the cacao The regions currently studied in the production the analysis of the historic cacao-producing have neglected region located along crop, This region also the reaches of the main river systems in the Southern Maya Lowlands.

5 journal ofEatin AmericanGeography, (2), 2006


Journal of Latin American

Geography and XVII centuries. triad, In


had a significant production of annatto and vanilla during the XVI annatto and vanilla are products which, together, comprise of chocolate among the peoples represented by the consumption

a true cultural of Mesoamerica.

of its edaphic and climatic conditions, Because the central Peten, core of the Itza is a region of poor productivity for growing cacao (Schwartz 1992: 23-25; Atran domain, 1993: 670, 2004: 129). The consumption of ritual drinks such as cacao, flavored with annatto and vanilla was a basic element at Itza government one and council meetings, reason of the political and these products were essential for the consolidation key why power of the ruling elite. All of this brought about the imperious need the Itza to integrate into their sphere of influence, the cacao regions of producing Lacandon and Manche located in the southern area of Peten. Choi, The Southern first section of Lowlands. The economic for the

ca this paper the growing, intensification, exchange and distribution of three products: cao (Theobroma cacao L.), annatto (Bixa orellana L.) and vanilla (Vanillaplanifoha G. Jackson) are discussed in the regions occupied Choi and Lacandon. by theManche


the region presented here, is based upon an analysis of primary sources. re of the Spanish domain beyond The progressive encroachment the Verapaz in the XVII entradaswhich gion, towards the Peten, is best exemplified by the Spanish

the environmental this paper describes characteristics of the distribution of the distinctive ethnic groups occupying

and Choi, Lacandon, century brought about the final conquest of the Manche Mopan that had as its underlying purpose control over the rich cacao Itza, a conquest producing a in New Itza represented lands, as cacao became highly priced commodity Spain. The con the opposing and competing regional power to Spanish intentions. The conspicuous structure of and sumption of chocolate by the Itza elite supported thewhole production trade of cacao, annatto and vanilla for the entire Maya Southern Lowlands. An analysis of the agrological and the ethnohistory of the production, and components processing trade of the Lacandon

the three crops is crucial to an understanding of the significant role played by and Manche Choi in the regional and wider colonial systems. The interme


diate region between Peten and Verapaz groups was, without by Choi-speaking occupied an intensive a over the entire area. region which had producing major impact The regions here described also endured the impacts of conquest and financial control from the later expansion of Verapaz represented


of Hispanic dominance. The Indian villages and in a new sector of for the control of the competition of cacao and annatto of the Manche Choi and Lacandon. The Spanish production Choi conquest, at the end of the XVII century, and the forceful eviction of theManche and Lacandon from their territories, meant the loss of the complex systems of intensive and semi-intensive production in the region.



Southern Maya Lowlands the Lake District of central Peten, Be comprise lize and further south, lands which include the large watersheds of rivers including the and its tributaries, as well as part of the Sarstun, Dulce, Usumacinta and Cha Motagua The (Figures 1 and 2). The region's altitude is below 800 meters and is characterized a hot and moist climate and an exuberant by vegetation of lush tropical forests (Morley etai 1983:31-40).

Southern Maya Lowlands:

settlements and trade routes


a related form of Yucatec The Itza, who were the last speak Maya, independent in the Lake District of Peten established polity of the Spanish dominion (Guate an active economic and political resistance in an attempt mala), where they developed to prevent into their territory.With great determination the Itza Spanish encroachment rebuilt the old exchange system which existed in the central region of Peten and occupied



and annatto:

three production

and exchange



the vacuum left after the Spanish conquest of the Chontal Maya of Acalan. Key elements were cacao, annatto, vanilla, of this exchange system precious feathers, slaves, victims for sacrifice as well as salt, cotton and even iron tools introduced by the They Europeans. achieved their goal from the Lacandon. Cerros by gaining control of the Salinas de los Nueve (Figure 2) This site is the only source of salt in the entire region. Once they of this important product, the Itza forced the Manche Choi and the

had gained control to Lacandon this vital resource, mainly for cacao and annatto. This economic exchange was means of violence, reorganization imposed by the Itza by especially forcing the Manche Choi into submission (Caso Barrera 2002). The Itza were thus able to integrate and control, at some time, the entire production of cacao and annatto in a vast region and Belize, and as far as the covering the south of Peten, the southeast area of Yucatan This complex production and exchange system lasted region of the Gulf of Honduras. until 1697, when the Itza were finally conquered by Spanish armies (Jones 1998; Caso Barrera 2002). The southwest This historical Lacandon according of Peten. They chi or Cholti a Maya group that spoke the Choi language (Chol 1695), they inhabited the region to the south and characterized themselves as being deadly enemies of the Itza. to live on Lake Miramar in a small island called originally (Chiapas) were to Moran

people used and throughout the XVI Lacantun, century they were constantly attacking the encomienda towns in In 1555 the Acala, a neighboring group, murdered the Dominican friar Chiapas. de Vico, whose death became the excuse for continuous Spanish military raids, Domingo with the goal of pacifying and conquering both the Acala as well as the Lacandon (de Vos one 1980: 73:75). The Spaniards started several punitive raids into the Lacandon region, of which took place in 1586, under the command Villavi of Captain Juan de Morales to leave their cencio. These military incursions forced the Lacandon original settlements.


a new town called Sac Balam, near the Lacantun River, where time, they established cacao and annatto orchards they planted maize, (Figure 2). or Cholti. were The Manche Choi also spoke Cholchi located south and They east of the Peten. This were also to seize their people ravaged by the Itza, who wanted

of cacao, annatto and vanilla. However, this group has not been well-studied production and it is poorly understood and Itza, it since, in relation to the neighboring Lacandon appears that their political and social organization was distinctive (Feldman 2000). The in small settlements under the authority of one or more fact of finding them organized chieftains, and the apparent non-existence authors to consider them as people with (Perez Gonzalez early chronicles control of a principal ruler in this group, has led some "very simple" social and political organization Choi was created originally by the 1993). This image of the Manche in relation with their efforts to convert and of the Dominican Order, Dominican

the Choi of being lazy, friars in general accused to flee their towns, true political organization, tendency lacking 1973 Vol. 5; Gal for their caciques (Ximenez and of having neither respect nor obedience an of the historical sources shows the great im However, legos 1676). in-depth analysis Choi as specialized producers of three main crops, which were portance of the Manche in relation to the consumption of of extreme importance for Mesoamerican peoples this group. The indolent, with a constant friars complained if the Dominican that is, cacao, annatto and vanilla. Even that the Choi were lazy and poor, since they only grew small plots with maize, at the same time they do mention of cacao and annatto (AGI, Guatemala their important production chocolate,

67,181;Gallegos, 1676).
The lowed

in 1525, fol (now Honduras) by Hernan Cortes journey towards Higueras towards the territory of theManche the routes used by the Itza merchants Choi, to the was a great trading center, where even some neigh city of Nito, which specifically

borhoods Cortes were

Journal of Latin American



to Cortes served that in the vicinity of Nito "he had some vassals who reported in certain cacaguatales (cacao groves), because these lands were very good him working that the Itza maintained close for that purpose" (Ibid. 243). All of this demonstrates

from distant places such as Acalan2 (Cortes 1981). by people occupied to visit the Itza capital of Noh Peten and to meet with the the opportunity him instructions and facilitated guides who would principal ruler named Canek, who gave take him and his army to the city of Nito, following the routes used by the Itza traders. had

Choi. inside their Not only Canek had cacao orchards relationships with the Manche social and political relationships between economic, territory, there were also profound Choi. The Chontal were large-scale from Acalan and the Manche the Itza, the Chontal traded in cacao, precious of cacao and long-distance merchants who feathers, producers were very to drink highly appreciated jaguar skins, slaves and turtle-shell spoons which the froth of chocolate Cortes, is evidence (Scholes and Roys 1968: 29-30). in the last stretch of his trip towards Nito, met a Chontal tradesman, use the riverwaterways and the overland enough that the merchants did by the Itza. In these routes there were ports, resting places and provi


routes controlled sions (Cortes the merchants

a river port called Tenciz, where 1981: 245-246). Cortes himself describes left their canoes to travel from there towards Noh Peten or towards Choi

it states that there were no cacao orchards territory. Cortes' narrative is very clear when in the Peten core area and that they were only able to find them towards the southeast, and Campeche which was mainly Choi territory. The Spanish conquest of Tabasco put an end to the Chontal's and control of cacao and to their long distance trade. production The Itza would After trade network detailed left by them and would (Jones 1989: 104; Caso Barrera 2002: the first Cortes chronicle of the Maya fill the void become 231). Southern the leading force of a new

de Salazar wrote ence make

we have many Lowlands friars who entered this region from the descriptions written by the Dominican end of the XVI century, trying to spread the gospel century and throughout the XVII and to reduce theManche Choi population 1973, Vol. 5). In 1620 Fray Gabriel (Ximenez a area inwhich he made refer thorough geographical description of the to the settlements of the Manche Choi and Lacandon. This friarwas the first to

thus completing the first known circuit of theMaya area. (AGI,3 Guatemala 67). a second Salazar later undertook territories and trip through Choi and Lacandon wrote a account of the towns, the cacao and annatto groves, trade routes highly detailed

a (close to the Bay of Honduras), trip starting in the Golfo Dulce traveling to the north along the shoreline of Belize until he reached Yucatan, south through continuing as a and Tabasco, and from there traveling overland to Chiapas Campeche steppingstone to Verapaz his staring point, (Figure 1). He ended his journey back in the Golfo Dulce,

In his reports he makes and exchange places. reference for the first time to two main routes used by the Choi to reach Noh Peten, capital of the Itza (Figure 2). These reports, sent by Salazar to the Provincial of his order, were accom frayAlonso Guirao, originally a panied by map, which to date has not been located. The approach used by this friar to draw his first sketch map is particularly interesting, since he used informants, indigenous from whom mainly merchants who knew well the area, as well as some elderly people, he collected information on the geography of the entire region. The body of data put Friar Salazar, was enriched by the information provided by together by cross-referencing different informants as a way to draw comparisons and to confirm their geographical de

the provincial capital of Verapaz, he had an interview scriptions. For example in Coban, with a bachih, or wise man, at the barrio (neighborhood) of San Marcos. This bachih had been a prisoner of the Lacandon and knew the area very well. The friar gave the informer a basket with cacao seeds and asked him to draw with them in the floor, by placing



and annatto:

three production

and exchange





1. The Maya seeds where

= Southern Maya Lowlands

Figure rows of cacao

Region. the rivers flowed and in the localities where towns were lo

a cacao seeds. The old man started to cated, the bachihwas supposed drawing place three on the earth the questions that Salazar was asking him as a guide to locate and map using name the "mouth of rivers, headlands, rocks, hills and resting places". With the bachih's answers, Salazar started writing labels that he placed on the "riv ers" of cacao and with mation, he removed the seeds this he drew a sketch map on paper. So as to confirm the infor from the floor as well as his labels. He erased the map

drawn by the old man and asked him to do it again. He did this for three consecutive 67, times, until the friarwas satisfied with the old man's answers (AGI, Guatemala

34 Journal of Latin American


Trade routes

Figure 2. Routes 1) Route to Noh

in theMaya southern lowlands. via Mopan river, 2) Route to Noh Peten via Rio de la Pa "Feria del Achiote" sion, 3) Route to Xocmo 4) Route toNoh Peten from Acalan, Route to Noh Peten from Yucatan, Route to Noh Peten from Belize. 5) 6) and localities Peten

f. 24v Feldman uted

2000: 34-36). In the description made by Salazar of the Manche Choi towns, these are distrib in an arch towards the northeast and even reached the southern coast of Belize to the Golfo Dulce. The Choi settlements on the southern coast

and Tzoite. The town of Xibun Paliac, Campin (Sibun) was the first settlement of people who 67, ff. 20v-21) (AGI, Guatemala, spoke Yucatec Maya towns of Tzoite, and Mayapan had been granted in encomienda to (Figure 2). The Campin Sanchez de Aguilar during the XVI Hernando century, and they had been left under the of Belize towns had large cacao jurisdiction of the province of Bacalar4 (Jones 1989: 83). These and annatto orchards as described by Salazar himself "towards the east where the drain

and from there, south were Yaxhal,

ages of Bacalar were, there is another large town by the name of Yaxal which has four are hundred Indians and beautiful cacao groves, because they falling towards the lands of Tzoite, where a lot of cacao is grown" 67, f. 20v). These Choi towns (AGI, Guatemala which in close used had been to visit dominance subject to Hispanic contact with other Choi towns located these towns searching at Bacalar since to marry the XVI men and further south. The century were from Manche

for suitable women

they carried


Cacao, continuous as

vanilla and annatto:

three production

and exchange



populationfled south lookingforrefuge(Ibid).
The Manche Choi also River, where Chocahau, of cacao, several towns were located. These

as well, trade with them. The Choi people from Bacalar used to go toManche in 1618 when the town of Campin rebelled because they did not want to happened at Bacalar. This was the obey the parish priest principal motive why the majority of the settled the head waters and main channel of the Cancuen Manche,



San Miguel

cacao had lands where River, beyond a sinkhole, the Lacandon they grew Ixtatan and with the Itza these products with the Chuj of San Mateo trading of central Peten. There were two principal routes to Noh Peten, the Itza capital: one was used by the went along the Tzibistun peoples of the (Mopan) River. This waterway southern coast of Belize and by theManche who used to travel by canoe for two Choi, at a their canoes and went days until they arrived place called Chacchilan, where they left on overland until they arrived at Lake Peten, where the Itza capital was located (AGI, of the Tuhal and annatto, Guatemala 67, f. 19v). other way was via the Pasion River, which reached the port of entrance of the to Salazar, was fortified and had the name Ilibec ["From Where Itza, which, according Choi You Can See the Road,y] (Figure 2). This route was used by both the Manche the Lacandones arrived in 1695 at Sac Balam, When the Spaniards and the Lacandon. denied being in touch or having any commercial relationship with the Itza. However, the Spanish realized that they did have trade relations, because when going through the a very well- traveled trail the Itza Itza village of Saclemacal through which they found 151 bis, f. 128 Choi region (AGI, Guatemala and Lacandon had access to the Manche in 1676 as the "An described v). There was a trading port that fray Francisco Gailegos on the banks of the Sacapulas River,5 natto Fair", that took place in the town of Xocmo, so that the Lacandon where 40 houses had been built and many canoes were moored The and people from Verapaz would be able to cross over to the could go over to Verapaz, Choi and the the Manche It was here, at this trading port, where lands of Lacandon. Lacandon met to exchange cacao and annatto. The Itza went looking for cacao as did the in the towns of Coban, San Agustin Lanquin and Sacapulas people from the encomienda 1676: 6). (Gailegos Verapaz route of the Pasion River was the one traveled by the Mercedarian The priest de Rivas in 1698, after the conquest of the Lacandon. Diego Senora de los Dolores town of Nuestra (originally Sac Balam) Rivas left the Lacandon men by twelve the route towards the Itza capital, which by that time had already with the goal of finding After leaving the town of been conquered by Captain Martin de Ursua y Arizmendi. los for four days until they boarded boats at the De Rivas and his group walked Dolores, escorted Dolores River

was popu de Salazar also described the westernmost Fray Gabriel region which to the their principal settlement was called Sac Balam. According lated by the Lacandon; were settled "on the bank of the Tuhal River" (Salinas-Chixoy the Lacandon friar, River). the Usumacinta River (Figure 2). North This river joins the Pasion River and becomes

and Santo Domingo Yol, and they produced great quantities as trade centers from where Choi traders took their annatto and vanilla, acting or to the encomienda towns of Verapaz, products either overland through waterways, and Cahabon and to other Maya such as Coban towns, including the Itza capital. San Pablo Yaxha

two days until they reached a place called (Lacantun River) and sailed for the Lacantun River and the Pasion River join to form the de Cristo (where El Encuentro than three days until they From this place they went on sailing for more Usumacinta). arrived at a marsh, from where they went on sailing for two more days, after which they the Itza, the place where the canoes were left, and finally arrived at the port of entry of to the banks of Lake Peten overland started making headway 345). (AGI, Guatemala

The existence of

Journal of Latin American several different river waterways

Geography routes used by the Choi that Noh allowed them to

and overland

and Lacandon Peten must

the Itza capital city, confirms have had as an economic and political center. Choi and the Lacandon

traders to reach

the importance

The Manche

used different routes which

such as the Ah Xoy, who were trade with peoples who had fled from Spanish domination, from Coban. also traded with other peoples, such as the Mopan Kekchi fugitives They and the Xocmo Lacandon San Mateo (who spoke the Itza language). It has also been argued that the Choi towns such as Coban, Cahabon also had routes to trade with encomienda Ixtatan inVerapaz. All of this allows us to establish the existence and and

of several

different exchange circuits in the XVII of cacao, annatto rected the production towards

century. The circuit of greatest importance di towns and vanilla from the Choi and Lacandon

the Itza capital, seemingly exchanging these products for salt. This was a com trade based on themilitary power of the Itza, who constantly raided these towns pulsory On the other hand, the Choi and Lacandon bartered (Caso Barrera 2002: 230-231). cacao towns in the encomienda for metal tools and salt. It exchange towns of that the Spaniards and Indians of the encomienda Verapaz, to extort cacao and annatto from theManche also used violent methods Choi. should be noted and annatto with


triad of chocolate:
The existence of


in the regions occupied strate that these were products

of by members beverages a symbolic parallelism with Mesoamerican cosmogony

and intensive production of cacao, annatto and and Manche Choi, demon by the historical Lacandon consumed in large quantities in the form of chocolate the Itza ruling elite (Caso and Aliphat has 2002). Chocolate blood and itwas therefore considered 2004: as a 1956; Coe 208; Coe

cacao, annatto and vanilla as traditional crops

precious fluid in and Coe 1999: 59). (Thompson was a drink reserved In this sense we can say that it for nobles and the indigenous strictly elites. The and its relationship with royal symbolic complex represented by chocolate power and lineage is stated as a riddle in a text in the language of Zuyua6, in the so-called books of Chilam Balam:

Cardinal Birds, those that can "My son, bring me four Chac Dzidzib, on my be found at the entrance of the cave and bring them standing food. Let me see them with their head tufts rendered red and precious let them come standing straight on my precious food when you come before me". "And so itwill be, oh Father! This that he is asking for is the Ciui, An the head-tufts he is speaking about is the foam of the natto-in-a-paste, chocolate and his precious breakfast is (Barrera freshly ground cacao". and Rendon 2005: 134). Vasquez It was sociate itwith precisely blood; annatto that gave chocolate as the red color that made people itmust have given it a characteristic flavor (Coe 2004: theMaya of the lowlands seem to have seasoned and In several different Mesoamerican cultures we

206-208). aromatized find a close

In addition association

in addition, to annatto, between

their chocolate

with vanilla.

drinks prepared with cacao and vanilla. the Among Mexicas, honey, vanilla, fragrant plants and flowers were added to chocolate with which were able to obtain drinks of several different colors and flavors they (Durand-Forest

cacao, annatto

In addition

to a close finding relationship and vanilla and their consumption

between under

the growing and tending of the form of chocolate, we note



and annatto:

three production

and exchange



that give these products unique charac that all three require transformation processes lord by the name of Fuentes y Guzman (1932, Vol.2: 390) states that a Maya was the one who discovered to this author, the processing of cacao. According Hunahpu is a historical Quiche ruler, but we think that this is a direct reference to the Hunahpu teristics. mythical a chemical and in the Popol Vuh. Cacao personage mentioned physical requires that takes four basic steps which are: fermentation, drying, toasting and sieving. process This process, that allows the transformation of cacao seeds into high quality chocolate, dates back to at least 3,000 years 1985: 183-208; Coe and (Enriquez a modification similar to also requires process, has a green pod must be fruit of the orchid which originally a thin, dark-colored that it will become produces pod which Vanilla Annatto Coe cured 1999: 30-31). cacao; dried the so fra and that of

a characteristic

1948: 361). grance (Bruman does need the extraction of

does not require a fermentation process, but it the seeds. In of soaking and cooking the dye, by means we can find a of how the Indians the Relaciones geogrdficas of Guatemala description into cakes to be sent to market: obtained the annato dye and molded from Verapaz the houses there are various evergreen the milpa and among Among trees full of leaves which fruit, similar to chestnuts, which have produce inside of them several tiny grains covered in a crimson colored wax. The Indians take these grains in large amounts and cook them during long out together with the grease of periods of time, until all color is drawn this dough they form some the grains which floats on the water. With cakes. It is a kind of spice which provides color to their drinks, and the ladies of this land can bear witness to this happening.

(Acuna 1982: 231).

also know that not only did they plant and transform the crops associated with a trade network, of chocolate, but that they also maintained the consumption complex distance trade. which allowed them to exchange these products in on-going long ucts. We

of their and particularly the Manche The Lacandon Choi, had ample knowledge to grow cacao, annatto and vanilla in a semi-inten agro-ecosystems, which allowed them In addition they must have had abundant and highly special sive and intensive manner. to the necessary transformation processes for these prod demanded ized labor devoted


times and at present, have dis different Maya peoples, during prehispanic themselves by their efficient and complex agricultural milpa system (a polyc tinguished et al. and tubers) (Hernandez-Xolocotzi of maize-beans-squash ulture agro-ecosystem

systems in the Southern Maya


systems for the traditional growing of crops in 1995), and by intensive agro-ecological raised fields, terrace systems, bounded fields, in the fertile lowlands along the rivers, etc. et al. 1981). From the standpoint of and Turner 1978; Gliessman (Turner 1978; Harrison species, the Maya have rainforests,


by growing tropical karstic landscapes), constructing as shaded orchards with intensive and semi-intensive pathways, and by tree hedges acting or artificial rainforests which, in cultivation of arboreal species, as well as in managed a (Barrera structure and composition replicate the simplified manner, et al. 1977; Gomez-Pompa 1987; Gomez-Pompa In the Maya lowlands, under the milpa of et al. the tropical rain forest 1990; Wiseman 1978, to

an of the in the management background outstanding trees in rejqyadas (soil traps in home gardens, planting which are fields for cultivation clearly bounded tolches,


system, a plot of

land is cleared



Journal of Latin American


and tubers. However, many arboreal species are associated with corn-beans-squash not destroyed when the original vegetation is being cleared. Some trees are protected and even to grow thus in the succes these species an ecological advantage giving encouraged is abandoned after two or three the milpa sion process which is being established when years of agricultural

and Night 1980; 1981; Nations (Baer and Merrifield production 1987; Atran 1993: 682-687, 2004: 14-15). All of this is an example of of the course of and it implies an intentional modification targeted ecological processes succession which produces the enrichment of the tropical rainforest diversity ecological rain forest (Barrera etal11\ with useful plants and trees which results in a "man made" Gomez-Pompa Martin

in the management of the is therefore a relationship of succession 2001). There forest by theMaya, which starts from the clearing of the land and ends with the tropical reestablishment of the original forest, by a series of steps: primary tropical rain forest > > > of arboreal spp. > secondary secondary vegetation milpas orchards/plantations tropical forest. The milpa primary or species years, but before economic value, rainforest idea which system of tropical They the present-day Lacandon, rainforest and then burn consists in cutting down the and plant selected

secondary in the milpas.

the stubble

abandoning this allows

for two to five consecutive plant and harvest their milpas the milpa they plant different species of trees which have of the vegetation with an "enriched" the reestablishment

1980: 8). The central 1981: 177-209; Nations and Nigh (Baer and Merrifield can be is the from the agricultural system of the modern Lacandon, gleaned slow replacement of the non-economic ones, always trying to pre species for economic serve the ecological balance of the tropical forest ecosystem. The present-day Lacandon are characterized to

milpas addition

Both the mixed-cropped orchards as well as themilpas, show a close relationships and continuity with the agricultural systems existing in the Maya Lowlands during the XVI and XVII them. centuries, even though some distinctive variations exist between We have found several historical descriptions of three agricultural systems, two of them

in by the large diversity of species under cultivation, because, maize, beans and squash, they grow several different types of roots planting and tubers, fruit trees, cacao, annatto, cotton, tobacco, among many other species (Na tions and Nigh 1980: 10).

of the exposure of certain species to the conditions of light and shade. management In this sense we may say that the Lacandon and the specialized orchards of the milpas Manche had an extremely sophisticated form of management which allowed the Choi, and vanilla growing of cacao, vanilla and annatto together with other plant species. Cacao are is grown under the open sky, because of its de planted in the shade, whereas maize mand of sunlight. Annatto is a small tree which grows well in open sky and requires little an intermediate extremes. it occupies the previously described shade, position between At the level of home gardens, the combination of arboreal species, bushes, herbaceous in the management of the structure, plants and other species imply great sophistication and function of the vegetation from the ecological composition (Gliessman standpoint

are very similar to the present a third system day Lacandon milpas, and represented by the orchards of theManche akin to true "plantations" Choi, might be considered (Go mez 1987: 6). The ecological succession bears an intimate relationship with the Pompa

1998). The Itza milpas

soils of Central


are neither

cacao orchards (Schwartz growing of as has been travels towards Honduras,

fertile nor deep enough for the intensive 1993: 670, 2004: 129). In his stated above, Cortes did not find cacao orchards in 1992: 23-25; Atran

Cacao, Peten.


and annatto:

three production

and exchange



He mentions the presence of cacao only upon arrival at the Choi province of Ta huytal (Cortes 1981: 245). Canek pointed out to Cortes, that his lands in Peten were not was the reason cacao orchards were of cacao and that it good for the production why his in the region close to Nito. It should be emphasized that the Itza ruler possessed a fact that orchards, which were grown by "his vassals", emphasizes what Millon about the private property of trees; basically cacao trees were the exclusive established located cacao The

the Itza as "lazy" people because Spaniards described they had small milpas. this strategy had proven to be successful in reducing the danger of loss of crops caused by pests and diseases. By having several small plots of land in different one as a result of pests or adverse places, agricultural stability is increased; if milpa is lost some other weather conditions, there is always the possibility of milpas flourish having However

of property theelites (Millon 1955: 698-712).

Itza had several types of milpas 1978: 98). The cultivated by individuals or (Wiseman families, as well as community plots which had large granaries which were used to store the crops tomeet the needs of the community and to pay tribute. There were also milpas as the ones that were cultivated for Canek to rulers and that belonged principales, such by the people of his domain In these different

called canekes (Caso Barrera 2002: 228). types of agricultural plots, the Itza grew a great variety of dif ferent plant species, a type of polyculture, which allowed them to harvest a great diversity sources consulted, to the of products during the annual cycle. According documentary we find that the most in the Itza milpas were maize, beans, ibes frequent crops present yams, taro, pine (Phaseolus lunatus), squash, chayote,cotton, tobacco, annatto, yucczjlcama, cacao trees, vanilla, apples, few indigo and grana (Figure 4a). They also planted species introduced by the Spaniards, such as sugar cane, bananas, watermelons and citrus trees to which they had access via their contact with fugitive Indian towns and encomienda towns (Hellmuth 1977: 433-438; Caso Barrera 2002: 228-229). In abandoned milpas (acabuales), the Itza planted useful trees and cared for other as it is done in Chi wild species of economic importance such by the modern Lacandon 1981; 1981; Barrera Marin apas and the present day Yucatec Maya (Baer and Merrifield Gomez Pompa carefully grown copal Mer.), 1987; Nations and protected 1980). There were cacao trees in these orchards, with pataxte, (Tbeobroma bicolorHumb. & Bonpl.) together et Cham.), annatto (Bixa orellana L.), allspice (Pimenta dioica [L] and Nigh

(Protium copal Schltdl. rubber (Castilla elastica Sesse

(Haematoxilum as vanilla

produced They also grew medicinal Camb.) (AGI, Escribanfa f.!26v).

et Cerv.), sisal (Agavepourcrqydes Lemaire), logwood balsamo (Myroxylon balsamum L.) and other plants such campechianum L.), {Vanilla planifolia G. Jackson,), zarzaparrilla (Smilax aspera L.) and plants that of spun threads for textiles. for the manufacture dyes of great importance

as the tree called santamaria plants such (Calophyllum brasiliense 151 bis, 339B n.5, f.356; Patronato 237 R.11, f.633; Guatemala

Itza orchards with cacao, pataxte, annatto and vanilla produced only enough for at a much reduced scale, since most of these valued products were local consumption amounts of obtained by means of trade. The Itza elite consumed large beverages made from cacao flavored with annatto and vanilla, and to satisfy their ever increasing cacao over the and exchange of these needs, the Itza established production regional control resources which came to an end in 1697 with the Spanish conquest (Caso Barrera 2002;

Jones 1998).

The Lacandon

In 1586, Captain


Juan de Morales



a detailed

report on the en

trada that he organized to Lake Miramar

Journal of Latin American


to who were settled at the time in Lacantun, pacify the Lacandon After the fall of their main settlement, the Lacandon (Chiapas). fled and took refuge in their milpas which were located as far as eight or ten leagues (44 to 55 kms.) from Lacantun L. 333 de Centroamerica,7 towards the east (Archivo General close Ex. strategy was to give relentless chase to the Lacandon, surrender. The their granaries, destroying both, so they would information on the types of agricultural plots and crops of report has valuable original to this the Lacandon. According testimony, they had, like the Itza, different types of 7011). Morales locate their milpas Villavicencio's and

to be harvested. In theirmilpas the Lacandon milpas, which had maize ready planted, in addition to maize, yams and other tubers, fruit and cacao trees. The Spaniards uprooted all plants and trees and burned them together with six or seven granaries filled with maize and legumes (AGCA, L. 333 Ex. 7011, f. 7v). In addition to maize carried out multiple they planted cropping. other tubers and roots, pineapples, bananas and fruits (Figure 4b). beans, chile, yams, from the Itza, the Lacandon had many cacao and annatto trees in their mil Distinctively their soils were definitely apt for these crops and they had a semi-intensive pas, because The Lacandon states In his report Captain Morales arrangement of production. (Figures 3 and 4b). that he himself destroyed, cut and burned 90 of these other small ones which milpas plus were not taken into account (Ibid. 13v). In spite of the harassment were and persecution suffered by the Lacandon, they to resist the their main settlement named attacks and finally reestablished Spanish Sac Balam, near the Lacantun as "very fertile with River. Their lands were described able cacao, cotton, honey, maize and many other legumes and lots of fish" (AGCA, Leg. 1546 Ex. 31534, f. 3v). After several adverse confrontations with the the Lacandon Spaniards, got gradually weaker and lost control of the saltworks at Nueve Cerros, at the hands of the Itza. Forced by the need to obtain salt, the Lacandon were to trade with the required of cacao and annatto. The Lacandon also traded Itza, providing them their production

commu to individuals and families, that belonged agricultural plots: milpas milpas of the that to rulers and principales. and milpas The first plots that Captain Mo nity, belonged were 40 to the rales ordered to destroy belonged large and small cacique Cabnal. These


the Chuj of San Mateo Ixtatan, a town located 66 km. southwest of Sac Balam. They used to exchange cacao and annatto for salt and iron tools of the Chuj (Caso Bar rera 2002: 259). described this trade in 1684: yQuevedo Bishop Navas Indians have dealings with those of San Mateo Ix [....] The Lacandon tatan and to this town cacao and annatto from their land to be bring bartered for salt, reales and iron tools for to tilling. I have been able buy very good The and thick cacao." traders were visited (AGI, Guatemala 158)


Chuj when Eulalia

and continually

any Spaniard arrived (some 88 to 110 kms. entered

in regular and constant engaged dealings with the their town for trade purposes and even hid in their homes With the Kanjobal from Santa suddenly and unannounced. from Sac Balam), the Lacandon mention that an Indian named were in constant con Luis Cotta, from Santa fruit trees such as cacao, As has been trees to a

frontation. Historical Eulalia,


into the Lacandon milpas where they had "some to steal their fruit sugar cane and zapote" (AGI, Guatemala 158). for several different Mesoamerican mentioned, cultures, especially theMaya were considered private property, particularly cacao trees, which generally the governing elite. fruit from these trees without permission was Taking bananas, major offense, so much so that starting from the incident with Luis Cotta,


belonged considered the Lacandon

Cacao, declared war even

vanilla and annatto:

three production

and exchange


41 occasions, reli and

reaching The importance were made

against the people the extreme of of revered

of Santa Eulalia, which was raided on many taking prisoners for human sacrifice (Ibid). and orchards is also reflected

gion: their gods animals. Drinks

so that theywould protect the milpas, cacao from cacao as well as ground cacao were offered a big bundle in the courtyard, made

the milpas

in Lacandon orchards

to their gods:

while burninglotsof pine [Pinussp.] and copal [incense] and offeredit
food and drink, and sprayed cacao and maize its feet on top of a slab of stone, they placed cacao and animal fat. (AGI, Guatemala 153, f. 274v). upon large the bundle and at amounts of ground


they shaped

of sticks and leaves,

Itwas not until 1695 that the Spaniards were able to conquer the "fearful" Lacan don nation, when they took their last capital Sac Balam by surprise, which then received were Senora de los Dolores. the Spanish name of Nuestra They forcibly removed from their lands and were taken to the highlands of Guatemala where most of them ultimately 1973 Vol. 5: 446-447; de Vos The forceful removal of the died (Ximenez 1980:190-211). Lacandon meant the regional collapse of the left their lands abandoned, which surely of cacao and annatto. The Spaniards were unable to reestablish the produc production tion of these crops, because with the disappearance of the Lacandon, knowledge of their semi-intensive production and traditional management was lost forever.

The Pakaboob
Cacao deep


Choi orchards


soils neighboring

macinta, Pasion-Salinas, as well as in the valley of the Sula River was

in the fertile valleys with successfully only be established the region of central Peten, along the large rivers such as the Usu river system, Dulce the rivers in Belize and the Polochic-IzabalinHonduras. The core area of this extensive re

Choi and was a zone of intensive production of cacao gion occupied by theManche not been mentioned in the relevant works of the specialists (Figure 3). This region has on the 1969; Coe y Coe 1999; McLeod 1973). Until now, there was topic (Bergmann no

that the Choi carried out in their orchards description of the intensive management data we analyzed, indicate that in these groves called in Cholti, pakab. The ethnohistorical the Choi intensively produced cacao, vanilla and annatto (Figure 4). The large extension and high productivity of them true "plantations." To the northeast 67). At are made these pakab as well as their remarkable specialization makes


there were Choi


this type of orchards were found along the Belize coastal region, (AGI, living in close vicinity of Yucatec Maya populations people town of Tipu, which was a Yucatec Maya the encomienda settlement, of cacao

descriptions this town one

to the Franciscan was the town of Lucu, also of Yucatec Maya where, according Tipu, "the best annatto in all of the New Spain, as well as an excellent friar Fuensalida, they had thick cacao, red in color and with an excellent flavor, as well as vanillas that they call

In Choi. such as the ones of the Manche plantations cacao trees. since Prehispanic times, 8,000 Seemingly, principal possessed this town had been producing cacao, annatto and vanilla. Twelve leagues (66 kms.) from

42 Journal of Latin American


Figure 3. Cacao centuries.



in the southern Maya




1971 Vol. II: 215). ci^biques, very good and fragrant for chocolate" (Lopez de Cogolludo a very prosperous town because Lucu was considered of its large number of cacao or must have been introduced chards. These specialized orchards in the Yucatec by villages the neighboring Choi populations. The main Manche Choi settlements were distributed from the south of Belize Izabal. Their Xocmo and

as well Coban

lower part of the Polochic River, north to a region around Lake limits to the north and to the west with those of the Itza, Mopan, as with to the south other peoples inVerapaz. As has been mentioned, such as the Kekchi the Choi

lands had and

and Lacandon

towns of Cahabon

trated their agricultural activity in their orchards 67, 181). These crops required hard and highly specialized work, which started with the or planting of nurseries (called inCholtf petconob petpacab) to obtain seedlings. These were planted with extreme and constant care so as to avoid infestations or any damages. The Manche large cacao Choi grew two kinds of cacao: 1695). They the normal called called uaalcab (Moran also had two harvests cacau (cacao) and a a year of annatto

and concen planted small milpas of cacao and annatto (AGI Guatemala



and annatto:

three production

and exchange



Figure 4. Agrosystems Choi cacao c) Manche

of the southern Maya lowlands, a) Itza milpa, - 17th centuries. orchards, ca. 16th

b) Lacandon



Journal of Latin American


Vanilla was

was called %ut%il or winter annatto, quivi in Cholti. The first quivi andyaxkzni/ quivi or summer annatto. The of this spice and colorant also required growing and processing very hard work, since the dye had to be extracted and shaped into cakes, for the market. called ed much work

means term hit%inbil "forbidden tree", which supports the interpretation of trees as pri vate property. The fertile valley systems were not only important for the cacao or growing of the development of important trade routes. There were wa chards, but also allowed

chisbic'm Cholti, its processing was also highly specialized and demand since the pods had to be cured and dried to obtain a superior quality sources do not to whom these orchards belonged, but, product. The historical specify it is almost certain they were the property of their rulers and In Cholti the principales.

terways and overland routes linking Choi towns that served as ports, resting places and centers (AGI, Guatemala 67). We know that some Choi principales were great trading the trade with the Itza and with the encomienda tradesmen who monopolized towns

an intricate commercial inVerapaz. Before the arrival of the Spaniards network existed between theManche After the Spanish conquest, Choi, Itza and the Chontal of Acalan. the Choi took advantage of their vicinity to the Kekchi towns of Cahabon encomienda and Coban for cacao And to carry out a continuous trade with them for salt and metal and annatto, as stated in 1605 by Fray Juan de Esquerra: tools in exchange

later they have come many other times. I had once twenty two on the of the festivity of the [Manche Choi] here in Cahabon day town which is the Nativity of Our Lady. Every time that they came we to them and told them to receive the preached gospel and they always


the same answer. I sent messengers many times and sent them salt (they do not have any in their country) and some knives and machetes that they hold in great esteem. (AGI, Guatemala 181).

the Manche are used to refer to tradesmen: one is aical, Choi different words Among which translates as rich person and refers to traders to the elite. There are also belonging the terms ahpolon and ah chon which refer to common merchants (Moran 1695). It seems that the kinsmen of the rulers acted as aicaloob, as must have been the case of the son of the great lord Acusaha, as cited in the testimony of Andres Fernandez Pareja in 1600:

[....] and then, at that time, they came [theManche Choi] to buy salt and other necessary son of their great lord, whose things under the mandate was there amongst them, and whom much. He told they respected very me that on behalf of all [Spaniards], I should write to their great lord his and should send him messengers, father, named Acusaha [Ah Cusaha?] so that deal with the case. He to tell his father they would promised about the good treatment that he and all the other Indians had received 59, ff. 2-2v). (AGI, Guatemala In spite of the constant statements of the friars over the simple political organi the Choi and the little respect they had for their authorities, the above docu

zation ment


us a different gives perspective by pointing out the existence of a great lord whom This document, dated 1600, seems to demonstrate that "they respected very much". the political organization of theManche Choi was gradually being modified through the XVII that this was due to the constant attacks carried out century. We assume by the as well as the fact of Itza and polity, being under continuous pressure by the Spaniards

Cacao, the Dominican

vanilla and annatto:

three production

and exchange the cost

systems (AGI, Guatemala


to convert to the Catholic faith and to become vassals of the Span Verapaz asking them ish Crown, the Choi excused themselves by saying that they "were busy harvesting their cacao and 59). (AGI, Guatemala milpas" theXVII century the efforts of civil and church authorities of Gua Throughout temala to conquer and convert the Choi, did not come to an end (Ximenez 1973). Itwas a and troubled process because of the resistance presented by theManche Choi, as long

extended in 1600 by the Alcalde Mayor of 179;Tovilla 1960: 265). To the invitation

Order, which

tried to convert

them whatever

are trouble-free, stated by Fray Agustin Cano, "the barbarous Indians of those mountains as it" (AGI, Guatemala 152 f. 36). No just they easily accept the faith, they easily abandon one can blame the Manche once reduced, Choi for their "lack of constancy" because, were easy prey to the towns of they Spanish and Indian authorities of the encomienda soon Verapaz, who enough started exploiting and extracting them their resources and labor. This was the case in 1678, when the Alcalde Mayor of Verapaz, Sebastian de to "seize from the poor, newly converted their annatto, Olivera, decided [Manche Choi] cacao and vanillas" This MM-4338). certain Bartolome Manche Choi of Chiapas, Yucatan and Guatemala (Bancroft Library, Documents a done by appointing as Indian governor of the town of Cahabon, his accessory, who trade practices with the Coc, imposed compulsory and forced them to receive metal tools and other wares at extremely high was

Each machete was sold to them for for annatto, cacao and vanilla. prices in exchange a in Guatemala of cacao of cacao), when used to City a machete (8,000 grains xiquipil cost four reales (Ibid). Through the same historical source, we know that up to seventy in the Choi town, as well as many other goods machetes were acquired by one Manche same visit. If one takes into consideration that one grain of cacao weighs around one gram, a xiquipil of cacao weighed eight kgs., which approximately of cacao of one town. In the aforementioned the production case, Choi After us an idea of gives the price paid by the


for seventy machetes was 560 kgs. of cacao. In 1626, for exchange was annatto. cacao, the second important product one Manche town 920 kgs., at that time worth Choi 1,700 pesos (AGI, produced only endured by this group at the Guatemala 181). From the standpoint of the exploitation hands of the Alcalde Bartolome

and his associate, the Indian governor Mayor Sebastian de Olivera it is important to note that in Tipu Coc, (Belize), one xiquipil of cacao cost around 10.5 reales in the mid XVII century (Jones 1989: 112). In addition we know that cost four reales. The seventy machetes which in 1678, one iron machete in Guatemala sold to the Manche of 735 reales;

had been

Choi for a total of 70 xiquipiles of cacao, were worth the inGuatemala if they had been acquired City, their price would equivalent and Coc were leftwith a huge profit of that Olivera have been 280 reales, which means Choi were forced to pay 2.5 times their original price. In an in 455 reales. The Manche direct way

since this is evidence that the Choi orchards were under intensive production, not only the demands of the Itza, under the threat of violent retribu they had tomeet of the Spanish authorities who the demands tion, but they also had to meet imposed had also to fulfill the needs of the tribute and even more, this cacao production heavy townsfolk who had to resort to trade with the Choi, to have access to these encomienda products which was emphasized were as part of their own being demanded in 1676: Francisco Gallegos by Fray Indians tax and tribute burden. As

The Catholic enue, which hand

those mountains the more

of Manche, believe that in the neighborhood living a rev are their Indies, from where they receive large on the one hand consists of a lot of cacao, and on the other than thirty six thousand pounds of annatto which exit


Journal of Latin American


and the Castillo Indians of Verapaz [del Golfo].The through Verapaz have very few, if any, plants of annatto, and this latter part is for certain

added). (Gailegosl676: 3; italics

of cacao and annatto of theManche in The production Choi orchards became at the end of the XVII century into the colonial market of Guatemala by corporated means of trade and the repartimiento system. Such cacao production has not been quan tified nor its significance adequately considered by scholars. A careful analysis of the and the effects of significance of this production in colonial Guatemala. studies of the cacao booms its collapse should be considered in


and finally led to their disappearance. In 1699, Captain at the Presidio of Peten, and who in the conquest assigned participated of the Itza, stated that some Choi and Mopan Indians were still living inwhat had been their lands, and that he had been able to realize this because of the great care that was in the cacao and vanilla groves: evidenced abandonment of their orchards Flores, to follow some trails bus that I sent sergeant Martin de Montoya Indians who live in villages in those mountains, which, accord to my way of are the ones that have limits with those of ing thinking, the Gulf [Dulce] and which belong to several different nations such as [....]

theManche Choi popula By 1689,with the assistance of the Indians of Cahabon, tion was collected together and then forcibly relocated to theValley of Urran in the high lands (Ximenez Such forced relocation brought about the 1973, Vol. 5: 281: 462-465).


the Mopan and Choi, and nowadays there is a town of more than four hundred people that belongs to the doctrine of the priests of Santo Do mingo, which is the town of Belen, close to Rabinal. And in all of these localities there is evidence trails at their own manner

that there are Indians using these paths and and habits, as is evidenced in the care and tidiness cacao and vanilla orchards and 151 bis, of their otherfruits. (AGI, Guatemala f. 134v; italics added).

in the Valley of Urran, there were only By the year 1710 in the town of Belen, Choi four Manche left.The whole population had died from disease, famine and "mel 1971, Vol. 6: 220). With (Ximenez ancholy" all knowledge about the specialized orchards vanilla, was lost. the disappearance in the production of the Manche annatto Choi, and of cacao,

Conclusions The scholars Voorhies and Izalco, have Soconusco, Chontalpa, Suchitepequez to be the all inclusive regions of intensive cacao production, and Gasco Choi been considered by and

colonial periods (Bergmann1969; Fowler 1993;Gasco 1990; Scholes and Roys 1968;
theManche research on the relationships of the Itza 2004). However, polity with and with the historic Lacandon (Caso Barrera: 2002; Caso Barrera and has allowed us to outline and define the Lacandon and Manche Choi ter

for prehispanic

Aliphat 2002), ritories as a new and vital cacao


producing region, which in addition provided significant This region was quantities of annatto and vanilla, crops of great relevance for theMaya. a liminal area between the independent territory of the Itza and the Kekchf populations under Spanish rule at Verapaz. The from the standpoint of environ study of different regional agrosystems, history, has helped us to differentiate at least three historical agrosystems present



and annatto:

three production

and exchange



in the region, which show different degrees of integration and intensification of cacao three agrosystems of the ecological imply the management farming (Figure 4). These structure and diversity and represent a was to practice whose goal modify and control of the tropical rainforest. Cacao succession different stages of ecological requires the presence demands maize ment can support for the vines of vanilla. Annatto provide it in an intermediate position on the luminosity requirements of light, placing and other species grown inmilpas. of productive manage The Itza milpas and orchards created a complex mosaic of shade trees which interactions The cultivation.

areas under

among the species of the tropical rainforest and the Itza growers transformed the structure of the forests of the Peten region and enriched them with arboreal species of economic importance. The and low fertility characteristic agricultural limits imposed by the shallow soils of medium of multifaceted limits of the intensification limitations of ca processes are basic to understand

of central Peten, defined the agroecological cao annatto and vanilla production. These

ecological the expansion of the Itza to the south, to gain control on the one hand, of the saltworks cacao of Nueve Cerros, as well as the neighboring regions, of the Lacandon producing to the southwest and on the other hand, to under their sphere of influ and Acala bring ence the territories of theManche Choi, tributaries. All of these Choi-speaking pressure of the Itza. populations in the fertile valleys of the Pasion River and its had to face the constant and ferocious

of Sac Balam, at the time of their conquest by the Spaniards, had The Lacandon a system of inwhich they grew not only maize, beans, squash, and tubers but also milpas a number of arboreal species among which, were their kept under cultivation significant semi-intensive described cacao and annatto orchards. In the other hand the Manche Choi were as an apathetic people, who grew very small milpas and lived a careful in the region. However, analysis of the historical cacao farmers and sources shows that theManche Choi were highly specialized produc an ers of annatto and vanilla. The orchards of the Manche Choi, can be considered by the Spaniards in little settlements dispersed to their productivity, extension, labor demands example of intensive cultivation and due can be defined as true and marked plantations. specialization is shaped like a fertile crescent which The region of the Southern Maya Lowlands to the Gulf of Honduras extends from Tabasco (Figure 1). This region formed the geographical system established during the landscape of the exchange in long distance of Acalan, which were specialized the Chontal period by post-classic cacao. The realm caused by the trade on luxury goods collapse of the Chontal including left a vacuum which was filled by the Itza, who for eight katun periods Spanish conquest and economic (160 years) were able to reestablish natto, vanilla, salt, axes and

and exploit a commercial system based on cacao, an as well as iron machetes, defending their autonomy against Peta and Map, the Choi of Yol, Yaxha, the Spanish. The Lacandon people of Sac Balam, settlements of Tipu and Xi and Tzoite, the Yucatec Chocahau, Manche, Yaxhal, Campin towns of the Kekchi from Coban, Lanquin and Cahabon bun as well as the encomienda were witnesses Peten by Martin Notes to the Itza supremacy, which collapsed in 1697. de Ursua yArizmendi abruptly with the capture of Noh

1 CONACYT The authors wish to thank

for the financial an, El Peten version

on Latin America of Environmental of this paper at the II Symposium History and in the Session "New stories on the rainforests of Latin America and the Caribbean

among theMayas of Yucat support through the Project "Relationships to do research and present an early and La Verapaz, XVII-XIX" 40088-H,

Council of Science andTechnology) (National


Journal of Latin American


at Havana, Cuba. The anonymous the Caribbean" coordinated by Christian Brannstrom are reviewers of the original paper and their pertinent commentaries graciously acknowl has also provided a great number of critical and always helpful David Robinson edged. forwhich we are immensely grateful. editorial comments of Acalan was Chontal province It was ruled by Paxbolonacha Campeche. The 3 Archivo 4 The General de Indias, hereafter AGI. comprised the southern part of Quintana Roo and the north 2 and was during located in Tabasco and south of

the time of Cortes.

province of Belize.

of Bacalar

5 itwas located on the tributary called Actually stream from Salinas de los Nueve Cerros. 6 The were

Icbolay, which

joins the Chixoy


a series of riddles that the rulers of Yucatan Maya Zuyua language consisted of answers to, in order to have access to to know and under the obligation provide

government. 7 Archivo General de Centroamerica, hereafter AGCA hereafter de Guate

8 Bancroft Library Documents of Chiapas, Yucatan and Guatemala MM-433, al arzobispo BL-CHYG-MM-433. Informe del prior del convento de Coban mala, Andres References Acuna, Atran, Atran Rene Scott. (ed.). 1993. 1982. Relacionesgeogrdficas delsigloXVI: Itza Maya Lois de Navas yQuevedo, Coban 6 de febrero de 1685.

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