In the mid 19th century, the Yucatan peninsula was the center of a massive indigenous rebellion. The Caste War of Yucatan (also known as the Maya Social War) is generally acknowledged to have been one of the longest and most successful indigenous rebellions in Latin American history. The rebellion started in July of 1847 when Maya forces from Tihosuco attacked and burned to the ground the houses of ladino families in the neighboring town of Tepich. During the rebellion, the entire region of the Yucatan became a war zone and was virtually abandoned. A massive migration of people caused towns in the entire region to be left to the rapidly growing jungle. Many of these Maya people disappeared into the surrounding jungle – living a semi-nomadic and semi-agricultural life for many generations. In the 1930s the region, including the town of Tihosuco, was gradually resettled from the north as Maya people looked for new hunting areas and agricultural land.
The church in Tihosuco is called the Templo del Santo Niño Jesús. It was destroyed in 1866 following a ferocious siege by Maya rebels against government forces garrisoned in the church. The top photograph shows the still destroyed church in 1970 as the town begins to grow following reoccupation in the 1930s. Only the central part of the church was being utilized for services. The bottom photograph is from 2015 and shows the restored church. However, the entrance façade was never rebuilt in order to always remember ‘the blood spilled during the war.’
This building, as exemplified by these photographs, represents:
- the power of the church during the colonial period in Mexico,
- the massive indigenous rebellion in the mid 19th century,
- the destruction of the church and forced migration of hundreds of thousands of people from settlements throughout the peninsula,
- the slow, more gradual migration of Maya people back into the region in the middle of the 20th century.
Richard M. Leventhal is a Professor in the University of Pennsylvania Department of Anthropology and the Director of the Penn Cultural Heritage Center. He has done extensive archaeological field research in Belize, Mexico, and other parts of Central America for over thirty years, and currently works on the Tihosuco Heritage Preservation and Community Development Project.