Features — 31 December 2016 — by CLINTON CANUL LUNA
The Day of the Cross

THE CASTE WAR OF YUCATAN by Nelson Reed–Barrera was working overtime to build his religious esprit de corps. He turned up with an image of the Virgin, which had traveled the now familiar road down from heaven, but it didn’t inspire faith; the idea of the cross, based solidly on the familiar cult of lineage and village crosses, was more successful. Possibly the Yalcoba location was a false lead planted to divert Ladino interest, but at any event Barrera quickly had the crosses installed at the accepted shrine of Chan Santa Cruz, where he built a defensive system of stone barricades around the place and maintained patrols against another surprise.

The patrols were needed. Knowing the religious calendar, the Ladinos waited until May 3, 1851, the Day of the Holy Cross, which had a logical significance for the new cult, and then attacked, 153 men under Colonel Gonzalez. The expected fiesta was under way, but the distant explosion of a signal bomb gave Barrera time to evacuate his people, delaying the soldiers briefly at the walls, sniping, and then fading back into the forest. Barrera had an estimated 1,400 men by this time, but he lacked guns and ammunition for a fire-fight and could ill afford another Kampocolche. He left the enemy an empty prize and set up an open siege that night, using his own walls. The white guerrilla was too small for the isolated position and pulled out the next day, having accomplished little. As would happen so often later, it had nothing to report except the continued growth of Chan Santa Cruz.

Traditionally, the Day of the Cross brought the rains, and this third rainy season of the war was the first of them in which the Dzul drew back to his camps. This gave José María Barrera time to consider the other aspects of survival. First came the question of food. It was too late for the burning of new fields, and the Mazehualob, as they had for the past three years, would have to make do with what was available, planting the exhausted clearings and the hidden patches prepared in spite of the fighting. The question was whether to plant the corn seed and starve now, or to eat now and starve later. Most of the wild game had been run off or hunted out. There would be the too-familiar diet of wild roots, the bland yellow pulp of the Kunche, the milk of palm nuts — all symbolic of famine, food scorned in prosperity, but all too rare when needed. The lucky bands would scrape by, the others would starve. Barrera realized that he must find a replacement for the ventriloquist, a new and effective technique, if he was to hold the survivors to his cross. His answer was a thatched church with an inner room called “La Gloria,” for the altar on which the Crosses were kept, a sanctuary forbidden to all except a few assistants, guarded day and night. The congregation met in the main, outer room. This arrangement added mystery and glamor to the hidden Crosses and was in keeping with the local tradition of using a substitute Sano for procession when the genuine article was too holy for public view.

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December 23, 2016
Finca Solana
Corozal Town

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