THE CASTE WAR OF YUCATAN by Nelson Reed
The cenote itself was insignificant from a practical point of view. It lay in a dell, tucked between steep, rocky hillocks, a grotto perhaps fifteen feet deep and eight feet wide, the floor of the chamber filled with several feet of water that maintained its level despite heavy use. But the inconvenience, the low, dark entrance, the small size, and hidden quality were exactly the features that appealed to the Maya imagination, characteristics that would make this a “virgin” cenote par excellence. There was, in fact, a larger and more useful cenote a half mile to the east. It would be natural to find a cross at such a “virgin” place, and there was one here. It was only three or four inches long, lightly carved in a mahogany tree that grew at the edge of the grotto — the work of a wandering hunter or, some say, of Jose Maria Barrera. It was the original “Little Holy Cross.” This would also be a natural place for the survival of celestial voices, lying as it did among the least assimilated of the Huit Maya, beyond the frontier, deep in the jungle, safe from the eyes and ears of the white man. If there was a speaking cross, Barrera used it; if not, he adapted one, using traditional means. A wooden cross was produced, displayed on a platform of poles that stood on the slope of a hill just to the east of the grotto. There the hopeless fugitives prayed to God for release from oppression, and, the ventriloquist Manuel Nahuat being among them, God answered: His children should continue to resist the impious enemy; they should have no fear, since He would protect them from Dzulob bullets, and they should now attack the village of Kampocolche. Barrera stage-managed the divine promise and command, but his personal motives and the details of how it was arranged were unimportant in face of the collective need. The solution offered by the voice resolved a problem so emotionally charged that there could be no question of skepticism. Here was proof that God was on the side of His Mazehualob children. And the need for faith sustained the faith through the massacre of the Maya at Kampocolche. They rushed the place in the dark, armed with God’s promise of immunity from gunfire, ignoring the bullets for a chance to use their machetes; almost succeeding, they refused to give up when a counterattack threw them back from the village, and they persisted until the cold light of dawn made clear the broken promise and the dead. This was on January 4, 1851. Learning of the cult from prisoners, Colonel Novelo led a guerrilla of 220 men by secret trails and surprised the shrine on March 23. Manuel Nahuat fell after killing a Ladino captain but Barrera escaped. The soldiers were amazed to discover a village of more than a thousand people where before there had been nothing, with other settlements clustered in the neighborhood. The Colonel reported that he could have brought in several thousand prisoners if he had sufficient men to guard them. He did collect the assembled military supplies, the offering, and the cross. It was hard on the Maya, but their faith would have more to swallow.
December 9, 2016
Municipio de Corozal