The Modern Maya

Cowboys - Corn to Cattle

Rancho San Manuel, 1976


Yucatecan hacendados have long raised cattle in an area of savannahs on the flat and salty northern coastal plain. Now, however, government subsidies are promoting the conversion of other "economically unproductive" forest lands to cattle production. Besides the ecological loss from cutting down large tracts of tropical forest, this policy ignores the local Maya dependence upon the jungle for their subsistence living. The forest provides building supplies, firewood, herbal medicines, and game, in addition to the small plots where the farmers cultivate their year's supply of corn, squash, beans, and fruits. But a farmer's food production is meager beyond satisfying his own needs, whereas cattle ranching contributes directly to the national economy. In a more ecologically minded move, the government recently set aside, on the Yucatecan peninsula, 3.1-million acres in the Sian Ka'an and the Calakmul Biosphere Reserves. Some Maya farmers become good cowboys. Others are displaced by the new ranches and are driven to find work in Cancún, or migrate hundreds of kilometers to cultivate remote areas. Women and children usually remain in their villages, economically widowed and orphaned, save for Sunday visits from the men.


Milperos and Maize - The Foundation of a Culture
Chicleros - A Season in the Jungle
The Changing Role of a Maya Woman
Henequen - The Decline of an Industry
The Cruzob - The Rebel Maya

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