Mexico: The Haciendas
Haciendas were owned by nobility, or influential settlers, and scattered across the country. They employed local people in agriculture and production and formed the basis of Mexico’s economic system for hundreds of years. Prior to haciendas, agriculture and mining were used to support only the local population. Under Spanish rule, the country suddenly had demand for its exports, and began selling food and materials overseas.
Haciendas in Mexico date as far back as the 16th century, but reached their peak from the 1800s to early 1900s. Those focused on farming were the most popular.
Each hacienda had at least 2,500 acres of land, which made it impossible for the owner to plant, cultivate, and harvest the land alone. So, native Mexicans were employed. Sometimes, with more than 100 employees and their families, these large, privately-owned properties operated more like independent cities than businesses or farms. Each hacienda had its own school, store, health facility, and chapel.
Most haciendas were closed or abandoned in the early 1900s, during the Mexican Revolution. Although neglected and dilapidated, many have been restored to be used as hotels and restaurants. Hacienda Sotuta de Peon has been restored to look and operate as it did circa 1900, complete with mule-drawn carts to transport crops from the field.
Each hacienda focused on cultivating or producing one major crop or material. In the Yucatan, henequen meant big business. Also called green gold, henequen is a natural fiber that comes from agave leaves and is used to make rope and twine.
From 1880 to 1916, the Yucatán had nearly 200 factories for processing henequen. In the 1950s, synthetic fiber was invented. This led to a complete drop-off in henequen production. Today, there are fewer than 20 factories that produce henequen.
Fun Fact: Henequen is also called sisal, which comes from the name of the Yucatán port from which the henequen often shipped out of. Workers gathering the boxes of henequen in other countries saw the stamp ‘Sisal’ and mistook the port’s name for the product inside.