— piste — past and present



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Steggerda: Maya Indians of Yucatán

— PISTE —

PAST AND PRESENT


Morris Steggerda, Chapter I, Maya Indians of Yucatán (C.I.W. Publication #531, 1941)

Introduction………………………………………………………………………… 1

Piste – Its Past……………………………………………………………… 3

To 1847……………………………………………………………………………………… 3

1847-1900………………………………………………………………………………… 6

1900-1933………………………………………………………………………………… 9

1933-1938………………………………………………………………………………… 11

Activities of the Town……………………………………………… 22



Introduction

A history of Piste is given to show the changes which occur in a typical Yucatan town from ancient to modern times. During its early history the Piste area undoubtedly prospered in the glory of Chichen Itza. Under the Spanish-speaking Yucatecans it became a thriving colonial town of 1500 inhabitants, which went down to ruin in 1847 during the War of the Castes. By 1918 its population had again increased, but a new revolution reduced its numbers by half and left the remainder quarreling and hating one another. Since then political changes, the archaeological work of Carnegie Institution and the Mexican Government, and the building of the Merida-Chichen Itza highway have produced their effects on the community. Today Piste is an agricultural Indian town in which the people live comfortably but without luxury.

The Indians who inhabit the northern part of the Yucatan peninsula are known as the Yucatan Maya. Physically they are very small; the average stature for adult males is only 155 cm. And for females, 142 cm. The average stature for North American Indians ranges from this low figure for the Maya to 175 cm. For Dakota Indian males. The Maya adults have excellent bodies and most young people are healthy and strong, due, perhaps, to rigid selection by a very high rate of infant mortality. (Photographs of a typical Maya man and woman appear in plate 1a, b.) They are a part of the Maya linguistic family of Southern Mexico and Guatemala. The Maya of Yucatan are similar in language and, for the most part, in custom to those of the State of Campeche and the Territory of Quintana Roo in Mexico, the Department of Peten in Guatemala, and British Honduras.

The State of Yucatan has an area of 48,064 square km. And in 1930 had a population of 386,096 persons, considerably more than 200,000 of whom are said to speak the Maya language 2 (a map of the Maya area is shown in fig. 1).

Seen from the air, Yucatan appears to be extremely level except for a range of hills in the southwest. This view changes, however, as one travels the small trails over little, irregular limestone hillocks sometimes 9 m. high. Frequently the mounds of the ancient ruins resemble these natural mounds. The trees and shrugs are referred to as “bush” and grow to 6 – 10.5 m. high. The shallow soil is formed by the erosion of limestone. No metals of precious stones are found in this area. The country is suitable for the cultivation of henequen, which is the chief export. Maize, which grows well, supplies the natives with their chief source of food.

Traveling in Yucatan is exceedingly difficult except on four or five recently built automobile roads. Very rough cart roads connect most of the chief towns, and only trails and footpaths lead to the smaller ones. Rarely improved, these paths curve in and out between the small hills. Charnay’s description of Yucatan travel in 1863 holds, in the main, for today: “It was not without trouble that we arrived at Chichen, for our flesh was torn by thorns and our bodies covered with garrapatas, a kind of large wood louse [wood tick, Amblyomma cajennense] which sinks into the skin.” 3 These garrapatas are extremely numerous in the dry season, especially in bush where cattle browse.4

The dry season lasts from November to May, the rains beginning in May and continuing through September. The average annual rainfall at Chichen Itza is 117.9 cm. The average maximum temperature during the day is about 91 degrees F.; the average minimum, 65 degrees. The nights are generally cool and, during March, the temperature may fall to 40 degrees.

Since Piste is a typical Indian town and its history may well exemplify that of the whole region, some knowledge of its development is necessary for an understanding o the contemporary Maya. Moreover, it is in this town that much of the anthropological material for the entire study was obtained. 5

Piste is in the north central part of the peninsula of Yucatan near the ancient Maya city of Chichen Itza. It has a population of about 400. Its location and that of the neighboring villages which I visited are shown in figure 2.




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