Customer Review

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Caste War of Yucatan, August 10, 2001
This review is from: The Caste War of Yucatan [Revised Edition] (Paperback)
Nelson Reed's "Caste War of Yucatan" tells the story of an obscure Maya rebellion in Mexico in the 1840's with vigor and a style that makes this history come alive. This is a history that most Yucatecan ladinos didn't want told for many years. But in a masterful way, Reed has put life into one of the most interesting corners of the history of the Americas...the only successful native American rebellion...one that ended in disaster for all concerned.
The story covers the 53 year struggle of the communities of Yucatec Maya that rebelled against intolerable oppression in 1847 and whose events snowballed to an all out race war which raged on and off until its flame was finally extinguished due more to illness and exhaustion than to the resolve of the participants. This gripping tale of battles and desperation has enough horror and action to cause the reader to ponder who these Maya are that today greet the Cancun visitors with warm smiles and hospitality.
Mike Reed
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Initial post: Jan 19, 2013 12:04:53 PM PST
Michael Reed says:
This is a followup to my review of the Caste War of Yucatan from 12 years ago. In the mid-1970s I camped several times on the beach near the Tulum ruins next to the choza of a Caste War descendant, Pable Canche Balam. I first read Nelson Reed's book on the Caste War at this time and was fascinated being in the company of a descendant of the survivors of the rebels. Pablo lived on the beach and was very friendly and hospitable to vagabond Americans and European travelers, selling drinks and even meals to us. After all, there were no restaurants in that area back then and the town of Tulum was a collection of Maya huts with thatched roofs.

Fast-forward to 2004 when I returned to Tulum, renting a house on a nearby bay. I decided to find out if Pablo was still alive. Following my visit to the "Maya church", the Noh Cah Balam Na located in the old section of Tulum, I inquired about Pablo and was surprised to find that he was not only still among the living, but maintained his thatched hut across the street from the Maya church. Pablo held an important position in the church as an elder. Knocking on his gate I was greeted by a little girl who asked me to wait while Pablo prepared himself for a visitor by putting on a clean shirt. It was the same friendly Pablo who greeted me and invited me into his kitchen hut. He must have been in his mid-70s now. We talked about the old times of the 1970s when Pablo was not only hosting hammock-bearing visitors on the beach but had played the starring role of a Maya shaman in the movie "Chaak, the Rain God." But my visit was more serious than making light talk. I was very curious as to Pablo's interpretation of the incredible changes Tulum has gone through in the past 35 years from his perspective as a Cruzob descendant and an active participant in the Maya church of the speaking crosses. We talked of many things, but his response to my questions about the changes Tulum have undergone was like a paragraph out of Nelson Reed's book. Pablo got very serious when I asked him about these changes and he told me these were bad omens for the Maya. His own sons, he said, were being lured by jobs and money and no longer taking their religion (belief in the crosses) seriously. Then he told me that the chaaks were surely displeased with the local Maya and would bring punishment to them. He mentioned that his people have old books that they do not share with the white man that have foretold this disaster which is coming to the Maya. He said that the signs predicted in the old books have already happened and mentioned the tremendous hurricanes that swept across the Yucatan in recent years (this was 2005), the war in Iraq (interesting!), and the great tsunami in the Indian Ocean. These were the signs that told the Cruzob (the people of the crosses) that god (he interchanged the terms god and chaaks) to mean the same thing) were going to destroy the world sometime in the near future. Especially important to Pablo was the loss to the Maya of the nearby forest by Mexican authorities which created parcels of private property and prevents the Maya from clearing milpas (corn fields) in the forest and planting the sacred crop of maize. Before the creation of the Maya Riviera, the population of the east coast was so thin that the Maya were able to choose any good spot in the vast forests surrounding Tulum to plant their Milpas, a sacred obligation for the Maya mentioned by Nelson Reed. Despite the fact that the Maya could do nothing to save their forest from the creation of subdivisions of private property, Pablo told me that the chaaks would punish the Maya for their failure to carry out their farming obligations.

This discussion took place well before the prophecies of 2012 were well-known throughout the world, although I was aware of the coming of the end of the 13th bactun well before this time. But it amazed me that Pablo's world view, however wider it was than decades before, was still the "Cruzob" view of their world. I felt like I was sitting down with one of the characters in Nelson Reed's book and finding out that some aspects of the rebellion of the Caste War continues to this day. I was grateful for Pablo's hospitality and to have a heart-to-heart with a descendant of that war who still believed and carried out his role as an elder in the Maya church of Tulum. A very interesting experience, to say the least.
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