Historic Account of Maya Indian Food
Yucatan, when discovered, was occupied by a number of tribes of Maya Indians. The Maya language spread beyond the limits of Yucatan. This region, with Chiapas, Guatemala, and a part of Honduras, contained and still contains evidence, in the ruins of ancient structures, of a higher advancement in the arts of life than any other part of North America. The present Maya Indians of Yucatan are the descendants of the people who occupied the country at the period of the Spanish conquest, and who occupied the massive stone houses now in ruins, from which they were forced by Spanish oppression.
We have a notable illustration of communism in living among the present Maya Indians, as late as the year 1840, through the work of John L Stephens. At Nohcacab, a few miles east of the ruins of Uxmal, Mr. Stephens, having occasion to employ laborers, went to a settlement of Maya Indians, of whom he gives the following account: "Their community consists of a hundred labradores, or working men; their lands are held and wrought in common, and the products are shared by all. Their food is prepared at one hut, and every family sends for its portion, which explains a singular spectacle we had seen on our arrival, a procession of women and children, each carrying an earthen bowl containing a quantity of smoking hot broth, all coming down the same road, and disappearing among the different huts. Every member belonging to the community, down to the smallest pappoose, contributing in turn a hog. From our ignorance of the language, and the number of other and more pressing matters claiming our attention, we could not learn all the details of their internal economy, but it seemed to approximate that improved state of association which is sometimes heard of among us; and as theirs has existed for an unknown length of time, and can no longer be considered merely experimental, Owen on Fourier might perhaps take lessons from them with advantage." [Footnote: Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, ii, 14.]
A hundred working men indicate a total of five hundred persons, who were then depending for their daily food upon a single fire, the provisions being supplied from common stores, and divided from the caldron. It is, not unlikely, a truthful picture of the mode of life of their forefathers in the "House of the Nuns," and in the "Governor's House" at Uxmal, at the epoch of the Spanish conquest.
It is well known that Spanish adventurers captured these pueblos, one after the other, and attempted to enforce the labor of the Indians for personal ends, and that the Indians abandoned their pueblos and retreated into the inaccessible forests to escape enslavement, after which their houses of stone fell into decay, the ruins of which, and all there ever was of them, still remain in all parts of these countries.
It is hardly supposable that the communism here described by Mr. Stephens was a new thing to the Mayas; but far more probable that it was a part of their ancient mode of life, to which these ruined houses were eminently adapted. The subject of the adaptation of the old pueblo houses in Yucatan and Central America to communism in living will be elsewhere considered.