The Mexican Hacienda

Nov 2, 2020 by Rosarie Salerno

One of the methods used by Spain to colonize the Americas was through land-grants given to the Nobility or as a reward for valiant service to men like the Conquistador, Hernando Cortez. These lands were called Haciendas. The word hacienda comes from the Latin facienda meaning things to be done. The primary function of these estates was for the purpose of creating industrialized centers. They existed from the 16th century, peaking in the 18th century.

Various products were produced from farming, ranching, lumber mills, rope making, growing and the fermentation of agave for Pulque and the distillation of tequila, mining, cultivation of sugar cane, among others. The hacienda’s organization was similar to the complicated feudal system that was a way of life in Medieval Europe. Originally, the grants were small parcels of land. The Royal Crown feared losing their domain’s control to any one person, but it was not long until the Hacendados, the term used for the titleholders, annexed more territory into their estates, some of which became huge.

Laborers were tied to the hacienda for basic sustenance, some medical benefits, and an insignificant wage. They were always in debt to the Hacendados in the same kind of relationship that miners and sharecroppers have had with the company store. The Haciendas provided housing for the laborers and their families, a school for the children, a church, a jail, a cemetery, and the processing plant or factory. Some were so large they had their own railway station and were more like towns. They also served as inns for travelers and became important economic and social centers. Huge fortunes were made from the labor of the native Mexicans.

The era of the Hacienda came to an end with the Mexican Revolution 1910 – 1917. After centuries of living tantamount to being slaves, the Mexican people rebelled, burning down and destroying the buildings along with the infrastructure of the Haciendas. The Haciendas were turned into ruins and abandoned. The Mexican Constitution of 1917 adopted at the end of the Revolution restored the land to the indigenous people in the same tradition as the Aztec ownership as it existed before the Spaniards took control. The Ejido, as it is known, was prohibited by law from being sold. The Ejido belonged, and still belongs, to a group of related and/or nonrelated people who own it as a group. Ejidos are considered farms and ranches.

At this time, some Haciendas have been restored and are in use as tourist destinations, including luxurious hotels and museums. Ruins can also be found in parts of Mexico and Latin America hidden under dense vegetation. If you are one of those types of people who likes to explore, be very careful not to fall into an old mine shaft or a well. Your best bet is to hire a guide who is familiar with the area.

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