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La Educación
Número: (122) III
Año: 1995

The Textbook Account

In the Southeastern portion of the state of Quintana Roo, there is a region inhabited by a Mayan subgroup known among themselves as the Macehualoob.5 These particular Macehualoob6 inhabit a tropical forest region in over one hundred dispersed settlements that cluster around the principal town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto. One million hectares of national park separates the heart of the Macehual region from the tourist spots of the northern Mexican Caribbean. In the Macehual region, it is common for children to hear contrasting accounts of their history in the written record they find at school and in the daily conversations of the senior Macehualoob, (hereafter, nohoch macoob, both men and women). Although teachers, the mass media, and the Museum of the Speaking Cross all play their part in teaching history, it is the nohoch macoob conversations and the textbook used in primary schools to teach Macehual history to children aged nine to twelve which will be explored.7 I attach so much importance to textbooks because they testify to the current inability of official histories to cope with the political challenge of cultural and gender diversity.

The three historical periods from the textbook that will be discussed correspond to those of Macehual oral histories. The first is the mid-nineteenth century Mayan rebellion commonly known as the Caste War, which took place after years of Mayan servitude on the plantations of the Yucatan. The second is the roughly fifty years of Macehual self-rule that followed the rebellion and during which the Macehualoob fended off all Mexican invasions. The third is the Mexican attack of 1901 and the gradual incorporation of Macehual territory into the Mexican nation.

The textbook describes the present as a time of advancement, and the past years of Mayan bondage on the haciendas as a time of abuse which has now been amended. It explains the abuses on the plantations—“punishment by lashes,” “debt-peonage,” along with “racism, political exclusion and the burdensome taxes the Mayan had to pay”—as the causes that led to the Mayan revolt of 1847, the “Caste War” (148-152). The dichotomy of “civilization” and “barbarism” is maintained throughout the textbook, basically taking out the form of essentializing categories. Thus, we are told that the Maya rebelled because of “inner hatred of whites and ignorance, defending principles they did not understand” (152). The textbook implies that this hatred led the Maya to seize arms from the Yucatan militias where they were enlisted, and “once the Maya were armed, they realized their own strength” and “took the first opportunity to declare themselves in open war against the white race” (152).

The textbook characterizes the period of Macehual autonomy (1847-1901) as a time of regional stagnation and separation. The Macehualoob are perceived as an obstacle to the economic development of the region and are represented as being torn by internal divisions and strife. They are also characterized as idolatrous, basing in their resistance to the Mexicans on their belief in a Speaking Cross, “idols with which the Maya were familiarized since colonial times” (65). The image presented of the Macehualoob is one of idolatrous savages, dominated by inner hatred. The underlying message is that they are incapable of ruling themselves.

Within this historical framework, war is characterized as the push through which these conflicts came to a halt as the Maya gradually became integrated into “civilization.” The drive to recapture the “primitive” region and develop it economically makes up the heroic action. The heroes who contributed to this drive are officers and soldiers, depicted in a swamp, struggling with the climate and the insects, in contrast to the Maya who are represented as comfortable in the rainforest. The soldiers’ efforts to recapture this region for the nation-state are depicted as successful at the end. Hence, the present is represented as embodying the triumph of “civilization” over “barbarism,” as expressed in the creation of the state of Quintana Roo and its incorporation into the Mexican nation-state (190-275).