Beginning in the late 18th cent., demand for cordage and fibers on the world market stimulated the formation of enormous henequen plantations throughout the northern part of the Yucatán Peninsula. Previously, villagers in the region needed only to pay relatively modest taxes and submit to occasional labor drafts in order to be left alone by colonial authorities. By the end of the 18th cent., however, village lands were suddenly subject to expropriation by Spaniards. As the plantations grew in size and number, labor drafts became increasingly onerous, particularly among groups whose lands had been expropriated. This combination of pressures led to a widespread rebellion (1847–54), known as the caste wars, in which the explicit goal was to drive all European populations off the Yucatán Peninsula, a goal that was nearly realized. The Spaniards were never able to fully suppress the conflagration, leaving isolated areas outside the plantation zone beyond effective governmental control throughout the 19th cent.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.