Hacienda Petac: A Retrospective, Part V

What follows discusses the period of agrarian reform in the Yucatan, legislation in the first half of the twentieth century, and the process of land redistribution as seen by haciendas such as Petac.



The subject of agrarian reform and the redistribution of land continued to occupy most people’s thoughts and actions throughout the first half of the twentieth century. The ruling elite used agrarian legislation as a political tool during the War and although various types of land reform were attempted, it was often for the simple sake of quieting peasant rebellions.

In 1915, the first significant law from the Revolution was passed. The Agrarian Decree, having been championed by Pancho Villa and Álvaro Obregón – who in 1920 was elected president – promised to return village lands to peasant workers. The rural majority, who had been living as essential debt slaves under the thumb of wealthy hacendados (owners of haciendas), was suddenly empowered. Two years later, a clause of the new constitution passed under President Carranza placed Mexico’s natural resources under federal jurisdiction. This allowed the expropriation of once privately owned land for redistribution to rural Mexican citizens.

 After being named President in 1920, General Obregon led the first stable President since the start of the Revolution. His term lasted until 1924.

Throughout the 1920s 53,000 square kilometers of land were redistributed in small parcels to 500,000 peasant workers around the country. During this time, ejidos, or communal land holdings, gained popularity throughout the Yucatan as parcel owners living in free villages banded together to share resources.

Even by 1930, though, ejido properties only accounted for 6.3% of the country’s agricultural property. Although foreign investors and domestic hacendados were losing political clout, it wasn’t until the passing of the 1934 Agrarian Code that land reform really gained momentum.

Under President Lázaro Cardenas, the 1934 legislation and following Agrarian Reform Act of 1936 gave even landless rural workers the right to submit ejido petitions. It also established Agrarian Commissions – with both state government officials and representatives from local peasant leagues – to help supervise the redistribution process. 45,000,000 acres of land were awarded after the law’s passage to Mexico’s agricultural underclass – 4,000,000 of which were taken from foreign (largely American) landowners.

A mural of Cardenas signing the agrarian reform act.

Hacienda Petac, of course, wasn’t immune to the land redistribution process. After the passage of the 1934 legislation, Petac was divided into 175,000 parts that were then distributed amongst the Loza family’s descendants. While peasant workers throughout the Yucatan celebrated the land reform, many Hacienda owners, of course, resented it. Throughout the Yucatan efforts both legal and not were made to preserve lands and sidestep the new laws. Petac was further divided up and at one point had over 11 different owners jockeying for control over the estate. In 1934 Señor Rafael Salazar Barrera began purchasing some of these parts of Petac from its various owners and reestablishing the original land plot. His first purchase, for 5,339 parts, cost him $6,000. By the end of the year, he had acquired 31,244 parts and was co-proprietor with the Loza family.


After the 1936 Agrarian Reform Act, Hacienda Petac was recategorized as a “Small Property” with “native lands.” More than 40% of Petac’s land, a plot known as the Gran Ejido, was given back to the Mayan villagers of Tzacala with which to begin to grow and sell agricultural products for themselves. Meanwhile, Señor Barrera continued buying property, including the hacienda’s henequen processing plant, even after the Loza family’s interest faded.


In 1994, Barrera’s relative Rafael Miguel Salazar Barrera purchased Hacienda Petac, which had been divided into three sections. Two of those plots, which included the portion of the estate with buildings, make up Petac as we know it today.


Hacienda Petac in its current iteration covers about 100 hectares. The property has undergone massive changes in its 300-year history, weathered political mayhem and seen far-reaching social transformations. Restorations over the past ten years, though, have been always conscious of this, careful to preserve Petac’s original architecture, to embrace the lovelier parts of its past and, of course, to continue the traditions of the Yucatan as a whole.

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Hacienda Petac: A Retrospective, Part IV

The following presents some of the causes and main characters of the Mexican Revolution, both as they affected the country at large and as they changed Petac.




The Mexican Revolution, which began in 1910, was precipitated largely by the dictatorial indiscretions of President Porfirio Díaz. The decade-long bloody conflict began as a revolt against his 34-year incumbency, a period known as “El Porfiriato,” but quickly disintegrated into a multi-sided civil war. Land rights and workers’ rights remained at the forefront of the fight, which led to enormous changes in the traditional hacienda system of land ownership for Petac and for haciendas elsewhere in the country.


While Díaz’ presidency was marked by Mexico’s industrialization and the growth of an urban working class, it is equally remembered for the unequal distribution of land and wealth, rampant human rights violations, and years of political corruption. Infuriated by these trespasses, a young (and previously exiled) reformer named Francisco I. Madero aligned himself with the rebellious and now-renowned Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. On November 20th, 1910, they called for an official revolt against the dictator, his limitless terms and the cruel, antiquated “encomienda” system that enslaved workers to haciendas and had given millions of hectares of land to foreign companies.




In 1911, Madero forced Díaz’ resignation and won the 1911 presidential election with an overwhelming majority. Buffered by support from the United States, he proved, however, to be a weak leader and lost the support of Zapata, who condemned Madero for empty promises of agrarian reform. Zapata published a manifesto called the “Plan de Ayala,” in which he demanded that lands “usurped” be returned to Mexico’s indigenous and working populations. Revolutionary movements, strengthened by the rural working class, coalesced in response to Zapata’s letter and Zapata found himself leading their rebellion.


It was, of course, this polarizing system of autocratic management that had defined Petac and other estates for two hundred years. Although henequen production was actually at its peak during the War, the revolutionaries’ success at ideologically liberating workers and inciting rebellion initiated the decline of the agro-industry throughout the Yucatan.


During 1913 and 1914 a series of coup d’états and assassinations saw power switch from Madero to counterrevolutionary Victoriano Huerta and then again – with the secret support of the U.S. Government – to a rural rancher named Venusiano Carranza. Initially allied with Villa and Zapata in the name of a common enemy, Carranza lost their loyalty by the time he was named President. He was, however, publicly acknowledged in Mexico and openly backed by the U.S. factions of revolutionaries continued a series of bloody skirmishes and revenge-driven attacks for the next few years before Carranza’s reelection in 1917.


Under Carranza’s administration, a new constitution was assembled. Many people consider its adoption the end of the war, but an official peace deal wasn’t brokered until 1920 between Pancho Villa and Carranza. Completed in 1917, the new constitution addressed many of the land issues that had inspired the war, established an organized labor code, and helped change the legal status of women in the country.

Throughout the Revolution and the growing pains of its institutional reforms, Petac owner Miguel Loza and then Enrique Loza often used the resources of the labor tribunal to help mediate disagreements. From salary disputes to annexation agreements, the tribunal would prove to be a vital support system during the next fifteen years of revolts and land reforms in the Yucatan and the country as a whole.

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Hacienda Petac: A Retrospective, Part III

What follows is a continuation of the history of Petac and an expansion on the Yucatan’s henequen years as the industry affected the Hacienda in particular.




As Hacienda Petac’s earliest known historical document substantiates, Señor Bernardino C. Loza and his wife Bruna Dominguez owned Petac when the hacienda, with many other Yucatecan estates, transitioned from livestock plantation to henequen hacienda in the mid 19th century. The couple, and then their sons, oversaw Petac throughout the zenith of its agricultural affluence and the Loza family, in fact, retained possession of the Hacienda for almost a century.

In 1875 Hacienda Petac acquired a portion of land called Tombul under the Loza family’s stewardship. The Tombul annex came with a recently built henequen processing plant and a new collection of machinery that greatly increased production. At Petac, as at other henequen haciendas, workers planted the plants in straight rows over hundreds of acres. They had to nurture the plants for seven years before harvesting them for the fibrous content of the leaves to be manufactured as rope. Previously unused plots of land were transformed into acres henequen fields.

Henequen processing equipment, such as this piece photographed by Arnoldo Torres, greatly expanded the industry throughout the Yucatan.

As Petac and the haciendas surrounding it grew and the plots of land expanded, portable railways, known as ferreas portatiles, were built to Mérida to make both personal transit and the transport of henequen easier. Light gauge railways were installed through the fields and horses or mules hauled the “trains” of fiber to Port Sisal to be exported to the U.S. As a result of these better production, manufacturing, and shipping methods, the Yucatan became one of the richest states in Mexico by the 1880s.

When his wife died in 1877, Señor Loza gave Hacienda Petac to his two sons Licenciado Miguel and Francisco to care for. Five years later, Licenciado Miguel – at this point 41 years old and married – bought out his brother Francisco, who had become a doctor, and became Hacienda Petac’s sole owner. By this time the hacienda had grown to ten times its original size, and measured, in 1882, at 11 million veras (Petac’s original footprint measured about 11,452 square veras).

During the height of the henequen years, over 18,000,000 plants were grown in the region.

Political upheaval would soon dethrone the henequen industry as the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century swept through and the agrarian reform movement gained ground. The henequen boom did, though, find its way into the turn of the century. During that time, countless hacendados – the landowners who cultivated the fiber – created vast fortunes and lives of privilege from the Yucatan’s “green gold.”

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Hacienda Petac: A Retrospective, Part II

The following is part two in a five part series about the formation of Hacienda Petac and the historical context surrounding the estate’s evolution.




By the latter half of the 19th century, Spanish colonization had redefined the Yucatan. An agriculture-based structure of international trade had been built and the hacienda system was expanded to support it. Around 1870, the revival of an ancient Mayan plant – henequen – brought an economic groundswell to the region and redefined Hacienda Petac as a competitive agricultural plantation.

A photochrome of a hacienda in 1884 by William Henry Jackson, from the World Digital Library.

Often confused and used somewhat interchangeably, sisal (Agave Sisalana in Latin) and henequen (Agave Fourcroydes) are two closely related species of agave. Both native fibers of the Yucatan Peninsula, they were harvested for centuries by the Maya for roping, hammocks and rugs. Their resiliency and slight elasticity made for an ideal material, as the fibers didn’t snap under weight or dry out in the heat.

Originally a Maya word, henequen is sometimes used colloquially to describe either fiber. Meanwhile sisal, named for the Yucatecan port from which it was exported, is often used to describe henequen outside of the Yucatan, as the shipping crates for both fibers feature the port city name “Sisal” stamped on the exterior. Henequen plants, with taller trunks and thorns on the edges of their leaves, were cultivated considerably more in the Yucatan.


In 1870, a surge of interest in the plant came from America, where the agricultural economy was still in rapid expansion. A cheap and durable substance for making rope and bailing twine – especially one that wouldn’t hurt farm animals if swallowed – was vital.

Hacienda workers, harvesting henequen around 1922.

Due to the increased demand, the traditional Mayan methods of hand scraping, soaking and retting failed to produce the necessary amount of henequen fiber. The Yucatecan government established a competition to encourage the development of a new tool to extract the fiber faster. New large central fiber extraction machines, or decorticators, were developed to remove the skin, water, and pulp of the plants, extracting the fiber, letting it dry, and allowing it to be processed into rope. Conveyor belts fed the leaves into the machine where a series of bladed drums and high-pressure bursts of water scraped the leaves. As henequen was later found to be a good reinforcement agent in concrete, the industry continued to boom, and a trade relationship with the United States flourished.


Modern farmers dry henequen out in the sun just as hacienda workers did hundreds of years ago.

Throughout the next several decades, the Yucatan reigned king. For a period of about thirty years, it is believed that the Yucatan’s henequen and sisal were responsible for ninety percent of the rope and burlap bags used worldwide. After a while, though, while henequen remained in the area, sisal was introduced and quickly adopted in other tropical climates. Brazil, Florida, East Africa and China all established competing markets. By the turn of the century the price of the plant began to fall in the region.

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Hacienda Petac: A Retrospective

The tale of Hacienda Petac and its transition from a quaint agricultural estate to a world-renowned historic resort and spa is one that covers hundreds of years and spans the colonization of an entire region, the founding of a country, a string of political upheavals, and an eclectic collection of owners. The following 5-post series speaks to each segment of the Hacienda’s history and examines the major events, trends, and renovations that make Hacienda Petac what it is today.



As the Spanish colonization of the New World progressed thro
ughout the 16th and 17th centuries so too did the crown’s interest in the natural resources of the agriculture-rich Yucatan. Efforts to ensure control over these resources quickly gave birth to the hacienda system, a land grant scheme established by the Spanish crown as a reward method for Spanish nobles. As thanks for their loyalty or as a means to lure them to the New World, conquistadors and noblemen were given enormous tracts of land and personal estates in the newly colonized territories.

Historical map of the Yucatan, published in 1671.

These estates were known as haciendas, constructed with a main manor house called the casa principal, and an often fully self-sufficient town surrounding it. Many of these haciendas became villages unto themselves.  The estates, whether plantations or mines or even early factories, and the goods produced on them, were the cornerstones of the colonial economy.


It is in this vein that Hacienda Petac was founded. Like some of the immediately surrounding estates, with their uncomplicated and pragmatic constructions, Petac built itself initially upon livestock and simple crops. Cornfields, for example, accounted for a significant portion of Petac’s original footprint, which measured about half a league, or 11,452 square veras. (A vera is an antiquated measurement and, considering it was made from a stick, somewhat arbitrary unit of measurement.)

Although Hacienda Petac produced initially only for the local economy, the emergence of a new, far-reaching agro-industry later propelled the entire region into international fame. This allowed Petac to revitalize entirely the hacienda’s infrastructure and layout.



Link to: http://haciendapetac.com/blog/hacienda/petac-history-part-ii


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Introducing our new Casa Ramón Building

The newest addition to the Hacienda Petac estate is called Casa Ramón, named for the towering trees that offer a canopy of shade above it.  As with the rest of the Hacienda, we believe that the greatest purpose of any building is to bring families and friends together. That’s why the plans for this 3,000 square foot annex with two master suites, also included an irresistibly inviting terrace and a state-of-the-art entertainment salon big enough to host a group for movie night.


Ramon Trees at Hacienda Petac


We also considered that any new building at the Hacienda should be as memorable as the old. For this reason, the innovative Casa Ramón design is very much an evocation of the beautifully grand hacienda architecture of the Yucatán. The expansive terrace, soaring columns and colorful tiles are all very classically Yucatecan. But, just as importantly, the new building incorporates Petac’s history without imitating or diluting the Hacienda’s colonial past.




By design, the Casa Ramón’s dual use as a house and an entertainment teatro affords us the opportunity to send a nod back to a unique part of our past. To enter the new complex, guests walk through the partial walls and stone remains of what once were the Hacienda’s schoolhouse, theater, and teacher’s home. We have purposefully included these remnants of the past, in order to retell their story.



According to those who still remember the trio of buildings, they were beautiful structures of both stone and wood, painted to match in the same colors as the casa principal. The little compound was home to both morning and afternoon school sessions. Students could attend from either 7am to 10am, or, from 2pm to 5pm. The theater was used to recite lessons and poetry.  At the back, with walls of stone, was the school teacher’s house.


As the story goes, about 65 years ago, the teacher decided one day between school sessions to take the narrow gauge railway that ran through the Hacienda, into town to buy some ice cream. Apparently, a candle was left burning in her absence, and by the time she returned, the wooden schoolhouse and theater had burned to the ground. 


A permanent school was rebuilt–from cinderblocks this time–three years later in the village of Petac. The stone foundation of the teacher’s house, a column from the teatro and the charred rubble of floor tiles still remain at the Hacienda.


The legacy of the school house, theater, and the teacher’s blunder, are preserved as we welcome the beautiful new Casa Ramón to Petac’s historical record.

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Food for the Souls: the Celebration of Hanal Pixan

A Mayan celebration of the famous Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Hanal Pixan is a time for family and friends to honor the memories of their deceased ancestors. Over the first two days of November, spirits are believed to return to the earth for a celebration of food, drink, and prayer. Their graves are decorated with gifts and fruit and altars are prepared with photographs, the iconic Mexican sugar skulls, and colorful flowers.


Mexican Sugar Skulls


In Mayan tradition, death comes in waves. The first death is, of course, a literal one and comes the moment that the human body ceases to function. A second death occurs with burial as the body is returned to the earth. Hanal Pixan is considered so important, though, because of the third kind of death: the end that comes when a person is no longer remembered or thought of by those still living. The stories and dances, poems and prayers that are characteristic of these days are meant to preserve the memory of those deceased, to help their spirits have some kind of immortality.


The first day of Hanal Pixan is devoted to the souls of lost children. Graves are covered with toys and sweets, honeycombs and fruits. Next to pictures and braided marigolds family members heap papayas, mandarins, jicamas, and homemade tamales. The second day, then, is reserved for the souls of the adults. Gifts are offered, favorite meals are prepared, and drinks and chocolates are placed on graves and altars as homage. Mukbil Pollo (“chicken to be put in the ground”) is the traditional chicken and pork dish of the holiday and shows just how much a tool of nostalgia food is in Mayan culture. The tamale-like pie is cooked underground in ovens known as pibs, in the very earth in which the visiting ancestors’ bodies have been buried. Through this meal, the connection between past and present is preserved. Mukbil Pollo is traditionally served with spiced hot chocolate, helpings of which are also left on altars as appreciative offerings.


At the end of the holiday, the visiting spirits are believed to make their way back to the earth until the following year. Locals place candles on their windowsills and throughout the streets in a tradition known as the Bix to help guide them safely back.

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Learn How to Make a Pinata and Find Out the History Behind Them

How to Make a Pinata at Hacienda Petac


Although originally believed to be of Chinese origin, the tradition of breaking open decorated clay pots to reveal tokens of good luck gained popularity in Europe in the 1300s in the form of the Italian pignatta. These “fragile pots,” known as piñas in Spain (“pineapples,” for the shape of the clay pot base) were quickly adapted from the Mandarin New Year observance and adopted into Catholic tradition as an integral part of the celebration of Lent.


Two hundred years later, Spanish missionaries used the tradition to engage the indigenous people of North America and attract them to Catholicism. The Aztecs already had a similar practice in the worship of Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, in which they filled clay pots with small treasures and decorated them with colored feathers. Hoisted up over the temple and then broken open, the little gifts fell to the feet of the figure of Huitzilopochtli as offerings. A Mayan version, more for sport, involved being blindfolded while trying to hit a pot suspended by string.


The Catholic missionaries took these Mayan and Aztec practices and redefined them as tools in religious instruction. The new piñatas, called canteros (temptations) were covered in ostentatious decoration and used to represent Satan – notorious for attracting people with beguiling and beautiful masks. No longer just a clay pot, they were fashioned with seven points, to represent each of the seven deadly sins, or pecados. Filled inside with fruits and sweets, they symbolized the temptation of sinful pleasures that the blindfolded – and blindly faithful – participant was meant to fight against. Once the person swinging at the piñata was able to break it open, encouraged by crowds and songs, the treats would rain down on the participants, illustrating the ultimate lesson – that faith would always be rewarded.


Over the years, the religious symbolism waned, and the piñata became more of a celebratory staple of birthdays and Christmas parties. In the markets near Hacienda Petac you can still find the clay pots used to make traditional piñatas, but below are modified instructions, which are most similar to the way we teach our youngest guests to make piñatas here at the Hacienda!



Below You will Learn How to Make a Piñata!


The materials you will need:

–       flour and water to make paper mâché paste

–       salt

–       vegetable oil

–       balloons

–       strips of newspaper

–       strips of white paper (or paper towels)

–       paint

–       tissue paper, crepe paper, ribbon, etc



  1. Making piñatas can be a mess! Cover the table with plastic or extra newspaper and wear old clothes for this project.
  2. First you will need the paper mâché paste. Mix one part flour, two parts water together until the consistency is like glue. (Alternately, for a stronger fixative, you can mix one part flour to five parts water and boil it for a few minutes. Let it cool, then add a bit of salt to help avoid mold.)
  3. Once you have decided on the shape of your piñata, blow up the balloon (or balloons) to create the structure of the piñata. Of course, if you are using more than one balloon, you will have to tape or glue them together. Once you have the basic structure, spray the balloon with some vegetable oil to help prevent the balloon from sticking to the newspaper when it is ultimately popped.
  4. Dip strips of newspaper into the paper mâché paste and place them on the surface of the balloon in overlapping layers. Lay some on diagonally, some vertically, and continue until the balloon is completely covered. Don’t forget to leave a small space near the top. This is where you’ll pop the balloon from and how you’ll put treats in the piñata later on!
  5. Now, you must wait for it to dry. Here is where patience comes in. The first layer of paper mâché must be completely dry before you add any more. Let it sit overnight; it may take a full 24 hours.
  6. Once it has dried, repeat the same layering process, being certain to alternate the direction of the strips of paper. Let the second layer dry.
  7. For the third layer, repeat the same process, but with strips of white paper, not the newspaper strips. This is just to make decorating and painting easier.
  8. Once the third layer has dried, you can pop the interior balloon, and remove it from the space you left at the top of the piñata.
  9. Decorate your piñata as you wish! Paint, tinsel, crepe paper, streamers, whatever you would like!
  10. Once the decorative part has dried, you can fill your piñata with little toys and candies. To hang it, make a few holes near the top and thread strong string through the holes. Tape may help secure it. Hang from someplace high and let the fun begin!
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Mayan Calendar Predictions for 2012

The date December 21, 2012 is not symbolic of the end of the world but rather an end to the current cycle we are living in. The Mayan Calendar isn’t just one calendar (as people often assume); it is multiple calendars that interlock. According to Mayan writings, the date December 21st closes the 13th Bak’tun and marks the beginning of new cycle. Due to varied interpretations of writings found on damaged tablets, people have misunderstood the idea of “God coming down” at the end of this cycle to mean the end of the world. Find out more information about the Mayan calendar in the graphic below.




Find out more about the world of the Maya in Mark Van Stone’s book, “2012: Science and Prophecy of the Ancient Maya”


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