Archaeologists in Mexico said on Tuesday that they had found a ship that carried the Mayan people into virtual slavery in the 1850s. It was the first time such a ship has been found.
The Mayan slave ship was found in 2017. However, it was not identified until researchers from the National Institute of Anthropology and History checked contemporary documents.
The researchers also found evidence that it was the ship “La Union.” The Mayan slave ship has been used to take Mayas captured during an 1847-1901 rebellion known as “The War of the Castes” to work in Cuba’s sugarcane plantations.
Slavery was illegal in Mexico at the time. However, operators of similar ships had reportedly bought seized captured combatants. This or they deceived Mayas left landless by the conflict to “sign on” as contract workers. Mayas were often taken in Cuba, where they were treated like slaves.
The La Union was traveling set to Havana in September 1861. Its boilers exploded, and it sank off the Yucatan port of Sisal.
Helena Barba Meinecke, an institute archaeologist, said that the captured Mayan combatants were often sent to Cuba, where many have never returned.
“Each slave was sold to a middleman for 25 pesos, and they resold them in Havana for as much as 160 pesos, for men, and 120 pesos for women,” she said in a report.
Meinecke added that many of the inhabitance of Sisal had passed down through generations. One of those led the researchers to the answers.
“The grandparents and great-grandparents of the inhabitants of Sisal told them about a steamship that took away Mayas during the War of the Castes,” she noted in a report.
“And one of the people in Sisal who saw how they led the Mayas away as slaves, told his son and then he told his grandson, and it was that person who led us to the general area of the shipwreck,” she added.
The team also found silverware with the emblem of the company that operated the vessel.
In October 1860, a ship had been caught near the Campeche state with 29 Mayas aboard, including children as young as seven.
Authorities have prevented the ship from leaving. However, that did not stop the trade from continuing. It is unclear if there were any Maya aboard on the ship’s last voyage.
The records are unclear as the Mayas would probably be listed as cargo, not as passengers. This might be the situation, or the ship may have tried to conceal their presence.
Meinecke said the next stage of research would involve trying to find their descendants. Researchers intend to travel to Havana, where there is a neighborhood called “Campeche.”
Meinecke noted that these people or some of them could be descendants of the Mayas who were taken by force or deception. She added that research has to be done so these people can know where their grandparents or great-grandparents are.
The Maya started one of North America’s last Indigenous revolts in the lower Yucatan Peninsula in 1847. They were fighting against domination by white and mixed-race Mexicans who exploited them.
The Mexican government fought the rebellion with brutal repression. However, they could not wipe out the last resistance until 1901.