The Return of the Jaguar in the Yucatán Peninsula
In the early 1900s, one of the most feared and respected individuals in Yucatán was a man so well known for his power over the natives of the region that they referred to him as The Jaguar. His name was Hernán Cortés, and as the leader of a vast army that included both civilized and savage peoples, it was impossible to deny that his authority must have been absolute. Yet his most notorious exploit had taken place during a failed raid to seize the sacred land of Mayapan, a pre-Columbian site revered by the Maya. On that fateful night, Cortés and his men killed their way into Mayapan’s fortress-like city, burned it to ashes, and set upon a number of Mayan nobles. After one of these young men refused to submit to his demands, Cortés ordered him to be tortured, then killed. His head was sent to his father as a warning that he would be killed the next time. Although it is hard to imagine the horrific cruelty of such a scene, it is safe to say that Cortés was not the most merciful of conquerors. But what did he learn from his experience in Mayapan, and from the ensuing conquest of Yucatán? In this paper, we will review the most important aspects of this campaign for the Yucatán.
Cortés was born in Seville in 1524. After studying at the university of that city, in 1544 he went to the newly founded University of Alcalá in Toledo. In the next few years he worked as a soldier, a diplomat, and a privateer. In 1550 he finally received command of a small naval ship, though it is possible — if not likely — that he sailed with a smaller privateer. Soon after his arrival in Mexico, Cortés became involved with the rebellion of Montezuma II, emperor of the Aztec nation. He was appointed captain of the army commanded by Tlaloc, who was in turn under attack by a rival usurper, Huitzilop