April 6, 2024
Today´s Paper

Tulum, the Mayan city founded by a woman: María Uicab

For many people, the name Maria Petrona Uicab may seem unfamiliar, but for the history of Quintana Roo, it represents the struggle of the Maya people. Today, her name is inscribed in golden letters on the wall of honor at the State Congress, not only in recognition of the legacy of the priestess and social activist, but also of the Maya women of Quintana Roo.

To better understand the importance of Maria Uicab, Novedades Quintana Roo interviewed researchers Georgina Rosado and Carlos Chable, who contributed to the effort to give her the place she deserves in the pages of history.

Bringing the story of a historical female figure from the 19th century into the 21st century represents a double challenge: on the one hand, the research itself, and on the other hand, how to make an apparently distant struggle attractive.

Maria Uicab and her struggle against History

Tulum, the Mayan city founded by a woman: María Uicab

Surprisingly, the oldest records of the “queen of the rebel Mayas” identified her as a man, or at best, doubted not that the character existed, but that a woman held so much power within the hierarchy of the rebels.

“In 2005, I went to the reserved archive of the Library of Campeche and found a document, an anonymous report that spoke of the power of Maria Uicab: I myself did not believe it because the great researchers did not mention her… they even said that perhaps (her name) was a translation error,” said Rosado, co-author of the book “In search of Maria Uicab, queen and patron saint of the rebel Mayas.”

For 20 years, Rosado and Chable reviewed documents and interviewed Mayan elders from Tulum and other communities to learn about the legacy of this unique character, who, in the words of the authors themselves, represents the perfect example – though not the only one – that the Mayan woman was never submissive and overshadowed, but on the contrary: she represented an image of respect, decision and strength, in those times when the ancient culture was about to disappear.

Tulum, the Mayan city founded by a woman: María Uicab

In the chapters of this fictionalized history, Maria Uicab is portrayed not only as the conscience of the movement, but also as a figure who attracted external people to the rebellion simply because of her conviction and steadfastness in the face of the tragedies she faced at the end of her life, at least as far as history allows us to know.

María Uicab embodies an ongoing struggle

Every three years in September, the Congress awards the Maya Indigenous Women’s Merit Medal “María Petrona Uicab” to recognize the labor and work of Indigenous women. However, the truth is that María Uicab’s fight for the recognition of Maya culture, customs, and rights is far from over.

In the interview, Georgina Rosado emphasized that María and many other Maya heroines continue to battle for a place in the pages of Quintana Roo’s history, where not only women but also the true motives of the Indigenous people’s struggle are barely mentioned.

“Before the conquest, positions were held by both men and women, but with the advancement of extermination, especially against the Maya people who governed Chan Santa Cruz and Tulum, the objective was not only to annihilate the people but to annihilate our culture, our language…” Georgina Rosado affirmed.

Undeniably, progress has been made in recognizing women’s rights, particularly those of Maya and Indigenous women. However, the road to real and effective emancipation is still long.

Perhaps now that María Petrona Uicab’s name shines in golden letters in front of legislators in the Congress chamber, they will be inspired to create a better reality for Maya women.

Who was Maria Uicab?

Tulum, the Mayan city founded by a woman: María Uicab

Maria Uicab was the daughter of a chief of the Cruzo’ob, a ruler from whom she inherited power. Her lineage was of great significance to the Mayans, who recognized her as queen and priestess.

According to some scholars, Uicab resided in the Mayan region of Muyil, in Quintana Roo, and only visited Tulum to attend to government affairs and consult the oracle.

However, Maria Uicab always demonstrated herself to be a woman of character, as she never relied on her marriages to exercise the power that was inherited to her. Rather, it was her husbands who benefited from the status of the Mayan priestess.

Maria Uicab was married three times. The first was in 1860, to José María Mukul, with whom she had a son; the second marriage was to Bautista Pat, in 1867; and later she would unite with Ignacio Chablé, who died during an invasion of Tulum.

Female strength and leadership Uicab was in charge of directing the fate of the Mayan people in the 1860s. The leadership she exercised over the Mayan insurgent army was crucial to their role in the third stage of the War of the Castes.

The queen of Tulum was responsible for commanding armies of Mayan men who recognized her sovereignty, as well as the rebel military leaders of Noj Santa Cruz X Báalam Naj Kampokolche’.

The Mayan priestess held power for an extended period, in a context where leaders lived for a short time. This was because they died fighting the colonial army or as victims of power struggles among the Mayans themselves.

Little is known about her life, but in written records, she ceases to be mentioned in 1875, so it is assumed to be the year of her death.


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