Contextualizing the crime: the many-sided revolt in Tekax, 17th century. by riccardo mardegan

Today we are publishing the collaboration of a young Italian historian whose research focuses on the regions of Yucatan and Guatemala in the 16th and 17th centuries. Riccardo Mardegan is currently a Ph.D. candidate in History from the University of Pavia in Italy. He has sent to us a text in two languages, Italian and English, about a rebellion in the town of Tekax, Yucatan, which occurred in 1610. The rebels demanded the resignation of the Indian governor Pedro Xiu. The dynamics of the revolt, the symbolic aspects and the comings and goings of rebels, friars and Spanish authorities to calm the mutineers’s altered spirits, all these topics are analyzed by Riccardo Mardegan in his post, where the Italian historian suggests several interesting hypotheses to explain the events that lead to the rebellion of 1610.

Contextualizing the Crime: the many-sided Revolt in Tekax, 17th Century*

In a novel written in 1891 called A Case of Identity, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle warned us in Sherlock Holmes’ words that «the larger crimes are apt to be the simpler, for the bigger the crime the more obvious, as a rule, is the motive». The case of the revolt of Tekax (Yucatán) in 1610 maybe because we cannot make use of the advice of the well-known detective, seems to be one of the exceptions to the general rule.

Let’s summarise the events. In the evening of Monday 22nd February 1610 the village (pueblo) of Tekax, around 30 km from Mani, in the region of Yucatán, was the centre of a rebellion of indigenous gathered in the main square at “the hour of the Ave Maria”. After being organised by some chiefs, the indigenous macehuales (lower-class citizens) took their way to the house of the maya governor, Pedro Xiu, with the explicit intention of killing him, robbing the house and destroying it. However, once they arrived, they found out that the governor and other principales, his allies, had precipitously fled toward the mountains, waiting for the crowd to calm down. Nonetheless, the rebels did not give up. They went into the house of one of the alcaldes, Tomás Gao, and to the one of Martin Ku and, still not founding the governor, burned down the houses.

Figure 1: Mexican turmoil ,1624. Rijksmuseum (Netherlands).


Taking advantage of the temporary “exile” in the mountains, the governor planned his return in the village and the punishment for the culprits of rebellion. After entering the village in the middle of the night, he had an información drafted with which, the day after, Tuesday 23rd February, ordered to punish the guilty party. The other principales of the pueblo, which had followed the governor in his return, commanded the alguaciles to capture the culprits, managing to fill the prison with about 30 indios that later were whipped. The rebellion must have seemed over, considering that the maya governor didn’t judge necessary to notify the Spanish authorities of what had happened[1].

However, the same night around midnight, many inhabitants of Tekax gathered again, this time with the aim of raiding the prison and set free whom had been captured the previous day. The macehuales who were supportive to the cause, attacked the places of imprisonment, burning to the ground the prison, releasing the captives and destroying the symbols of governor’s power, as the cepo and the rollo (or picota), i.e. the pillory and the column on which were lifted the heads of those who were sentenced to death. The governor Pedro Xiu took advantage of the turmoil to save himself again, this time joining his wife and his father-in-law in the Franciscan monastery, where he could count on the protection of the father guardian Francisco Coronel and friar Francisco Alvarez.

At this point the rebels, noticing this fact, sieged the monastery to pressure the friars. In a short time, they managed to enter the building but quickly they were persuaded by the friars to leave the monastery immediately.

Far from being finished, the revolt crystalized in a “ritual” siege that took place during the whole night of the 23rd February. During this siege, the rebels seized the instruments of the legitimate power and marched across the village and the mountains nearby «a pregonar» in the name of the “justice of Tekax”, with trumpets and drums, commanding to consign immediately the governor in order to sentence him to death.

The day after, Wednesday 24th February, the rebels’ hostility diminished and the Franciscan friars managed to open negotiations. The indios didn’t want to kill Pedro Xiu anymore but, in order to accept this solution, they demanded his resignation and exile from Tekax. The friars and the governor accepted, and Xiu committed himself to abandon his office in the house of the community. To seal this newfound peace, the indios attended the religious service for the Ash Wednesday, during which some of them reconciled themselves with the governor hugging him publicly.

Precisely during the function, Francisco de Aguilar, informed by some indios of what was happening in Tekax, reached the pueblo to check for himself[2]. Once the procession of indios ceased, the two friars, Francisco de Aguilar and Pedro Xiu, on their horses, left the monastery to lead the maya governor toward the near pueblo of Teabo, as had been agreed before.

Although we don’t know precisely how, after this agreement the situation worsened. While the party of Spaniards was escorting the governor, some indios started to hit him with rocks and sticks, forcing the group to go back hastily into the monastery. As before, the rebels sieged the building, asking to have the governor in their hands, meanwhile the Franciscans hid Xiu in the safer place of the church: the chest of the Blessed Sacrament[3]. After moments of high tension, the friars opened the doors of the monastery, allowing the rebels to look inside for Pedro Xiu. In the late afternoon, precisely one hour before the sunset, also came a squad of Spaniards, leaded by Gregorio de Siguera, a Mani’s vecino. He went to Tekax because previously he had received a letter by father Francisco Coronel, in which it was said he had been summoned in the pueblo of Tekax with all the other Spaniard of the city he could have encountered. De Sigura didn’t waste time: after notifying the general lieutenant Juan de Arguello (right-hand man of the Spanish governor in Yucatán) with a certified copy of the letter by Coronel, gathered 6 Spaniards, arming them with arquebuses and weapons that he kept in his house. After reaching the village and realizing how bad the situation was, the Spanish captain ordered two of his men to shoot in the air, managing to make the rebels flee[4]. Then, the Spanish squad mounted guard to prevent the rebels to burn the church but, not having received any official order, they didn’t chase the fugitives[5].

The day after, on 25th February, came in the monastery Juan Bote, another Spaniard encomendero de indios of the near pueblo of Teabo, that had been informed by the cacique of his village (in turn informed by the cacique of Pencuyut) of what was happening there and, in particular, of the siege of the monastery[6]. The stalemate lasted for some time, until the arrival of the judge in charge of the investigation (juez receptor), Felipe Manrique, 5 days after[7].

The investigation started from the depositions made by the injured party, i.e. the governor Pedro Xiu and his allies, that fingered some people as chiefs of the rebellion. Such people, according to the report by Xiu, would had formed a real faction with the intention of ousting out Xiu from the office of governor. Even more, the principales of Tekax questioned by Manrique, declared explicitly that, behind this scheming, the true instigator was a Fernando Uz, «indio ladino» and close collaborator of the Spanish governor in Mérida. The evidence to support this accusation was, in a sense, implied in the recent history of the pueblo. In 1608 and in 1609, indeed, Pedro Xiu had been formally accused by some macehuales that, in both cases, had tried to make him punished for mismanagement and generalized immorality[8].

According to the accusation, Fernando Uz was the man who drew up the drafts of both accusations but, once he was summoned by the Spanish authorities, he declared that he had just translated them from Yucatec Maya to Spanish without further intentions[9]. The prosecution’s argument, quite the opposite, was that Uz, acting as the main chief of the rebellion, had gone far from his duty of “escribano”, instigating and coordinating actively the group of rebels. In this sense, Fernando Uz had both the motive to be the leader of the rebellion and a capital hostility toward the governor Pedro Xiu that was well-known even up to Mérida[10].

Figure 2: Nueva crónica y buen gobierno: (Codex péruvien illustré) / Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala. Paris: Université de Paris, Institut d’ethnologie, 1936.


As Sergio Quezada e Tsubasa Okoshi Harada wrote in the introduction of their edition of Papeles de los Xiu de Yaxá, Yucatán, «también algunos personajes del linaje Xiu rigieron pueblos que a pesar de ser dependientes de los cúuchcabaloob de Mani o Calotmul sus antiguos bataboob pertenecían a otros linajes. Por ejemplo Tekax, en donde Batab Uz, bautizado como don Diego Uz, gobernó su pueblo hasta 1565; para 1610 lo regía don Juan Xiu»[11]. This fact is the reason why is not difficult to imagine that Fernando Uz, as descendant of Diego, had resented the appointment of a member of the Xiu’s lineage as governor of “his” pueblo by the Spanish authorities just some years before[12].

At this point, to the two theories that the revolt of Tekax had been blown in conjunction with the fight between two maya lineages or because of the governor’s misrule, we must add another theory. A theory that comprehends, beyond the human actors, the time coordinates, i.e. the fact that the revolt took place precisely in the last days of Carnival and during Ash Wednesday of 1610.

As shown by the recent historiography, the European Carnival, especially in medieval and early modern age, was a period designated to overthrow the usual value system and for the ritual rebellion, even if it was just momentaneous. However, if much has been written about the carnival and Lenten time in Europe, we cannot say the same for colonial America, in which (for example) the real “anthropological” meaning of the “battle of oranges” in Yucatán in the XVII century, that could remind us some Mediterranean rituals and precisely took place during the rebellion of Tekax, remains nowadays a mystery[13]. However, in this historiographical void, there are some exceptions. In La política de una rebellión, also Natalia Silva Prada juxtaposes the political rebellion with the carnival subversion, quoting the royal legislation that somehow permitted it[14]. Anyway it must be said that, although the argumentations of Silva Prada are persuasives for the context in which she works on, i.e. a rebellion in 1692 in the most urbanized place of the whole Nueva España (Ciudad de México), it would be difficult to assume the same conclusions and interpretations for the case of Tekax that, chronologically nearer to the Conquest, is based on a geographical and social context completely different.


Figure 3: Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Der Kampf zwischen Karneval und Fasten, 1559, Kunsthistorisches Museum (Vienna, Austria).


In conclusion, the issues raised by this episode are many, and those who are substantial concern the contextualization of the event. Can we intend it as a violent attempt for a political change built up on the carnival rituals arrived in America together with the catholic traditions in the years immediately following the Conquest? Or is this a “simple” motín de indios (one of those studied by Severo Martínez Peláez), contained in a precise territory and with local objective and goal? Or perhaps should we integrate our reading in an interpretation of longue durée about the latent fight between maya lineage that, after the installation of the Spanish Gobernación, still persisted in the whole province?



Archive Sources


AGI, ESCRIBANÍA 305A, F. 141R-651R, Autos de Tekax.

Edited Sources

CARDENAS VALENCIA Francisco de, Relación historial eclesiástica de la Provincia de Yucatán de la Nueva España, escrita el año de 1639, México, Porrúa, 1937.

SÁNCHEZ DE AGUILAR Pedro, Informe contra los adoradores de ídolos del Obispado de Yucatán, 1639.–0/html/013853c5-ccfd-423d-9051-35ae3b2997bf_2.html 

QUEZADA Sergio e OKOSHI HARADA Tsubasa, Papeles de los Xiu de Yaxá, Yucatán, Universidad Autonoma de México.


BALLONE Angela, The 1624 Tumult of Mexico in Perspective (c. 1620–1650), Leiden, Brill, 2017.

BRENDECKE Arndt, The Empirical Empires. Spanish Colonial Rule and the Politics of Knowledge, Boston, De Gruyter Oldenbourg, 2016.

CHAMBERLAIN Robert S., Conquista y colonización de Yucatán, 1517-1550, México, Porrúa, 1974.

CHAMBERLAIN Robert S., The Pre-Conquest Tribute and Service System of the Maya as Preparation for the Spanish Repartimiento-Encomienda in Yucatan, Florida, University of Miami Press, 1951.

CHUCHIAK John F., ‘Ah Dzib Cahob yetel lay u katlilob lae’: Maya Scribes, Colonial Literacy, and Maya Petitionary Forms in Colonial Yucatán in CHUCHIAK John F. (ed), Text and Context: Yucatec Maya Literature in a Diachronic Perspective, Aachen, Shaker Verlag, 2009.

CLENDINNEN Inga, Ambivalent Conquests. Maya and Spaniard in Yucatan, 1517-1570, USA, Cambridge University Press, 1988.

CUNILL Caroline, GLAVE TESTINO Luis Miguel (coord.), Las lenguas indígenas en los tribunales de América Latina: intérpretes, mediación y justicia (siglos XVI-XXI), Bogotá, ICANH, 2019.

CUNILL Caroline, Los defensores de indios de Yucatán y el acceso de los mayas a la justicia colonial, 1540-1600, México, UNAM, 2012.

FARRISS Nancy M., La sociedad maya bajo el dominio colonial: la empresa colectiva de la supervivencia, Madrid, Alianza editorial, 1992.

GINZBURG Carlo, Il formaggio e i vermi. Il cosmo di un mugnaio del ‘500, Torino, Einaudi, 2009.

GRUZINSKI Serge, La colonizzazione dell’immaginario. Società indigene e occidentalizzazione nel Messico spagnolo, Torino, Einaudi, 1994.

GUAJARDO-FAJARDO CARMONA María de los Ángeles, Escribanos en Indias durante la primera mitad del siglo XVI, 2 tomos, Madrid, Colegios Notariales de España, 1995.

HERZOG Tamar, Mediación, archivos y ejercicio. Los escribanos de Quito (siglo XVII), Frankfurt am Main, Vittorio Klostermann, 1996.

HERZOG Tamar, Upholding Justice. Society, State, and the Penal System in Quito (1650-1750), Ann Arbor, The University of Michigan Press, c2004.

HUERTA María Teresa e PALACIOS Patricía (ed.), Rebeliones indígenas de la época colonial, Messico, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 1976.

LEON-PORTILLA Miguel, Il rovescio della conquista. Testimonianze azteche, maya e inca, Milano, Adelphi, 1992.

LYNCH John, Spain under the Habsburgs, New York, Oxford University Press, 1964.

MARTÍNEZ PELÁEZ Severo, Motines de indios: La violencia colonial en Centroamérica y Chiapas in Cuadernos de la Casa Presno 3, Puebla, Centro de Investigaciones Históricas y Sociales, 1985.

MORENO Frank Jay, The Spanish Colonial System: A Functional Approach in The Western Political Quarterly, vol. 20, n. 2, Part 1, USA, University of Utah, 1967, p. 308-320.

PIETSCHMAN Horst, El estado y su evolución al principio de la colonización española de América, México, Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1989.

PONCE LEIVA Pilar, AMADORI Arrigo, Redes sociales y el ejercicio del poder en la América Hispana: consideraciones teóricas y propuestas de análisis in Revista Complutense de Historia de América, 2008, vol. 34, p. 15-42.

QUEZADA Sergio, Maya Lords and Lordship. The Formation of Colonial Society in Yucatán, 1350-1600, Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 2014.

QUEZADA Sergio, Relación documental para la historia de la provincia de Yucatán (1520-1844), Mérida, Ediciones de la UADY, 1992.

RESTALL Matthew, Maya Conquistador, Boston, Beacon Press, 1998.

SCHOLES, France V., ADAMS Eleanor B., Don Diego Quijada, alcalde mayor de Yucatán, 1561-1565: documentos sacados de los archivos de España, 2 vol., José Porrúa e hijos, México, 1938.

SILVA PRADA Natalia, La política de una rebelión. Los indígenas frente al tumulto de 1692 en la Ciudad de México, México, El Colegio de México, 2007.

VOLPINI Paola, Lo spazio politico del letrado. Juan Bautista Larrea magistrato e giurista nella monarchia di Filippo IV, Bologna, Il mulino, 2004.

WACHTEL Nathan, La visione dei vinti. Gli indios del Peru di fronte alla conquista spagnola, Torino, Einaudi, 1977.

ZEMON DAVIS Natalie, Il ritorno di Martin Guerre. Un caso di doppia identità nella Francia del Cinquecento, Torino, Einaudi, 1984.


* Riccardo Mardegan, Università degli Studi di Pavia.

[1] AGI, ESCRIBANÍA, 305A, F. 198R, Andrés Han, alcalde.

[2] AGI, ESCRIBANÍA, 305A, F. 219V-222R, Testigo Francisco de Aguilar, español.

[3] «Aviendo vuelto los dichos indios al dicho convento con mucho ruydo y armas al dicho padre guardian le fue forcosso esconder a el discho don Pedro governador en la caxa del santisimo sacramento». AGI, ESCRIBANÍA, 305A, F. 253R, Confision de Pedro Can.

[4] AGI, ESCRIBANÍA, 305A, F. 247R-253V, Confisión de Pedro Can.

[5] AGI, ESCRIBANÍA, 305A, F. 222R-224V, Testigo Gregorio de Sigura, español.

[6] AGI, ESCRIBANÍA, 305A, F. 459R, Testimonio de Juan Bote.

[7] AGI, ESCRIBANÍA, 305A, F. 192V, Nombramiento de juez receptor a Felipe Manrique para que baja al pueblo de Tecax a hacer informacion sobre el alboroto y lo demas que contiona la carta de atras de Don Pedro Xiu, governador. Sulla rete di informazioni tra indigeni, vedi Farriss, La sociedad maya bajo el dominio colonial, p. 123-124. Sulla capacità di raccogliere grandi numeri di firme per poi inviare petizioni al re (sfruttando quindi questa rete di informazioni) vedi Restall, Maya Conquistador, p. 152-156.

[8] AGI, ESCRIBANÍA 305A, F. 177-178, Testimonio de Pedro Na.

[9] Cunill, Tribunales itinerantes, p. 54-56.

[10] «No sabe que el dicho Hernando Uz aya aconsejado nadie de orden alguna para intentar de matar a el dicho don Pedro quando sucedio el dicho alboroto mas de que sabe que le tiene enemistad porque las vezes que este testigo a ydo a la ciudad de Merida en compañia del dicho don Pedro Xiu el dicho Hernando Uz no le haclabava ni trataba ni quitava el sombrero aunque passava junto a el y vio este testigo que los capitulantes que traravan pleyto con el dicho don Pedro acudian a el dicho Fernando Uz de hordinarlo y les favorecia y ansi por este razon le tiene por su enemigo capital y ansi mismo porque vio que estando en este dicho pueblo el dicho Hernando Uz en la iglesia de el le trato muy mal de palabra […]». AGI, ESCRIBANÍA, 305A, F. 411V-412R, Ratificación de Martín Ku.

[11] Quezada e Okoshi, Papeles de Los Xiu de Yaxá, Yucatán, p. 45. Gli studiosi commettono un errore citando Juan Xiu al posto di Pedro di Xiu benché in nota appaia su una fonte del 1639, Informe contra los adoradores de ídolos del Obispado de Yucatán di Pedro Sánchez de Aguilar che riporta Pedro Xiu e non Juan Xiu.

[12] AGI, ESCRIBANÍA, 305A, F. 247V, Confisión de Pedro Can.

[13] «El domingo de carnestolendas despues de missa a que se holgasen que era y a tiempo por ser carnestolendas y que se anarangasen y assi todos los vecinos del dicho pueblo lo hicieron». AGI, ESCRIBANÍA, 305A, F. 335R, Diligencias que se hizo con los indios de arriba.

[14] Silva Prada, La política de una rebelión, p. 553-554.

About the author:

PhD Candidate in History at the Università degli Studi di Pavia, Italy. B.A. in History at the Università degli Studi di Padova with a dissertation about the Guatemalan independence. He has also a Master in Historical Sciences in the same university, obtained with honorific mention. His fields of interest are the history of justice and the institutions of colonial Yucatán; the social and political interactions between spaniards and indios in 16th and 17th centuries and the ordinary and daily forms of the administration of justice in relation with the Derecho indiano.

To quot this post:

Mardegan, Riccardo. Mundus Alter 35: “Contextualizing the crime: the many-sided revolt in Tekax, 17th century” in Blog los reinos de las Indias, Mundus Alter Section. URL: published August 9, 2021

Natalia Silva Prada

Especialista en historia cultural del periodo colonial americano. Doctora en Historia por El Colegio de México. Autora de Pasquines, cartas y enemigos. Cultura del lenguaje infamante en Nueva Granada y otros reinos americanos, siglos XVI y XVII (2021), Del arte de las escrituras antiguas (2018); 'Los Reinos de las Indias' y el lenguaje de denuncia política en el mundo Atlántico (s.XVI-XVIII) (2014); La política de una rebelión: los indígenas frente al tumulto de 1692 en la ciudad de México (2007); William Lamport, rey de las Américas y Emperador de los mexicanos (2009). Otros libros de su autoría y sus artículos de investigación científica pueden consultarse en Silva Prada Es gestora y autora de los blogs: Los Reinos de las Indias, Paleografías Americanas y Love Cooking, Love History.

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