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 Photo Essay Review    



The Hacienda in Mexico
by Daniel Nierman and Ernesto H. Vallejo
University of Texas Press, 2003
Hardcover, $34.95 (144 pages)
ISBN 0-292-70526-3
“The Hacienda in Mexico” is a big, beautiful and important book about the institution of the hacienda in Mexico. The hacienda was not just a house or even a large house, it was virtually a community and a way of life from the time the Spaniards first came to the new world in 1520 until the revolution that began in 1911.

A few years ago, traveling in the Sonora desert of northwest Mexico, friends and I happened upon a huge house about ten miles northeast of the village of Mata Ortiz, where we were seeking an audience with a maestro potter. Walking up to the main door of the big house, we looked up. The double doorway was more than 20 feet high. It was locked, so we walked around to a huge courtyard that was larger than a football field.

The stables could accommodate more than two-dozen horses and all the tack necessary. In the far corner we found an antique buggy and w hat appeared to be a very old stagecoach. Beyond the stables was a tannery and a furniture-making taller or factory. After seeing that huge hacienda where literally hundreds of people worked and lived, I was especially interested in this book.

The authors, both knowledgeable professors and practitioners of architecture, write: “Diverse activities took place in the haciendas, each one with its corresponding space with distinct characteristics. This accounts for the architectural richness of the hacienda, which could accommodate the whole gamut of human endeavor: to harvest, to sing, to milk, to laugh, to cry, to pray, to die, to dream.”

The authors visited sites in the Mexican states of Hidalgo, Tlaxcala and San Luis Potosi. As you walk with these men through the big houses, the massive patios, viewing the elaborate ironwork and interesting masonry, the decorative chapels with high altars and complex statues and colorful domes, and even the tinacales where the alcoholic drink pulque was made from the maguey cactus, you see the entire expansive property as a whole.

From the hacienda, the landlord controlled the operation of hundreds of thousands of acres. People in tiny villages throughout the country worked for the landlords. Peons were not allowed to own property. They were kept at the mercy of the few wealthy landowners. It was this economic system of a handful of families ruling the masses that the dictator Porforio Diaz maintained for more than 30 years of his presidency of Mexico. It was this system that brought on the rebellion of 1911, led by Francisco Madero, who was himself assassinated, throwing the country into chaos of civil war for ten years, after which a government was formed which allowed elections of president every six years with the provision that there would be no re-elections. A president could serve only one term.

In her foreword, Mexican writer Elena Poniatowzka states that “through the delicacy of (the authors’) drawings, which seem to be embroidered by a diligent ant, we see every one of the rounded stones in the pavement, each flight of steps leading to the altar, the purity of the lines, the unequaled strength of the buttresses, and the baroque richness of the altar, over whose volutes and curves pose shafts of light, exposing them, polishing them just as the air and the wind, water and time burnish the walls, the roof, and the great doors, giving them their color and texture.”

There is a rich remembrance of a life long past in each of these photographs and each of these drawings. They stand just as the literature of Octavio Paz and Carlos Fuentes stands as a monument to that past that still resonates through the history of Mexico.


Wayne Greenhaw
Southern Scribe Reviews

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