The Maya defend their homeland!
It is unclear what year or who exactly was the first Europeans to explore the area that would later become the nation of Belize. The first Europeans to be active in this area were the Spanish. Assad Shoman in his book “A History of Beilize in 13 Chapters” cites Grant Jones as saying that the earliest possible date for Spanish activities in this land that would later become Belize was around 1508.
Around the estimated time of Spanish contact with the Maya in this immediate area there were three major Maya provinces. These provinces included Chaktemal, Dzuluinicob and Manche Chol. The Maya occupants of these provinces reacted the same as their neighbours towards the incursion of Spanish invasion to their land, they fought back.
One of the most famous Maya leader to emerge from this fighting was Maya leader of the province of Chaktemal, Nachancan. Nachancan along with his Spanish son-in-law Guerrero lead a successful battle against the first attempts by Spanish invasions under Alonso Davila. It is said that when Davila sent a messenger to get tribute from Nachancan, he sent back a message to Davila that the only tribute he would give to the Spanish would be turkeys in the shapes of spears and corn in the shape of arrows. Davila’s attempt was a failure after Nachancan lead his people to abandon the city to trick Davila and his men to thinking they can occupy the city without resistance. What the Maya then did after Davila declared Chaktemal to be a new Spanish settlement [named Villa Real] was to launch a series of guerrilla raids on the Spanish, expelling them from the land and forcing them to move south.
Eventually major Maya centres like Chaktemal, Lamani and Tipu were invaded by expeditions under the command of Spanish Gaspar Pacheco. These raids began in 1544. Assad Shoman cites one Spanish priest accounts of what the behaviour of these Spanish were like towards the Maya in their quest to take their homeland away from them.
“A Spanish priest wrote of Alonso [Alonso was Gaspar Pacheco nephew] to the Crown in 1548: ‘This captain, with his own hands, committed outrages: he killed many with the garrotte… tying them to stakes, he cut the breasts off many women, and hands, noses and ears off the men, and tied squashes to the feet of women and threw them in the lakes to drown merely to amuse himself’.” [Shoman – A history of Belize in 13 Chapters- p 9]
The Maya were very resilient at fighting back against Spanish encroachment to their freedom and sovereignty. Maya communities like Lamani, Chaktemal, Tipu, and Tayasal fought back consistently against Spanish invasion and rule. Some resistance included face to face combat, other instances the Maya would burn down the Catholic churches built by the Spanish to force them to convert to Christianity and in some cases the Maya would leave the area that fell under direct Spanish rule and migrate to places not so directly controlled by Spanish.
British colonialist when writing our history argued that by the time the British got here in this area in the early 1700, the land had long been abandoned by the Spanish and the Maya, but we now know that was a lie in the case of the Maya. Yes the British did not encounter much Maya activity around St. Georges Cay (then name Cayo Cosina) and what would later be Belize City, but as they ventured more inland the frequency of encounters with Maya communities began increasing, an argument against the claim that the Maya didn’t still occupy this land. In the case of not encountering the Spanish having established settlements in this area, that is because the Maya fought them off and the eventual lack of economic interest from the Spanish to this area.