As history goes, the Spaniards came to the New World and reaped wealth from the valuable deposits of gold and silver in Latin America. However, little did the conquistadores realize that another form of wealth would come from a plant a few centuries later.
Henequen or Sisal is a fibrous plant in the agave family (same plant family that produces tequila). It is native to the Yucatan Peninsula and the Maya people used its strong fibers for ropes, hammocks and other day-to-day useful items. The Spaniards paid little attention to this plant as they colonized the New World.
However, as history progressed and the well-established and colonized region progressed, the Yucatecos realized the commercial value of the fibers. The city of Sisal was a major port to export the fibers from the peninsula to Europe. The wealth of the hacienda owners who produced henequen skyrocketed and today you can still see the remaining haciendas and mansions (especially in Merida) where the wealthy henequen owners prospered.
Henequen fiber is still produced today as seen in the photos. Hammocks, bags, ropes, doormats and more can be purchased from this ancient plant. Next time in the Yucatan, pick up a piece of fibrous culture!