Page:Travels in Mexico and life among the Mexicans.djvu/92

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TRAVELS IN MEXICO.

the cutting and harvesting of a spontaneous product, by means of laborers who receive such ridiculously small daily pay that it would not be accepted by a farm hand in the North for the work of an hour. Fortunes are made here in henequen, and the fortunate owners of haciendas live a life of luxury; they and their children travel and are educated in Europe, and spend much of their life abroad. Each hacienda is in charge of a mayor-domo, or manager, and the owner rarely lives on his estate, which often covers a territory many leagues in extent.

The amount of hemp, or henequen fibre, shipped from Progreso, the port of Yucatan, in 1880, was, on the authority of the United States Consul, 97,351 bales, weighing 39,501,725 pounds, and valued at $1,750,000! As the raising of the henequen was undertaken in times comparatively recent,—within, say, twenty years,—this amount is a very good showing. This was shipped in fifty-three steamers and thirty-five sailing vessels, and, of the total amount, 85,000 bales were sent to the United States. This industry is rapidly growing, and there is an opportunity here for capitalists, it would seem, to spend large sums. From the henequen fibre are manufactured numberless articles, for the plant has almost as many uses as the palm; but not quite so many as its sister plant of Mexico, the maguey.

In a little suburb of Merida, called Miraflores, is a factory for the manufacture of cordage, coarse cloth, and cables, from the raw fibre, which the proprietors buy from the Indians and the haciendas. Its machinery is very rapid and good, and was made in Boston some fifteen years ago. The machines are tended by Mestiza girls, who are very neat at their work, going about quietly and without even singing or whistling. They are said to be very careful and faithful, and they are very modest; and a pretty picture they present, moving about in their white skirts among the flying spindles and toothed bands, hardly looking up from their labor.

The Indian makes from the agave fibre many most necessary articles,—bags in which to carry packages, saddle-cloths, sandals, ropes, and twine; if he wants any of the last, he goes into the forest for a wild plant, beats out the filament,