Spanish Conquest and Colonization
The first Spanish garrison arrived in present-day Chiapas in 1524 on orders from Hernán Cortés. Making its way up the Río Grijalva, the expedition encountered fierce resistance from Chiapa warriors, whom one soldier-chronicler described as “the most courageous warriors encountered in the New World.”
The Spanish managed to capture the main Chiapa city—many Chiapa are said to have leapt from the Sumidero Canyon rather than be taken prisoner—but soon withdrew in the face of constant insurrection. Three years later, Diego de Mazariegos led a larger, better-armed expedition from Mexico City and captured western Chiapas, founding present-day Chiapa de Corzo, the state’s first colonial capital.
However, rampant disease prompted him to move the capital to the cooler healthier highlands, founding Ciudad Real (today’s San Cristóbal de las Casas) in 1528. Mazariegos himself died a short time later, and control of Chiapas transferred from New Spain (today’s Mexico) to the viceroyalty in Guatemala, beginning a long tug-of-war between Mexico and Guatemala for control of the region.
Chiapas was a relative backwater for most of the early colonial period. The coastal and lowland areas were used for cattle ranches and sugar cane plantations, but European diseases decimated the native population and the “necessary” slave labor supply. However, it was during this period that Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas launched his remarkable and tireless crusade to abolish slavery in the New World. De las Casas was named bishop of Chiapas in 1544, though his unwavering abolitionism—he refused to absolve slaveholders, even on their deathbeds—meant his tenure was short, just two years.
Chiapas’s indigenous communities did not submit passively to Spanish subjugation. The first major indigenous uprising was in 1712, when Tzeltales in the highland area of Canuc rebelled against colonial abuses; the rebellion spread to neighboring Tzotzil communities before being crushed by Spanish troops rushed in from Guatemala.
© Liza Prado and Gary Chandler from Moon Chiapas, 1st Edition