Henequen drying in the sun. What on earth is Henequen? If you lived in the Yucatan Peninsula from 1850 to 1900, you more than likely made a living off the back of Henequen. Henequen was the California Gold Rush of the Yucatan. What you see here in this photo are the shredded fibers of the Agave Fourcroydes plant natively found in the Yucatan. A very similar Agave also cultivated during the same period is called sisal which was the name of the port it was shipped out of. They both made up a booming industry that brought a great deal of wealth to the area during the late 19th century. Because Henequen was resistant to humidity it was primarily used as mooring lines and ropes for ships. By 1900 the influx of wealth had transformed the region taking the city of Merida from a small town to a modern city with electricity, drainage, and streetcars. During the industry’s peak, Henequen growers set up many haciendas in the countryside like the place in this photo. We took this photo at Sotuta de Peon, not to far from Merida. For a variety of reasons, the industry did decline slowly and by the end of the 1920s the Yucatan was no longer the dominant supplier and alternative fibers were being introduced. It’s important to note that long before all this, the Mayans were the first to discover the valuable qualities of Henequen which they used to make hammocks, coarse textiles, sandals, and baskets. The Mayan word for Henequen is called “Ki.” Now you know something about the rise and fall of the Henequen industry in Mexico.