Maya/Mesoamerican Colonization of the Caribbean

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Cuāuhtemōc, Jan 14, 2017.

  1. Cuāuhtemōc Instagram Fiend Gone Fishin'

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    There's strong evidence to believe that the Taino societies and the Mesoamericans (Maya especially) had some degree of cultural and goods exchange during pre-Columbian times. With a undetermined POD, preferably around the Classic Maya Collapse in the 8th to 9th centuries, is it possible for wayward Maya to uproot from the Yucatan and establish colonies in the Caribbean islands to escape the political, economic and societal chaos that engulfed the area at the time? Many Classic Maya cities were abandoned and there was an OTL migration of people from the south to the north - I don't think it would be impossible there would be further migration to Isla Juventud and/or western Cuba.

    What would be the effect of major Maya enroachment onto traditional (Ciboney) Taino and pre-Taino peoples, like the relatively primitive hunter-gatherer Guanahatabey? I'd figure that in the case of the latter, they would be extinguished or quickly absorbed into the new Maya colonies. The Ciboney would likely prove to be more serious adversaries but in the long term, I see them being expelled/killed off/absorbed except for perhaps for the mountains in the eastern end and swamps. Perhaps they might even adapt and evolve into an equivalent of Rome to the Maya's Greeks? Or likely be conquered by the wave of organized Taino coming from Puerto Rico and Hispaniola?
     
  2. Skallagrim Not the one from YouTube. Different other fellow.

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    It's a very interesting perspective, certainly. Personally, I find the evidence that there was such trade contact absolutely compelling. If you want a development of that during the Classic Maya Collapse (or rather: if you want a Maya expansion in the direction of Cuba, Jamaica and Hispaniola), a somewhat earlier POD seems in order. Specifically, the POD might well be a (somewhat vague) "increased interest in these trade relations", leading to somewhat more extensive trade and some minor advances in shipbuilding. After all, if the POD is that those trade contacts are already better-established, and there is a Maya presence on various islands, migrating to those islands might realistically become a more tempting option to people trying to escape the political, economic and societal chaos.

    Also, if contact has been long-established (and is friendly), the result might not be conflict (or at least: it might not be the norm). The peoples with whom the Maya have been trading have presumably also gained from the exchange. Instead of conflict, the migrating Maya might well just 'tip the demographic balance' somewhat gradually, while merging with the nnative population-- leading to a mixed successor culture. Such a change will no doubt create tension, but one might imagine there being groups allied to the Maya settlers, and groups opposed. Those who have benefitted most from the trade will likely be allied to the settlers. These will also be the ones most open to Maya cultural influence, and - handily - the ones who may gave gained a useful upper hand through the trade. Presumably, any successor culture will be heavily Maya-influenced/dominated, and very trade-oriented. That last bit, of course, opens other doors: I for one would not be surprised to see trade outposts popping up all across the region (not unlike Greek or Phoenician colonies).

    A bit more speculative (just because it's a really interesting idea you have here): it's not inconceivably that these island-based Maya successors later decide to re-take their original homeland, and add it to their growing sphere of influence. Nor is it unlikely that (if they do start putting up trade posts everywhere) they eventually get a foothold on the mainland to the north. In, say, Florida. Or at or near the mouth of the Mississippi river...

    By the time the Europeans come along, there's no telling what they might find waiting for them.
     
  3. Krishna123 Well-Known Member

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    This would be a great idea for a timeline! I predict small Maya city states all over the Caribbean islands and anywhere with a reasonable harbor on the southern coasts. The climates and soil types would allow a more sustainable agriculture/aqua Maya culture than the slash and burn monoculture of Maize that contributed to all the various phases of Maya collapse. When the Spanish come they will find something akin to bronze age Greece in tech and the maritime republics (except a theocracy as OTL) in social organization. After the plagues killed off a few city states they might formulate something akin to the quarantine regulations that helped control the plague in OTL renaissance Italy? with an already existing infrastructure and larger remaining populations due to the urban centers on those islands who could support, the importation of African slaves might be delayed somewhat?
     
  4. John7755 يوحنا Lightweight Faqih

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    What about the Maya having colonial cities on the coast line of the US south? Perhaps a trading city on the mouth of the Mississipi river, a city that becomes a middle man between the flourishing Mississippian cities like Cahokia with both Mesoamerica and the Mayan cities now in the Caribbean? If such an event occurred, you could see early European powers take keen interest in the US South as opposed to otl.
     
  5. LSCatilina Feudal Leftist Extraordinaire

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    What did the Mesoamerican ships and transmaritime trade looked like, structurally?
     
  6. Pempelune noob

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    That sound like an awesome timeline. Anyone has detailed information on the Maya collapse?
     
  7. Cuāuhtemōc Instagram Fiend Gone Fishin'

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    The most common type of watercraft used by Mesoamericans was the dugout canoe. Since sail-making wasn't spread to Mesoamerica (they were used by South Americans), they were powered by oars. Most were small and could only carry about 4-5 people but conquistador accounts describe canoes large enough to carry 25-50 people at a time. They also had raised bows and sterns and even complex features like awnings and row-locking mechanisms. Most of the people were usually porters due to a lack of large enough domesticated beasts of burden like in Old World societies.

    As for how trade was conducted, I know that Mesoamericans often initiated diplomatic contact with foreign societies by the exchange of goods, usually via merchants acting as representatives of the local ruler. The Taino themselves were not too shabby with maritime navigation - as they originated from South America and managed to colonize most of the Caribbean within the span of a few centuries. I'd imagine the pochteca class of merchants would have a much more prominent role if there was an (even more) extensive trade network encompassing Mexico and the Caribbean (and beyond).

    EDIT: @Skallagrim I was also thinking of a Maya colonization during the Pre-Classic Collapse in the 2nd century AD but was unsure if Maya maritime technology was advanced enough to permit a large-scale migration from the Yucatan to Cuba. It would also allow more time for an even more extensive Maya presence and filtering of cultural ideas and technology to the other peoples in the region. Perhaps we would have Mesoamerican-tier kingdoms all over the Caribbean and Gulf Coast by the time that the Europeans come by.
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2017
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  8. twovultures Well-Known Member

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    I do question how easily the Mayan political system would be able to recreate itself across the Antilles. Basically, in the greater Antilles the commoners would have the opportunity to evade the nobility's control. Sure, Hunac Ceel comes 'from the west to rule', and orders his peasants to clear out maize fields and build him a step pyramid, but the same forests and swamps that could hide pre-Taino peoples could also hide peasants who want nothing to do with following his orders. In addition, they can just hop over one island further to evade control if they need to. Frustrated, Hunac Ceel then either packs up and goes home or resigns himself to growing his own food like some kind of animal.

    In the meantime, the peasants creole-ize with the Taino and/or pre-Taino, merging their agricultural and belief systems. Eventually, a local elite will rise (which might be vulnerable to replacement during a secondary invasion from the mainland) and said elite's desire for prestige goods will drive a growth in interaction and trade between the mainland and islands, bringing the Antilles further into Mesoamerica's orbit.
     
  9. Krishna123 Well-Known Member

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    the refugees who found these cities might reject the old system and be nearer to a mercantile mindset than religious theocratic city state. based on trading qua culture and farming rather than just on farming by itself. this would favor different types of society anyway
     
  10. Zheng He Well-Known Member

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    This is really interesting, I will add some thoughts later...
     
  11. Cuāuhtemōc Instagram Fiend Gone Fishin'

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  12. Revachah ::purveyor of side-eye and teeth sucking:::

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    I think it's important to expand Milpa systems that do not glorify Corn, Cassava is believed to have supported more people in the Classical Maya period and it is much more drought resistan. While of course corn will stick around deifying cassava+sweet potato and integrating tubers as the foundation of say large stands of Breadnut and Peach Palm with Acai (found in trinidad and high in fat 3.5oz is 500cal) and leguminous trees could expand the caloric output of the land while also being regenerative.

    I'd also say that there is an extremely likely chance that if you get the right people the Blunt-toothed giant hutia could be captured and tamed, it existed until 400 years ago in Saint Barts. Geocapromys spp. were translocated in pre-coloumbia times, some even possibly domesticated. Bringing these into husbandry with oppossum would be a protein boon in larger islands and could subsist in a frugivorous food forest setting with ease.
     
  13. Jon the Numbat Well-Known Member

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    Greater Mesoamerican interaction in the Caribbean is very interesting and well within the realm of plausibility. The cities that seem most poised to do this are Coba, Tulum, Xcaret, Xel-Ha, and Muyil; their strength lied in transport along the coast. Muyil in particular has been inhabited since late Preclassic times.

    So how about a POD at Muyil that develops outrigger canoes in the late pre classic/early classic. They begin mostly like the canoes of old but their stability in rough waters is valued for trade along the Caribbean coast. Eventually the canoes are made longer and parts are weaved between to carry greater loads. Fisherman communities from the coastal cities are able to travel further in their trips and carry more of their catch back, reaching Cuba by 550 AD and solidifying the route to central America. The places where they visit most become outposts for resupply and grow into trading towns. Farming communities are established in these emerging towns and they become a new destination (or source) for Maya trade goods.

    Maya influence would be quite apparent in western Cuba but I see an all together unique culture arising in central Cuba that merges Maya with the agricultural Ostionoid culture. This culture probably has its heart along the coast, with large towns and cites developing in the terminal classic and smaller communities radiating to other islands.

    I'm unsure if this development would prevent the collapse all together but I suspect it to be mitigated with an alternate source of trade goods and foods at the very least. We may find the shift to the northern lowlands to proceed more uniformly as the coastal cities use their Caribbean connections as leverage towards the declining cities further south.

    Some refugees from the south will make the trip to the coastal cities and from there to the Cuban towns or even further as they diffuse across the coastal settlements of the region. The fully established cities on the west of the island are likely to remain politically independent from the mainland for quite a while until the post classic.

    The post classical era is where I see this hybrid culture really come into its own. The Taino of Hispaniola, Eastern Cuba, and Puerto Rico would begin to develop large chiefdoms at around this time and this process would no doubt be accelerated by a robust trading connection to the mainland. The "Classic Taino" would benefit from the outriggers as the Maya did and spread their connections and what they adopt throughout the Antilles.

    The Central American trade networks would also benefit from these developments on the Atlantic side. They could pick up sailing and metallurgy techniques from the south and western coast of Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia. Settlements here and across into the Chibchan area utilized diches, causeways and terraces. The Diquis, Zenu, Tairona, Tierra Alta and an assortment of Panamanian and Colombian highland cultures could all contribute to the rise of a circum-Caribbean interaction sphere. A most interesting outcome would be the development of catamarans at Panama and Northern Colombia. The inspiration could come from the rafts made there and in Ecuador, combining the design with the outriggers to maximize the cargo load.

    So we could have by the 1200s or 1300s a collection of thriving market centers across the Caribbean coast of Central America and the Antilles. The population is higher than OTL and the interior of the islands might be guarded by chiefdoms based around fortified cities and towns.

    Politically the region is a mosaic of cities, confederations, towns, kingdoms and chiefdoms but there will certainly be cultural traits that bind them together, a Caribbean equivalent of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex, that synthesizes all the interacting societies. Ceremonial pilgrimage sites, ball games, cults and recreational foods all shared across the sea lanes. I like the idea of a more maritime Post Classic with Pochteca style communities across the basin. With their new navigational tools our Antilles culture could sail up the gulf coast of Florida and trade with the Calusa and South Appalachian Mississippians.
    ...
    If Columbus shows up I think his expedition could easily wind up like Gonzalo Guerrero and the next expedition from Spain (or some other state that finances another trip) is delayed. The process of subjugating every city and town would tie up would be conquistadors, especially with the denser population. The butterflies from these campaigns would have vast ramifications for the mainland. Fortified bastions in the interior of Cuba and Hispaniola, along with a greater opportunities to organize would allow the natives remain independent for longer and to hold out afterwards to a much greater extent than OTL. Others could flee to neighboring islands or the mainland and organize resistance before the next expedition comes along.

    This also means the supply line to colonial projects on the mainland would operate on a much more strenuous rope. Overzealous conquistadors search for mainland cities to loot, leaving the interior of the Greater Antilles as a hardship posting that erupts in rebellion. Deporting rebels across islands won't be a sound solution since much of the Caribbean probably speaks a Middle American jargon. Even rival bands of conquistadors could take on each other for treasure they feel is rightfully their's.

    The Caribbean natives will survive in the interior as they did OTL, smaller numbers than before but still larger than the same period OTL. Their later descendants might mix with maroon communities. I for one would love to witness an uprising lead by an analog to François Mackandal, who uses the hymns of the trading cultures of old to rally a revolt against the backdrop of the once thriving cities.
     
  14. AlternateEagle Well-Known Member

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    I love the idea of Mayan thalassocracy in the Caribbean! Honestly, the Conquistador thing just makes it better since it offers a realistic end to their civilization. I wouldn't mind seeing a tl of this.
     
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  15. Tanc49 On Faraway Seas

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    Correct me if I'm wrong, but if we see the rise of a maritime heavy Central American culture, would there be a Colombus at all? What would be the chances of them developing better techniques and ending up in Europe/Africa? The currents seem rather favourable?
     
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  16. LSCatilina Feudal Leftist Extraordinaire

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    From what I red from the really interesting post of @Jon the Numbat, even by the XIVth century, the Mesoamerican/Carribean civilisations mostly rowing and coastal sailing seafare, making transoceanic expeditions on their behalf not really plausible. Even with a sudden technological advance in the XIVth/XVth, I don't think it would be nearly enough to fill the gap with the seafare build-up in Europe (and XIVth changes) in a realistic way.

    That said, I'm not sure that European transoceanic expeditions would be that delayed : if anything, the confirmation that you can reach Cathay and Cipangu trough the east (because this TTL Carribeeans would look definitely more Cipangu and outskirts of Cathay than IOTL).
    I do agree it would make the colonizing effort less easy from what matter Castille (altough I don't see it having that of a decisive effect on semi-private conquistador expeditions), but I'd be interested on the consequences of the biological schock for this cultural/economical commonwealth : would the structural build-up be enough to witness at least an equivalent to native resistence in Mexico or Peru at worst, Yucatan and lower lands at best? Or would it make the situation wholly different?
     
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  17. Jon the Numbat Well-Known Member

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    Depending on how one wants to allow the butterflies to flap, probably not. Personally, I wish a lot of Pre-Columbian discussions would use a sort of "assume no Columbus" or a century or two delay as a hypothetical device more often. It can be pretty dampening to have so many potential divergences be latched with the 1492 expiration date. There's also plenty of more recent changes that could have Columbus land somewhere else. I also find it just as easily that there's no Columbus analog at all, instead having the Grand Banks and Brazil serving as the focus for exploratory missions, with an early interest in much of the Americas diminished compared to OTL, until they stretch into the Caribbean. In general I tend to stick to minimal ocean-crossing butterflies because its more the OP's place to decide as opposed to mine.

    With my scenario probably not very high. But what if (OP permitting) we imagine a fully realized "Maritime Americas." A world where sea and river travel has connected much of the two continents directly and say a Mississippian or *Hohokam 'Marco Polo' could meet face to face with Titicaca or *Marajoara merchants. (essentially the strongest "Bronze Age New World.")

    Which direction would these seafaring peoples would be pulled? Voyagers on their way to the Amazon's mouth might be pulled in the equatorial counter current towards Africa. It is also possible to drift into the south Pacific from South America. There's also the Subpolar Gyre that could take some particularly brave northeasterners to Iceland. The Alaska and Kamchatka currents combined with the north end of the North Pacific Gyre is relatively remote, but the trees of the Pacific Northwest did make some of the best native boats of OTL.

    I do wonder how this maritime economy would work to the point where someone would push for alternate routes. If say a Mesoamerican mathematician calculates the circumference of the world and compares it to the length of the Americas, they might consider sailing into the ocean foolhardy. However if the existence of Polynesia and it's people are known someone might just be willing to try.
     
  18. Tanc49 On Faraway Seas

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    Maybe a leader from like Florida, Brazil or Virginia tries to find a way to the West Coat :D
     
  19. twovultures Well-Known Member

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    In this scenario, I think that Columbus would skip creating settlements on the islands he initially comes across; seeing so many ships bringing in goods from the mainland, he will probably try to find out where they're coming from and where they're bringing the wealth from, probably finding a catamaran at sea and capturing the crew.

    Now where the crew will direct him is pretty much a roll of the dice. Even if they somehow can be made to understand Columbus, as per OTL the Native Americans may respond to the questions of the violent interlopers by pointing them to any random direction away from their homeland as a source for gold. Columbus could very well end up in Florida swamps or the Guyanas' jungles chasing phantom Eldorados, though he could very well end up on the coast of Mesoamerica. The Spanish may not initially try violent conquest in the latter scenario, preferring to set up a Goa in the New World. Whether they keep that attitude up as the native political structures weaken from conversion to Christianity among the elites and disease is another thing.
     
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  20. Achaemenid Rome Iron Age City-State

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    Maya settlements were characterized by low density urbanism, so it would be hard to create settler colonies elsewhere without an increase in density in the Yucatan creating population pressure. But tributary/trading/military colonization is definitely possible.

    Ironically, the Toltecs sort of perceived the Maya as their "Greeks" (Toltec being "Rome"), greatly admiring the culture of the Maya. The Toltecs also became a historical anchor for the Aztecs in their attempt to establish legitimacy.
     
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2017