Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1697 Yucatec holkan
Subjectnakom captain of holkan mercenaries
Culture: Yucatec Mayan
Setting: late post-classical period, Yucatan/Guatemala 1441-1704
Evolution730 Late Classic Maya sahal > 1194 Early PostClassic Maya batab > 1697 Yucatec Maya holkan

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Feldman 2000 pxxii-xxiii
"Given this history of Spanish penetration, conquest, and displacement, it is easy to view the Indian lowlanders as passive creatures whose only recourse was to flee from their oppressors.  This is not the whole story."The Manche were indeed more passive than most of the Chol lowlanders -- although Friar Moran, with his church burned, possessions lost, and hiding in a tree from Mayan headhunters, might disagree about that -- yet other Indians carried warfare to their enemies.  Friar Vico lost his head in Acala, and in the process, became a Catholic martyr.  The Chol Lacandon raided, and kept on raiding for decades, towns on the Chiapas and Guatemalan frontiers.  Towns like Chajul or even the outskirts of Coban would receive a visit and human hearts would be yanked from living bodies and left scattered in the fields of the aisles of the local church.  For the Dominicans, it was always a religious war against the demons that they felt ruled these lands.  The Lacandon raiders, with their sacrifices of captives, would have agreed with them on the nature of the warfare if not whose gods were demons."

* Whitlock 1976 p81 [PLAGIARIZED: Wise/McBride 1980 p32]  
"There seem ..., at least in later times, to have been bands of full-time mercenaries known as holkans, under the command of permanent leaders."

* Benson 1967 p142
"[T]he aristocratic class the Spaniards found in Yucatán believed themselves to be descended from warlike Mexicans.  In these last years they spent much of their time and energy making war on each other, one of the major purposes of which was to acquire captives to be used as slaves and sacrificial victims."

Landa tr. Gates 1987 p73
"In each district there were men chosen as the soldiery, and when the occasion came they presented themselves with their arms; these were called holcánes, and if there were not enough of them, others were collected; they were given instructions and divided.  Marching led by a lofty banner they set out from the town in complete silence, and then taking their enemies by surprise, fell on them with great cries and fierceness.
​    "[...] These holcánes received no pay except in time of war, and then they were given certain money by the captains, but not much, because it came from their own funds; or if they lacked the needful, the town helped them.  The town also supplied their food, which the women prepared for them; this they carried on their backs for the lack of animals, and thus the wars were of short duration.  After the war the soldiers harrassed the people in the districts greatly, under color of the war, while this lasted, requiring services and gifts; if any of them succeeded in killing some captain or chief he was greatly honored and feted."

* Clendinnen 1987 p34
"Most of the encounters were fought at close quarters, and in hand-to-hand combat the Maya were skilled and tough.  Each community sustained a body of at least semi-professional fighting men, and prowess was valued and measured in the endemic slave-raids and more formal battles between towns and provinces.  The Spaniards had no doubt as to the Mayas' toughness: the Mérida cabildo judged them 'bellicose, valiant and experienced in war', and Spaniards did not distribute such reputations lightly, especially to Indians."

* Vera Castillo p17
"During the militaristic Post-Classic, there were two types of captains (nacom): the governor of the provinces (batab) held the post while a warrior waged war.  The soldiers (holcanes) were elected in every village." 

* Jones 1998 p453 n113
"One colonial Yucatec term for 'war captain' was aj-chun k'atun.  The more familiar term for war captain, nakom, referred both to a military leader and to a priest who carried out human sacrifices, confirming that war captains were indeed priests who consulted supernatural forces for military guidance."  [CONTRA Gallenkamp 1987 p122: "[N]acoms or 'war captains' [are] not to be confused with the priests responsible for carrying out human sacrifices."]

Armor (Headdress, Jacket)

* Miller/Martin 2004 p164
"Spanish accounts of their 16th century battles against the Maya describe furious charges from warriors bedecked in elaborate costumes, their bodies painted red or black, carrying banners and sacred images, all to the accompanying din of horns, drums, and war cries.  The few representations of combat provided by the Maya show this same kind of ferocious melee: a tangle of fighters dressed in tall headdresses topped with feathers and animal effigies, encouraged by musicians and standard-bearers."

* Landa tr. Gates 1987 p72
"They wore protective jackets of cotton, quilted in double thicknesses, which were very strong. Some of the chiefs and captains wore helmets of wood, but these were not common.  With these arms they went to war, adorned with feathers, and with skins of tigers and lions, when they possessed them."  

Ornaments (Jewelry, Body Art)

* Wise/McBride 1980 p33
The nobility ... wore a great deal of jewellery in the form of gold ear plugs, a jewel (often a topaz) in the left nostril, jade rings on fingers and toes, jade bracelets and necklaces, and even had their front teeth filed to points and sometimes inlaid with jade.  Feathers were also worn round the wrist and ankles, and for battle they painted themselves black and red.  Tattooing was also practiced from the waist up, including the face, as was decorative scarification."

* Gallenkamp 1987 p121
"Sixteenth-century Spanish chronicles tell of encounters with Maya soldiers -- their bodies painted with red and black -- arrayed in plumed helmets and lavish costumes, carrying brightly colored standards, and attacking amid the eerie din of drums, conch-shell horns, whistles, and yells."


* Foster 2002 p146
"In the Late Postclassic Period, the bow and arrow was introduced; reed arrows, pointed with flints or sharp fish teeth, were carried in quivers, and the bows, relatively straight, were strung with hemp cord.  For hand-to-hand combat, there were razor-sharp obsidian-spiked clubs and spears, axes, and knives with flint or obsidian blades.  Even though copper blades were used by the time of Spanish contact, the Maya did not stop using stone or obsidian.  In 1502, Christopher Columbus's ship encountered a Maya trading canoe and reported that their wooden swords had flint blades that cut like steel."

* Wise/McBride 1980 p34
"Missile weapons were the bow and dart propelled by an atl-atl, both introduced by the Mexicans, and the ubiquitous sling.  Arrow and dart heads were of bone or obsidian.  The original Mayan weapons were all designed for close combat -- a lance or spear 1.5 metres (4ft 10in.) long, a wooden club edged with obsidian, a broad-bladed flint knife, and a kind of trident made by carving three sharp blades from a large sea shell."

* Landa tr. Gates 1987 p72
"[B]ows and arrows [were] carried in their quivers, tipped with flints and very sharp fishes' tails, which they shot with great skill and force.  The bows were of a beautiful yellowish wood, marvelously strong and more straight than curved, with cords of their hemp fibres.  The length of the bow is always somewhat less than that of the one who carries it.  The arrows are made of reeds that grow in the lagoons, and more than five palms long, in which is fixed a piece of thin wood, very strong, in which again is fastened the flint.  They do not know or use poisons, though from no lack of them.  They had hatchets of a certain metal and of this shape, fastened in a handle of wood.  These served them both as arms in war, and then at home for working wood.  The metal being soft, they gave it an edge by beating with a stone.  They had short lances a man's height in length, pointed with very hard flint; besides these they had no other arms." [CONTRA Wise/McBride 1980 p34, Restall 2003 p50]

* Burton 1884 p49
"The people of Copan (Yucatan) opposed Hernandez de Chaves with slings, bows, and 'wooden Swords having stone edges.'"

* Trout 1991 p82 caption
"To the Yucatec Maya, these objects [sacrificial knives] were known as U kab ku, 'hand of the god.'"

* Restall 2003 p50
"In time, Mayas from the Calkini region and other parts of Yucatan would accompany Spaniards into unconquered regions of the peninsula as porters, warriors, and auxiliaries of various kinds.  Companies of archers were under permanent commission in the Maya towns of Tekax and Oxkutzcab, regularly called upon to man or assist in raids into the unconquered regions south of the colony of Yucatan.  As late as the 1690s Mayas from over a dozen Yucatec towns -- organized into companies under their own officers and armed with muskets, axes, machetes, and bows and arrows -- fought other Mayas in support of Spanish Conquest endeavors in the Petén region that is now northern Guatemala."


* Foster 2002 p147
"[T]heir shields sometimes carried the symbol of the jaguar sun god, a Maya diety of war and the Underworld.
​    "Warriors went into battle with shields.  In the Usumacinta River region, flexible shields, folded and carried over the shoulder, were made out of woven mats.  Others were shaped of wood and covered with deerskin; they were painted with emblems of lineages or war deities and decorated with feathers." 

* Wise/McBride 1980 p34
"Shields were either round, and larger than those of the Aztecs, or rectangular, of wood or hide decorated with feathers or animal skins."

* Landa tr. Gates 1987 p72
"For defense they had shields made of split and woven reeds, and covered with deer hide."


* Jones 1998 p239 + footnote p480 n63
"[T]he dense jungles around Chakal -- 'serving them like a wall' -- provided a military advantage for the guerilla techniques of the enemy archers who, unlike the awkward, heavily clothed Spaniards, slithered through the forest 'like snakes,' nude except for their loincloths."
fn63: "... The term translated here as loincloths is 'guruperas' (gruperas), the meaning of which is 'crupper,' the leather strap that stabilizes a horse's saddle when it is looped under the animal's tail. These, then, were the cloths that were wrapped under the man's crotch and tied around the waist."