Lacandon Maya engaged in brisk trade with outsiders in the lowland rainforest frontier of the burgeoning colonial powers in Petén, Guatemala, and Chiapas, Mexico. Documents describe Lacandon economic exchanges and archaeological investigations recovered abundant foreign goods in nineteenth-century Lacandon sites. This presentation focuses on the transformational effects of cross-cultural interaction through one indigenous product: cheap, excellent tobacco. The tobacco trade eventually restructured the local Lacandon economy and exposed these unconquered Maya to foreign influences, which brought changes in indigenous religion, agriculture, and social organization. This kind of domestic trade and inherent symmetrical interactions were based on indulgences and random encounters not controlled by states. These classes of small scale social and economic exchanges with a reduction in power differentials were typical in peripheral regions of expanding world systems in Latin America.
Joel Palka is Professor of Anthropology and Latin American and Latino Studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago.