Sugarcane and Rum

The Bittersweet History of Labor and Life on the Yucat√°n Peninsula

Paperback ($29.95), Ebook ($29.95) Buy

While the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico may conjure up images of vacation getaways and cocktails by the sea, these easy stereotypes hide a story filled with sweat and toil. The story of sugarcane and rum production in the Caribbean has been told many times. But few know the bittersweet story of sugar and rum in the jungles of the Yucatán Peninsula during the nineteenth century. This is much more than a history of coveted commodities. The unique story that unfolds in John R. Gust and Jennifer P. Mathews’s new history Sugarcane and Rum is told through the lens of Maya laborers who worked under brutal conditions on small haciendas to harvest sugarcane and produce rum.

Gust and Mathews weave together ethnographic interviews and historical archives with archaeological evidence to bring the daily lives of Maya workers into focus. They lived in a cycle of debt, forced to buy all of their supplies from the company store and take loans from the hacienda owners. And yet they had a certain autonomy because the owners were so dependent on their labor at harvest time. We also see how the rise of cantinas and distilled alcohol in the nineteenth century affected traditional Maya culture and that the economies of Cancún and the Mérida area are predicated on the rum-influenced local social systems of the past. Sugarcane and Rum brings this bittersweet story to the present and explains how rum continues to impact the Yucatán and the people who have lived there for millennia.

Watch the book trailer







"Sugarcane and Rum offers important insights into the ways sugar and rum have shaped social relations throughout Yucatán’s history. Gust and Mathews also contribute to the growing body of literature focused on the historical archaeology of the Yucatán Peninsula. Free of jargon and rich in content, this book is a good resource for undergraduate and gradu-ate students interested in the history and archaeology of the Yucatán Peninsula and/or histories of labor."—Samantha Seyler, Ethnoarchaeology

"Gust and Mathews successfully use sugarcane and rum to tell the history of Yucatán ..."—Michele McArdle Stephens, Estudios Interdisciplinarios de América Latina

“This book is an exciting and innovative contribution to the history of Yucatán. It challenges us to think carefully about the role of commodities in the production of social relations.”—Elizabeth Terese Newman, author of Biography of a Hacienda: Work and Revolution in Rural Mexico

“Gust and Mathews offer an engaging account of the history of sugarcane production, weaving historical descriptions with archaeological evidence and contemporary political and economic systems in the Yucatán Peninsula.”—Elizabeth A. Olson, co-editor of “The Biodiversity of Conservation Industry in Mexico: Perspectives, Trends, and Challenges”

For Authors

The University of Arizona Press publishes the work of leading scholars from around the globe. Learn more about submitting a proposal, preparing your final manuscript, and publication.



The University of Arizona Press is proud to share our books with readers, booksellers, media, librarians, scholars, and instructors. Join our email Newsletter. Request reprint licenses, information on subsidiary rights and translations, accessibility files, review copies, and desk and exam copies.


Support the Press

Support a premier publisher of academic, regional, and literary works. We are committed to sharing past, present, and future works that reflect the special strengths of the University of Arizona and support its land-grant mission.