Why do you think that Native Allies and African Conquistadors were not mentioned in European accounts of the conquest? Do you think it was intentional or unintentional? Why?
Portrayals of Malintzin have been unfair to her, historically. My question is this: why do you think the stories have been so unfair to her, while Cortes and other conquistadors are either rewarded or ignored for actually carrying out the conquest?
How do your readings connect to either of these questions?
Lecture 3- Steamrolling?
“Malintzin was the indigenous woman who translated for Hernando Cortés in his dealings with the Aztec emperor Moctezuma in the days of 1519 to 1521. “Malintzin,” at least, was what the Indians called her. The Spanish called her doña Marina, and she has become known to posterity as La Malinche. As Malinche, she has long been regarded as a traitor to her people, a dangerously sexy, scheming woman who gave Cortés whatever he wanted out of her own self-interest.
The life of the real woman, however, was much more complicated. She was sold into slavery as a child, and eventually given away to the Spanish as a concubine and cook. If she managed to make something more out of her life–and she did–it is difficult to say at what point she did wrong.”
Actually, that is a good question: what did she do wrong? Not much, it turns out– having been sold by her family, and again by the subsequent owners, exactly what kind of loyalty was she supposed to have? Who was it that she was supposed to not “sell out?” No one, it turns out. Historians today know that she was doing her best to stay alive, and make a life for herself, and given her situation and life experiences, it is hard to expect anything more.
For me, at least, this raises a simple question: why are people in such a hurry to blame Malintzin for the conquest, when, in fact, they should be blaming the Spanish? Why did the blame shift to her, instead of where it should have been– on Cortes and his men? Just curious.
The Indigenous Allies:
Spanish, Slavery, and Encomiendas (Early Colonial Period)
In U.S. History, people debate quite a lot about the plight of Native Americans. Some people believe that Native Americans were given a chance to be a part of the developing American culture, others say they were not. Still others, citing the diminishing numbers of Native Americans and the active role that the U.S. government and its white citizens took in killing and displacing Native Americans, call it genocide. In Latin America, it is a little more complicated.
The removal, displacement, and murder of Native Americans is undeniable in U.S. history, but such actions did not take place in Mexico, or other parts of Latin America, at least not on the same scale. The reason for this is that the goals of the British and the Spanish were different when establishing colonies in the Americas.
The British, running out of room to live in England, usually came to the Americas to make a home for themselves, and own land. The Spanish, on the other hand, were interested in making money– that is, seeing where the gold and silver was. And there was plenty of silver (and some gold) to be had in the Andes region of South America, and the north central part of Mexico. To mine these precious metals, the Spanish conquistadors, and then the Spanish settlers, needed workers, and they naturally looked to the indigenous peoples of the region.
But establishing a native workforce was not easy. New to the region, Spanish conquistadors and settlers relied on native knowledge to navigate the area, find the precious metals and establish mines (and get workers!). Slavery was common for a while, but ultimately ineffective. Too many would run away or fight back. They knew the terrain in ways that the European newcomers did not, making slavery as we know it even more difficult, if not impossible. Yet, there were ways in which slavery existed, even if it doesn’t look familiar to us. I comes from a system that wasn’t supposed to be about slavery at all: the Encomienda.
The encomienda was something the crown gave to a soldier, an official, or a conquistador. Technically it wasn’t land, but rather the Spaniard was given power over the Indians in the area, and was legally able to demand tribute (payment; taxes), either in cash (gold), or in labor. Now, even though it was not technically a land grant, the Spaniard often received land as payment, or they just took it. In most cases, encomenderos usually ended up with land, and indigenous folks were bound to it– they had to live there, work there, eat there, etc., usually because they owed that payment to the Spaniard (the encomendero). There was, however, a catch: because the Spanish were a catholic people, and their catholic faith underwrote much of the journey to the Americas, the crown also demanded that the encomendero also convert his Indians to Christianity. However, such conversions were rarely made, and encomiendas were essentially places that practiced slavery, even if it was under another name.
Just about everyone realized this, including Antonio de Montesinos, a parish priest in what we call the Dominican Republic today. In 1511, he got up in front of his church members (most of whom were encomenderos), and basically criticized them and the encomienda system as a whole:
“Tell me, by what right of justice do you hold these Indians in such a cruel and horrible servitude? On what authority have you waged such detestable wars against these people who dealt quietly and peacefully on their own lands? Wars in which you have destroyed such an infinite number of them by homicides and slaughters never heard of before. Why do you keep them so oppressed and exhausted, without giving them enough to eat or curing them of the sicknesses they incur from the excessive labor you give them, and they die, or rather you kill them, in order to extract and acquire gold every day.”
He said this right in front of the people who were doing this to the native peoples!
And this gets to the heart of the matter when it comes to the Catholic Church in Latin America, and it is something worth remembering: while the church had their own official positions about Indians higher up on the ladder (the people who worked in offices and wore jewelry), the ones who were preaching every week, or even everyday, were more inclined to protect native folk than they were to hurt them. Of course, this was a later development, after the violent portion of the conquest had passed and settlement began. Still, it is important to remember that when we think about the church, indigenous people, or even Spaniards, we cannot lump them all into one group. People had different views and reacted differently to particular situations. Yet, we can say that on average, the church did irreparable damage to the native cultures and religions throughout Latin America, though some of them still survive (and some of them are mixed in with Christianity over the years, decades, centuries).
But let’s get back to whether the encomiendas were a form of slavery or not.
The Spanish crown and the Catholic church definitely had some issues with slavery, and they had some issues with the forced conversion that came with it– they thought it was immoral. Well, they only thought it was immoral; they weren’t sure. I say they weren’t sure because in 1550, two men, Bartolome de las Casas and Juan Gines Sepulveda debated in Spain (the city of Valladolid), in front of King Charles I, had an official debate to figure out whether or not slavery and forced conversion (which is what happened if you were an native person on an encomienda) was, well, Christian. (Page 70 in Chapter 2 of your text– maybe a different page depending on which edition you have). They did not come to a resolution.
The larger point of all this is to say that native folks were in bondage of sorts, but they also discovered that upon conversion, they could take advantage of the laws
Malinche– Traitor, Victim, or Survivor?