Thursday, 17 October 2013

An Encounter with the Native Indians (Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca)


This particular Spanish explorer has been considered to be perhaps revolutionary when it comes to his accounts with the native Indian's, as he expressed distaste at they way they had been treated by the Spanish. He was second in command to a fellow explorer whose aim was to claim the land from Florida to Mexico for Spain (although he was lost on a boat shortly after the expedition began in 1528) and after his leader's death, travelled to Texas where he came across Indian's.
However, the native Indian's that he captured in Florida also proved to be valuable resources. He writes that 'to whom we showed maize in order to find out if they knew it, for until then we had seen no trace of it. They told us that they would take us to a place where there was maize and they led us to their village', proving that natives were indeed valuable resources contrary to the thought that native American's were often seen as redundant and at the edges of society because the land that they occupied was considered to be of more value than themselves (although de Vaca's use of their knowledge could be showing the way in which he is 'using' them, but I think their redundancy refers more to them being ignored by non-natives).
This idea of submission can be seen when de Vaca notes 'my barge went ahead, and from it we saw five Indian canoes coming. The Indians abandoned them and left them in our hands, when they saw that we approached' showing that the Indian's saw the explorer and his men as threats and were trying to avoid confrontation by giving over their supplies, as they probably knew how the European explorers would treat them, although the Spaniard always seemed to treat them differently.
Particular evidence of this can be seen in their reaction to de Vaca's news of the death of several of his men, because they 'upon seeing the disaster we had suffered, our misery and distress... sat down with us and all began to weep out of compassion for our misfortune, and for more than half an hour they wept so loud and so sincerely that it could be heard far away.'
The explorer's value of the natives is evident when he says 'after we had dispatched the Indians in peace, and with thanks for what they had gone through with and for us', therefore foreshadowing his later campaign in Spain (1545) for the kinder treatment of the Indian's.
Although after this advocacy of rights de Vaca was accused of malfeasance in office (an unlawful act done in an official capacity) and sent to Africa, his attempts to change the ways in which the natives were treated can still be considered as revolutionary.

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