Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca 1490-c. 1557
Spanish explorer and chronicler.
Cabeza de Vaca is remembered by students of American history as the first European to set foot in the interior of what would become the states of Florida, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The Relación, his account of the eight years he spent traveling on foot across North America as one of only four survivors of a Spanish expedition of nearly 500 men, has long been a primary source for historians and anthropologists interested in Native American life and customs before contact with white civilization. While the Relación is not regarded as among the greatest literary chronicles of Spanish exploration and conquest in the New World, its sympathetic portrayal of native peoples and subtle yet penetrating condemnation of Spanish savagery and greed make it one of the most unique.
Cabeza de Vaca was born in 1490 in the Spanish town of Jerez de la Frontera, near the port at San Lúcar de Barrameda, from where Magellan sailed in 1519 to become the first man to circumnavigate the globe. It was from San Lúcar de Barrameda that Cabeza de Vaca was to begin his first adventure in 1527. Cabeza de Vaca's family had a long history of illustrious service to Spanish royalty. His paternal grandfather, Pedro de Vera, had been one of the major figures in the Spanish conquest of the Canary Islands, and his mother's family had earned royal favor along with the unusual title “Cabeza de Vaca” (literally “head of the cow”) when a peasant ancestor aided a Spanish victory against the Moors in 1212 by marking an unguarded path with the skull of a cow.
There is no record that Cabeza de Vaca had any university education, and while in his teens he began a career in the military. In 1512 he saw action in the Battle of Ravenna, in which 20,000 soldiers died forcing the French to leave Italy. His service to the Duke of Medina Sidonia and to Charles V in several civil wars over the next ten years brought him greater military distinction and a promotion to lieutenant. Little else is known of Cabeza de Vaca until 1527, when he was appointed treasurer and second in command to Pámfilo de Narváez, in an expedition to conquer the recently discovered land of Florida. On June 17, 1527, Cabeza de Vaca and nearly 500 men set sail. He did not return to Spain until 1537, one of only four men from the entire expedition to survive storms, shipwreck, disease, starvation, attacks from Native Americans, and the blundering decisions of Narváez, and the only member to return to Spain. Upon his return he gave an official report to the Spanish king of what he had witnessed as the first European to have traversed nearly 5,000 miles of the interior of the North American continent. Five years later Cabeza de Vaca published his account of these adventures as the Relación.
Perhaps because of his experience with Narváez, Cabeza refused the following year to return to Florida as second in command in De Soto's expedition to conquer the lands and peoples of Florida. In 1540 the King made Cabeza de Vaca the governor of Río de la Plata, a province roughly comparable to present-day Paraguay. The explorer left Spain in November 1540 and landed in Brazil the following March. His records of his governorship and two marches—each traversing over a thousand miles through unexplored South American jungle—before his men mutinied and returned him to Spain in 1543 as a prisoner, were published together with his North American chronicle in 1555 as the Comentarios.
After being forced to return to Spain in 1543, Cabeza de Vaca spent many of his final years defending his South American actions in court. After years of trials and appeals, he was stripped of his honorary titles, sentenced to banishment from the New World, and condemned to eight years of exile in North Africa. In addition he was sued by many investors in the South American expedition who were unable to recoup their financial losses. Although his exile to Africa was eventually withdrawn, Cabeza de Vaca was effectively bankrupt from the costs of his trial. Some scholars have suggested that the explorer died forgotten and penniless; others believe that the Spanish King took pity on him and granted him a pension and new honorary titles. The exact date of his death is also a matter of debate; it is generally accepted that he died somewhere between 1556 and 1564.
Cabeza de Vaca wrote and published two works. The first, the Relación (also known as Naufragios or Shipwrecks), was published in 1542 and retells in harrowing detail the many ill-fated adventures that doomed the Narváez expedition to failure and the eventual death of all but four of the original crew of 500 men. The narrative is the first work by a European to offer details of North American species such as the buffalo, opossum, armadillo, and Gila monster; to recount the terrible fury of a Caribbean hurricane; and to bear witness to the lives of Native Americans.
Beginning with their departure from Spain in June 1527, Cabeza de Vaca describes how the men eventually arrived on the western coast of Florida near present-day Tampa Bay, but not before nearly a hundred men either deserted the ship or died in tropical hurricanes while wintering in Cuba. Despite Cabeza de Vaca's warnings, expedition leader Pámfilo de Narváez decided to march with the majority of his men up the Florida peninsula while their supply ships followed them by hugging the coast. Within months, however, the men lost contact with the ships, and, short of provisions, began to die of starvation and tropical diseases. To make matters worse they were continually attacked by coastal Indian tribes. Deciding that their only chance of survival was to sail west toward what they believed was New Spain, the surviving 250 men fashioned five crude rafts and set sail from the Florida coast. Several of the boats sank when they were pushed far out to sea as they passed the area where the Mississippi River empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Cabeza de Vaca's raft with several dozen men managed to land on the eastern coast of present-day Texas. Gradually their numbers were reduced to just four men—Cabeza de Vaca, Alonso Castillo, Andrés Dorantes, and Dorantes' African slave, Estevanico, all of whom figure prominently in the written account. The bulk of the book describes how the four were capturerd and enslaved by Indians in Texas, their attempts to escape, and the turn of events that led from their enslavement to positions of high honor among their captors as the foreigners gained reputations as divine healers. The book then traces the long march across Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, down through Sonora, Mexico, concluding as Cabeza de Vaca and his comrades are greeted as heroes by the Spanish viceroy in Mexico City in 1536. The influence of Cabeza de Vaca's tale of suffering, privation, and spiritual awakening has been enduring. Inspired by de Vaca's allusions to fabulous riches, expeditions led by De Soto and Coronado soon returned to Florida and the desert Southwest to conquer the land and its people as they searched for the mythical golden cities of Cibola.
Arriving back in Spain in 1537, Cabeza de Vaca delivered a report of the years in North America co-written by himself, Dorantes and Castillo known as the Joint Report to the Spanish King and government. Although the original report has been lost, a version of it was published by Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdéz in 1539.
Cabeza de Vaca's second major work, the Comentarios, was published in 1555 and included a newly edited version of his North American account as well as a much more lengthy description of the three years he spent as leader of an expedition to restore peace and Spanish rule in the South American province that would become Paraguay. Concerned that his predecessor as governor of the region had been murdered by Native Americans, Cabeza de Vaca tells how he decided it would be faster to march overland from Brazil rather than sailing all the way around the southern tip of the continent to reach his destination. The five-month journey through what was believed to be impenetrable forest is described in great detail, as is another march the following year in search of one of the golden cities of Cibola. The marches take a great toll on his men, and he is forced to halt his second expedition after his men refuse to walk any further. A few months later, a full mutiny against his leadership erupts in large part because many of the Spanish resent his protection of Native Americans against their own financial interests. Cabeza de Vaca's tale comes to a close as he is returned to his homeland in chains.
Cabeza de Vaca's reports of his travels and suffering in strange, new lands had enough popular appeal to be regularly reprinted in Spanish and translated in 1556 into Italian. However, they did not garner much attention in the rest of Europe or North America until the middle of the nineteenth century, when they were translated into French, German, and English. Several English translations in the twentieth century made the Relación available for historians and anthropologists in the United States who found in the accounts of his long overland trek across the desert Southwest valuable descriptions of flora, fauna, and Native American customs. Much of recent scholarship on the Relación has been concerned with attempting to determine the explorer's exact route based on geographical clues in the work. Other scholars have examined differences between the accounts given in the Joint Report, the 1542 version of the Relación, and the 1555 version in the Commentarios, and they have debated whether Cabeza de Vaca may have fabricated elements of his narrative either to please his king or to increase his own prestige. Cabeza de Vaca's account of his years in South America has been largely ignored by English critics and historians; the complete Commentarios have never be translated into English.
Over the last forty years, Cabeza de Vaca's Relación has been gaining increasing critical attention for its literary merits. While it is clear from the frequent misspellings and grammatical mistakes that Cabeza de Vaca was no polished writer, the subtle way the author appeals to the king (to whom the book is addressed) for mercy and for compassion for Native Americans has been regarded as skillful. Critics have also praised the story's pacing and its mood of tension and excitement. Themes of spiritual transformation in the Relación have also been examined; Cyclone Covey and Peter Wild, for example, have stressed the work's underlying Christian ethic. While much of this attention has tended to focus on Cabeza de Vaca's unusual sympathy for Native Americans and the implicit argument that Spanish dominion will be better achieved by practicing a loving Christianity than by conquest, there is also a growing segment who see in the Relación the seeds of modern fiction in general and American literature in particular. William T. Pinkerton has argued that Cabeza de Vaca's narrative may be seen as the “prototype” of much of modern American literature with its preoccupation with “the voyage of exploration, of physical and spiritual discovery, the journey into the interior, in which the dominant figure is man isolated—alone in the wilderness, alone with himself.”
+ All Cabeza De Vaca Essays:
- Role of the City in Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue and Hoffmann’s Mademoiselle de Scudery
- The Lone Star Nation
- The Massacre at the Plaza de a Tres Culturas Tlatetolco
- How Did Caudillos Juan Manuel de Rosas and Porfirio Diaz, Maintain Political Power?
- The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant
- Beauty and the Beast by Mme Le Prince de Beaumont
- This is a chemistry lab report on an Acid-Base Titration experiment.
- Tour de France Drug Abuse
- De Beers "A Diamond Is Forever" Campaign
- Cinco de Mayo: Victory of the Mexican Army over France
- De Thi Thu Thpt Quoc Gia 2015 Mon Tieng Anh Truong Thpt Chuyen Luong Van Chanh Lan 1
- ¿Qué es la evolución?
- Research on the Relationship Between Intellectual Capital and Company Performance
- Symbolism in Jeanne Marie LePrince de Beaumont’s Beauty and the Beast
- La Farce de Maitre Pathelin- the character of Guillemette
- The Evolution of La Virgen de Guadalupe in Chicano Art
- How Similar Were the Dictatorships of Primo de Rivera and Franco?
- The Role of Photography on Psyche and Behavior
- Seis Decisiones Que Tu Gente de It No Debe Hacer.
- Clinicas de Salud del Pueblo Wellness Program
- â€˜Discuss Ana MarÃa Matuteâ€™s Use of Childrensâ€™ Perspective to Comment on the Adult Worldâ€™
- Ignatius de Loyola
- Una verdad incomoda por Al Gore
- The Old Gringo, by Carlos Fuen
- Proyecto Bar
- De Beers Case Study - Monopoly
- Enlightened Philosophers (John Locke, Baron de Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Jean Jacques Rousseau)
- Análisis multimodal de la caricatura política. Reconstrucción de la imagen del expresidente Álvaro Uribe Vélez
- Love, Betrayal, Hubris, and Relationships in Cyrano de Bergerac
- The Political Performance of Motherhood: Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo
- The Marquis De Sades Attitude Towards Women
- Jose Ignacio Lopez de Arriortua Case
- Two Great Short Stories Read by Many are A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner and The Necklace by Guy De Maupassan
- Venus De Willendorf Vs. Barbie
- Willem de Kooning
- ¿Hasta qué punto las conjeturas sobre los atentados del 11 de septiembre de 2001 explican que este hecho fue un auto atentado?
- Comparison of Federico García Lorca's Poems, Romance de la Pena Negra and La Aurora
- Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
- El Concepto y Formación del Término 'Hispano'
- Comparing Dangerous Liaisons by Choderlos de Laclos and Cruel Intentions the Movie
- Catherine de Medici and Obsession Over Power
- The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
- The Life of Juan Ponce de Leon
- Technology: Revolution or De-evolution
- A feminist reading of Doris Lessing’s ‘To Room Nineteen’ and ‘Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ by Robert Louis Stevenson using ideas discussed in ‘The Second Sex’ by Simone de Beauvoir
- Résumé Le but de Goldratt
- A Controversial Painter of Post-Renaissance, Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio
- Romeo Dallaire, “Cri de coeur”
- False Identities in The Necklace, Guy de Maupassant and Miss Brill, by Katherine Mansfield
- Narrativa: El climax
- Formal Analysis of Woman and Bicycle by Willem de Kooning
- ¿Cómo Motivar Al Personal de Cocina Del Blue Gardenia?
- All Over by Guy De Maupassant
- The Profound Ideas of Honore de Balzac's Pere Goriot
- Los Vinos de La Rioja
- Comparing Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll and Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes
- Onda de Mar
- Compare and Contrast Captivity Narratives
- The Mayan Languages of Guatemala and Mexico
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- The Two Waves of Globalization: Industrial Revelution and De-Industrialization
- Laboratorio de Analisis Argentina
- Farmacoseguridad: Causas primarias de seguridad
- Demanding Obedience to Show Who's in Control: Angie Chau's Quiet as They Come and Guy De Maupassant's The Olve Grove
- Chanson de Roland Commentary
- Le Management Interculturel de Sylvie Chevrier
- The United States' Role in Causing the Nicaraguan Revolution
- Irish Mythology in The Mystery of the Tuatha De Danann
- Historia de Puerto Rico: Cristóbal Colón
- Dia de Los Muertos
- Los subsidios en las finanzas públicas de países subdesarrollados
- Women in Ywain by Chrétien de Troyes
- Narco Corridos the History Behind the Glorified Narcos
- Flogging a Dead Cow Can Be Profitable in Argentina
- Pierre de Coubertin and The Modern Olympic Movement
- Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District