The Narrative of Cabeza de Vaca

The Narrative of Cabeza de Vaca

The Narrative of Cabeza de Vaca

The Narrative of Cabeza de Vaca


This edition of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca’s Relación offers readers Rolena Adorno and Patrick Charles Pautz's celebrated translation of Cabeza de Vaca’s account of the 1527 Pánfilo de Narváez expedition to North America. The dramatic narrative tells the story of some of the first Europeans and the first-known African to encounter the North American wilderness and its Native inhabitants. It is a fascinating tale of survival against the highest odds, and it highlights Native Americans and their interactions with the newcomers in a manner seldom seen in writings of the period.

In this English-language edition, reproduced from their award-winning three-volume set, Adorno and Pautz supplement the engrossing account with a general introduction that orients the reader to Cabeza de Vaca’s world. They also provide explanatory notes, which resolve many of the narrative’s most perplexing questions. This highly readable translation fires the imagination and illuminates the enduring appeal of Cabeza de Vaca’s experience for a modern audience.


When Thomas Jefferson remarked in a letter to a friend in 1787 that citizens of the new United States should study the Spanish language, he gave as one of the reasons the fact that “the ancient part of American history is written chiefly in Spanish” (Jefferson 11:558). Jefferson had in mind the accounts of the earliest European exploration, conquest, and settlement in the Americas that are found in narrative texts that extend from Columbus’s letters from the Antilles through the reports, chronicles, and histories of the conquests of Mexico and Peru. His notion of American history was a hemispheric one, one which embraced the Circum-Caribbean area and North and South America, and the authors of that early history were Spanish. Most of those firsthand accounts of the cycles of European and Amerindian contact, as well as the great synthetic histories of Spain’s intervention in the Americas, narrated the Spanish wars of conquest in which the European triumphed over the Amerindian. the firsthand reporters and learned historians wrote about Amerindian cultures and customs only secondarily.

Within this larger context of Spanish New World writings, Álvar Núñez Cabeza deVaca’s 1542 Relación is unique as the tale of the first Europeans and the first African to confront and survive the peopled wilderness of North America. Among captivity narratives Cabeza deVaca’s account tells a unique story of survival against the highest odds. It offers the repeated spectacle of first encounters between inhabitants of the Old World and those of New World lands unknown to them, and it foregrounds native Amerindian peoples, their customs, and their interactions with the newcomers in a manner seldom seen in expeditionary writings. the work fires the reader’s imagination as it simultaneously documents historical occurrences of the actual Spanish expedition and describes the peoples, flora, and fauna of pre-Columbian North America. For these reasons contemporary history, ethnohistory, and archaeology have examined it for fresh clues about the North American past, contemporary fiction and film have recreated its timeless characters and plot, and current literary and cultural readings strive to suggest its myriad and ultimate meanings.

Cabeza de Vaca’s vivid account offers the earliest European depiction of the vast expanse of continental North America. the events narrated by . . .

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