Academic journal article Pennsylvania Literary Journal

Performing Cultural Memory in Cabeza De Vaca's la Relacion

Academic journal article Pennsylvania Literary Journal

Performing Cultural Memory in Cabeza De Vaca's la Relacion

Article excerpt

Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca's exploration of the New World began in 1527 in an ambitious effort proposed by the King of Spain to establish colonial settlements north of the conquered and colonized Mexico-Tenochtitlan. Armed with 600 men and five ships, Cabeza de Vaca and his men set sail from Spain to the New World. The explorers were plagued with misfortune from its inception. In their quest for Northern expansion of present-day Florida, the numbers of colonizers perished soon after they set sail from Spain. The conquistadors succumbed to inclement weather, mismanagement, and hostility within their colonial effort. Ships sank, men succumbed to disease, a hurricane ensued, fighting led to more deaths, and starvation led to cannibalism. When the men did finally wash ashore to what would become Galveston Island, only 80 remained. The few survivors of the shipwrecks were captured by the Natives and died in captivity. By 1536, only four men remained: Cabeza de Vaca, Alonso Del Castillo Maldonado, Andres Dorantes, and the Moroccan slave, Estevanico. Cabeza de Vaca's narrative, La Relacion of 1542, reveals the exploits of the mission, the struggles of its remaining survivors, and their westward trek through the present-day American southwest.

Cabeza de Vaca's account of what transpired between the Spanish conquistadors and the Native peoples provides an illuminating description of multifaceted cross cultural exchanges. While furthering the colonial project with the spread and importation of Catholicism, Cabeza de Vaca engaged in myriad Indigenous religious practices. I contend, that the Indigenous and Spanish encounters recorded in La Relacion illustrates a marked transculturation experienced by Cabeza de Vaca, the remaining survivors and the Native peoples he encounters. I will deconstruct Cabeza de Vaca's colonial narrative to demonstrate the integration of Spanish Catholicism and Native religious practices to illuminate a shift within the cultural framework of both the Spanish and the Natives peoples and what this represents in present-day religious configurations of the American southwest.

Cabeza de Vaca role as conquistador will be reexamined to mark his critique of colonialism as directly understood by members of his colonial project. The initial purpose of the expedition Cabeza de Vaca embarked upon was meant to impose Spanish dominion on Native peoples by violent means, however, Cabeza de Vaca's interaction with the Native peoples realigns his moral compass and usurps his inclination to perform the responsibilities imposed upon him as conqueror of Native lands. Cabeza de Vaca deviates from the role of caricaturized colonizer by engaging in Native healing practices and forming communal relationships with Native peoples. Cabeza de Vaca advocates for a peaceful conversion and stands in direct opposition to the conquistadors he encounters during his trek across what is now known as Florida, Texas, and California. Throughout the narrative, Cabeza de Vaca experiences a discernable change from passive observer to active participant that is conducive to his role reversal. This transformation is first demonstrated in recorded observations of the journal. The veneer of the Spanish Conquistador is laid bare and reveals a primitive native man who adapts and acclimates within the Native domain.

Within light of this transformation Cabeza de Vaca experiences, I will interrogate the broader implications of the spiritual and ephemeral religious practices that Cabeza de Vaca, his traveling companions, and the Natives exchange in La Relacion. The physical and spiritual healing practices demonstrated throughout the text serves as an amalgam of two distinct faiths. The melding of the Iberian culture and the Indigenous form an integrated culture of healing, which I contend anticipates the principal qualities we correlate today with curanderismo-Mexican Folk healing. Curanderismo, a memorial practice from Mexico, is still found in the southwestern border areas of the United States. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.