Historical Essay Sample: Chronicle of the Narvaez Expedition

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George Washington University
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The Spaniard Cabeza de Vaca, second in command only to Panfilo de Narvaez, set off from Spain in 1527 with a group of 600 men to native America on the Spain King's green light in search of riches-gold- and with intent to conquer. Cabeza de Vaca writings included the way of life of the Native Americans which he both observed and experienced in the 7 years he spent in the region. Cabeza observed that the housing units the natives used were temporary and, hence, their place of residence was dependent on the amount of food available which highly depended on the change of seasons. The natives survived on a variety of foods for sustenance; for example, in the rivers, they got different creatures to eat, from snails, fish, and shellfish to frogs and other animals. From the forests, they hunted for any game such as deer and rabbits and gathered fruits, nuts, and roots. The natives did also invent simple tools and relied on generational knowledge to facilitate the day-to-day life activities such as fishing nets, game traps, stone to boil thing, and different preparations of foods which would 0therwise be inedible if not cooked well. The communities grouped themselves into tribes and chiefdoms; each group had its own able men who were segmented as warriors. Cabeza de Vaca said that the warriors from the in-lands of America left the women at home and went to look for food and to patrol their land. The tribes that resided on the coastal lines were more involved in barter trade and some of them were very welcoming to the Spaniards and others extremely hostile; this was influenced by their beliefs. Most of these tribes were believers of different beings of a higher being and hence, they were easily swiped by Christianity.

Cabeza de Vaca on his setting off from Spain believed that he had the right to enslave and to proclaim other peoples land and resources just because the King said so. He was convinced that they had the right to take all the riches such as gold that the Native Americans had. Cabeza de Vaca and his army pillaged through the in-lands disrupting the locals-whom they saw as primitive-culture, and as well as stealing the little supplies they had to survive. The Spaniards did nonetheless; kill a few natives they encountered on the way as they wandered through an unknown landscape in search of gold. After some time, Cabeza and 3 others were the only survivors and they found themselves enslaved by a certain coastal tribe. However, they were not mistreated and instead the tribe that had them only asked them to heal' a few of their comrades with their God. Cabeza was alarmed by the positive treatment he received from the savage natives' he had come to steal and enslave. He even started to run small errands for the villagers and in return, he was given food. Later on, he established himself as a businessman and his unique skin color and beard served as a pass to other hostile communities to go and barter trade. He would normally trade coastal products and in turn get things such as hides and grains. Cabeza understood that these people had their own systematic way of life, and they deserved to lead that life in peace just like the more modern Spaniards. He understood even the rugged looking clothes that the Spaniards once saw as backward, did not determine a person's value. Cabeza de Cava did however accidentally fall into the hands of another aggressive tribe, where he was enslaved and every day he was dangling on the fence between life and death because of the amount of torture he received. This made him realize how terrible being a slave felt and when another Spaniard contingent came to enslave the natives and Cabeza de Vaca writes that he stood in support of the Indians and used religion to protect them. However, he did face consequences later on but what was amazing was that he went from an enslaver to championing for slave abolishment and he was finally conquered by what he had come to conquer.

Cabeza de Vaca's survival in the Native America was by far not an easy thing. The moment Cabeza and his fellow Spaniards set foot in America, they were in a new land without supplies and this was bound to make survival on land even more difficult than on sea. "the food ran out completely and we all nearly starved" (Cabeza de Vaca). In-lands, Cabeza faced warriors with arrows that pierced their armor, hunger, thirst and many diseases such as malaria and dysentery. However, Cabeza did get through these things together with the Spaniards, who were largely in one way or another motivated by the hope that they will eventually get gold. The most survival threatening issues Cabeza faced was when he was alone. We see him starting to run errands and finally start to trade to survive and create a livelihood. He advantageously used his beard to broaden his trade ways since it showed he was not from any of the local tribes. When Cabeza was enslaved by a coastal tribe, he was constantly abused and barely given any food. He had to hold on to hope to drive away the despair; and of course, for sustenance, he had to resort to eating bugs, lizards, and even dirt to survive. Cabeza, later on, he goes along with pretending he could heal and bless people through their God; this gave him a people', security and sustenance through the food offerings he received from his followers.

Cabeza de Vaca mentions how he was naked and barefoot and continues to do so a couple of times in his writings. However, as much as his nakedness set him apart physically from the rest of the Spaniards, it was also an indication of lack of a culture and the shunning of the Spaniard's ideology enterprise that was based on pillaging, murdering, oppression, and theft. His nakedness symbolized a new man who had stripped his Spanish identity as an enslaver and oppressor to an identity that equalized everyone and was based on freedom and peace. Cabeza de Cava clearly expressed that he was a changed person when he wrote, he was another' because he had seen too much.


Works Cited

Nunez, Cabeza V. A, and Harold Augenbraum. Chronicle of the Narvaez Expedition. New York: Penguin Books, 2002. Print.


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