Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca

History 249

1/22/03 Castaways

Although thousands of Europeans landed in North America to colonize the New World, the tale of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca truly is a powerful and unique one. Nunez's evolution as a person can be traced through his account of being essentially trapped on the North American continent and living amongst its native people for nearly a decade. Nunez clearly came to America with a fairly rigid view of imperialism, yet he left in 1537 with a much more tolerant and respectful opinion of the land and its people. By the end of Castaways, Nunez views the Native Americans as similar in many regards to other Europeans.
This view is exemplified when in the beginning of the story, Nunez and his group insisted on capturing some Indians to guide them around, yet by the end of the story Nunez insists that the Spaniards leave the natives alone and not capture and enslave them. Nunez even goes on to point out that any problems that may arise with the Native Americans in the future will be a result of the Spanish aggression, and not through any fault of their own.
In the beginning of the story, Nunez explains how the Narvaez expedition came to North America rather naively, staking claims for the king and not even bringing an interpreter to communicate with the native peoples. Instead of trying to communicate with the Indians, the Narvaez group simply took the food they wanted and then imagined that it was sent to them through divine intervention. This naiveté was transparent by the end of the book when Nunez and his three companions were supposedly eagerly brought food by the Native Americans. If only they had thought to ask in the beginning, instead of simply stealing as needed, many of the hostilities could have been avoided. By the end of his travels Nunez realizes to some degree that the Native Americans are not wholly different from their European counterparts, and that they respond to respect and diplomacy in the same way as any other people. Nunez definitely makes a point of humanizing the Indians, as the story progresses, calling them tall and attractive at times as well as praising their war skills which he claims were comparable to those of the best Europeans.
Nunez recognizes the difficulties in conquering and enslaving these numerous and strong peoples, and instead he remains under the opinion that the Indians should be allowed to live in peace, as he suggests to the mayor of Culiacan towards the end of the book. Nunez has stayed alive at points during his continental trek due to peaceful trade with the Native Americans, therefore it makes sense that he deems trade to be more economically beneficial to colonizing Spaniards than enslavement and all out war with the Native Americans. It is through these personal experiences that Nunez advises his
readers who may be immigrating to the New World in the future to do the same.


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