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Cabeza de Vaca's Adventures in the Unknown…

Cabeza de Vaca's Adventures in the Unknown Interior of America (1542)

by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
A fascinating read. This version is a translation of Cabeza de Vaca's account, but also lets us know where his account differs from the joint account by the few survivors of the journey. It also recounts some of the details unearthed by Carl Sauer and Cleve Hallenbeck in the 1930s which confirm many of the details in the journal.

The details of how little they ate and still survived amaze me. Not to mention the fact that the tribes would eat mostly one food while it was in season, then move on to the next. I wish the book had included a map to follow his trail. The insights of a person who lived among the various tribes not as a conqueror, but as a slave give perspective. He managed to better his situation by learning the languages of several tribes so that he could act as a go-between and do trading back and forth. In that way he was able to gain a little, and he was on the path most of the time alone, so avoided the beatings which were common. He described many of the customs of the people, which seem bizarre to our materialistic culture, such as that when a tribe brought a healer among their neighbors, they would go and pilfer everything they wanted from the homes, then when the pilfered people took the healer to the next tribe, they would do the same. Since the tribes didn't live in one place long, but constantly moved to find the next food source, I don't imagine there was much to pilfer.

In the end, the four survivors became healers. Not by choice, but because the tribes they were among at the time decided that they were. So, praying for the people, and blowing on them, then making the sign of the cross, they would pray for healing with all their hearts, because if the people were not healed, they would put the healers to death! The people were healed, many times and miraculously, so that these four became a legend. Rather than take advantage of that though, they seem to have grown compassion for the natives. I believe that their own faith was strengthened and refined, or at least Cabeza de Vaca's was. They did use their power to make the tribes take them to the "Christians" further on (down in Mexico), but they made sure that each tribe had food distributed evenly, and that they did not leave one person without a blessing. When they arrived to the place where the "Christians" were, they found that the land was deserted, the natives had fled in terror because they didn't want to be enslaved. Cabeza de Vaca and the others went to the Governor at that place and protested about the treatment and misunderstandings. In this one place, that changed the way the natives were treated. At least until these four men went home to Spain.

In spite of our present feeling about the results of this period of history, I believe it is important to read this sort of first person material to gain perspective. In reading it, it becomes clear how the jumble of history can happen one person at a time through misunderstandings, differing personalities and distant uncomprehending governments with their own agendas. ( )
  MrsLee | Jul 15, 2017 |
Cabeza de Vaca's narrative is among the most idiosyncratic of any first contact narrative. He spent nine years wandering what is now northern Mexico and the southwestern US after the Narvaez expedition met with disaster on the gulf coast of Florida. In comparison with other explorers, Cabeza de Vaca is remarkable for his openness to native cultures and his acknowledgment of the brutality and greed characterizing the conquest. It's an incredible story of survival, and Cabeza de Vaca's narrative voice, though sometimes disoriented (understandably so) and bewildered, has a sweet ingenuity to it. The effect is that we're amazed along with him at all the bizarre and wonderful things that happen.

As an aside, the Penguin Classics revised and annotated translation is quite good, but the introduction is pretty poor. Look elsewhere for contextual information, but use this text. ( )
1 vote jalbacutler | Jan 10, 2017 |
Breathtaking, amazing. Cabeza de Vaca's first person account allowed me to glimpse what it was like for Europeans to encounter a hurricane for the first time, for example, or to realize how utterly helpless the Spaniards were, how lost, when they were first exploring new territory. I've watched Nicolás Echevarría's extraordinary film and have also read three biographies now of Cabeza de Vaca's experiences, but reading the man's own words moved me in a completely different way. I was worried the text would feel obscure but it's completely riveting, a life and death story told in a straightforward style:

One of the mounted men, Juan Velásquez, a native of Cuéllar, impatiently rode into the river. The violent current swept him from his saddle. He grabbed the reins but drowned with the horse. The subjects of that chief--whose name turned out to be Dulchanchellin--found the body of the beast and told us where in the stream below we likely would find the body of Cuéllar. They went to look for it. This death hit us hard, for until now not a man had been lost. The horse, meanwhile, furnished a supper for many that night.

Cyclone Covey's translation includes in-text notes, offset in square brackets, that are unobtrusive and extremely informative. ( )
1 vote poingu | Jan 23, 2016 |
This is the horrifying misadventure of Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca. He relates to the Spanish king what befell his fellow Spaniards in their exploration of the new world. The large host he began with, upon reaching Florida, was eventually destroyed by shipwreck, disease, malnourishment and the predations of the indigenous inhabitants. After spending many years making his way up Florida, across the Gulf Coast, through northern Mexico, down the Pacific coast before finally making it home again, only he and three others managed to survive. His detail of the never before seen flora, fauna and descriptions of the various tribes he encountered provided a wealth of detail regarding customs and general anthropology. The survivors went from being abused by the natives to being perceived as medical men with the power to heal and were followed by adoring tribes everywhere they went. When finally encountering fellow Spaniards again, he was horrified by their enslavement and mistreatment of the Indians. He provides new meaning to the word survival as his detail of the suffering they endured and what they had to do to survive makes one ache for them. This would make an excellent adventure film as it touches upon so many aspects of culture clash and wonder. ( )
1 vote varielle | Apr 21, 2014 |
I can't add much to tinkettleinn's review of this book. De Vaca and his crew are essentially murderous Keystone Kops who more or less aimlessly wander around Southeastern America 500 years ago in search of food, shelter, and (unwilling) native guides while trying to find a way home. Along the way they enslave, murder, kidnap, torture, and steal all of the food of the natives (when they have the upper hand), and are themselves enslaved by, or work at minor jobs for, the natives (when they don't have the upper hand). De Vaca and his crew lose and find one-another over and over again throughout the narrative, bumbling around under the author and a few of his compatriots almost accidentally find their way back to "civilization."

De Vaca's account is not a pleasant read, but it gives insight into the biased world-view of a Spanish adventurer and the lives of the natives living in Southeastern America 500 years ago. It is an interesting read, and educational, but not light or enjoyable by any means. My star rating reflects a compromise between 5 stars for educational/historic merit and 1 star for enjoyable/happy reading. ( )
  tnilsson | Dec 5, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (30 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Álvar Núñez Cabeza de VacaAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fernández, José B.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ferrando, RobertoEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Geers, G.J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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On the twenty-seventh day of the month of June 1527 Governor Panfilo de Navaez departed from the port of San Lucar de Barramed, with power and mandate from Your Majesty to conquer and govern the provinces that extend from the River of the Palms to the Cape of Florida, which lie on the mainland.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 082630656X, Paperback)

Cabeza de Vaca came to the New world in 1527 as part of a Spanish expedition to conquer the region north of the Gulf of Mexico. His exploration party lost contact with their ships, set out northward on foot, and traveled, their numbers soon reduced from 300 to 4, across Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and northern Mexico for the next eight years. In addition to being one of the great true adventure stories of all time, Cabeza de Vaca's account of their travels is an unparalleled source of firsthand information on the pre-European Southwest--the variety of its climate, its flora and fauna, the customs of its natives. They were the first to see the opossum and the buffalo, the Mississippi and the Pecos, pine-nut mash and mesquite-bean flour. This book contains the first description in literature of a West Indies Hurricane.

"Cabeza de Vaca was not only a physical trailblazer: he was also a literary pioneer, and he deserves the distinction of being called the Southwest's first writer.... The Relación, while not fiction, possesses most of the attributes of a good novel."--William T. Pilkington

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:51 -0400)

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Durante el siglo XVI Alvar Nez Cabeza de Vaca es sobreviviente de un naufragio en las costas de Luisiana. Atraviesa el suroeste de los actuales Estados Unidos y llega a lo que hoy es el territorio de Sinaloa, Mxico. Este libro de texto y su disco compacto son diseados para el desarrollo de las cuatro destrezas: leer, escribir, escuchar y hablar.Provides instruction in Spanish by using texts from literature as a textbook, with the story recorded in a Castilian Spanish accent on the accompanying disc. Each chapter has activities especially designed to develop the four skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking. Also included is information about the history, geography, art, science, etc. of the time and place in which the work is set.… (more)

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