Reel American HistoryHistory on trial Main Page

AboutFilmsFor StudentsFor TeachersBibliographyResources

Films >> Cabeza de Vaca (1991) >>

0:01:02 The Lost Conquistadors and the Moorish Slave in Spanish Camp
Lost conquistadors Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, Andres Dorantes, Alonzo Castillo, and the Moorish slave Estebanico have arrived at the San Miguel de Cullacan Spanish encampment in 1536. They are dressed in animal skins and appear disoriented after their eight-year wanderings in the American Southwest. They are all in disbelief that they have been traveling lost for eight years as a Spanish soldier provides them with clothes (0:02:20).  Cabeza de Vaca, unable to put on the new clothes, reacts like a madman (laughing and crying) to a question about the original expedition.
0:03:34 The Shipwrecked Explorers Adrift in the Gulf of Mexico in 1528
The film flashes back eight years earlier to 1528 as a group of survivors of the Narvaez expedition (including Cabeza de Vaca, Dorantes, Castillo, and Estebanico)  are shipwrecked off the coast of Florida and adrift in a raft. A man (obviously losing his mind) rants and raves onboard  (0:05:11). Another raft with the leader of the expedition, Captain Narvaez, approaches.  Cabeza de Vaca asks Captain Narvaez to connect the rafts, because his raft is filled with sick and dying men, while Narvaez has all the strong, healthy sailors.  Narvaez tells Cabeza de Vaca that it's every man for himself, abandons Cabeza de Vaca's raft, and rows out of sight (0:07:14).  The sailors in the raft sight land as the madman says, "Land, land, a place to die."
0:07:56 Credits
0:09:42 Cabeza de Vaca's Raft Lands on Galveston Island
The raft lands on the coast and a priest says prayers, while several men bury two who have died.  The men make clothing from the sails of the raft and tend to the sick and dying.  The survivors sit by the fire, exhausted, and quietly ponder their fate.
0:12:37 The Survivors Led by Cabeza de Vaca Head Inland
Cabeza de Vaca hacks his way with a sword through the woods as the small band of survivors head inland.  The group stops as a man falls. Cabeza de Vaca sends Estebanico into the woods to find fresh water (0:14:12).  Estebanico discovers to his horror a bloody hanging object.   The rest of the group arrives and the priest says prayers over the object, while the rest of the men look terrified and make the sign of the cross.
0:14:47 The Survivors Discover Spanish Chests and are Attacked and Taken Captive by Natives
The group journeys deeper into the wilderness, find more hanging objects, and discover Spanish chests.  They think they are filled with clothing, open one and discover a rotting corpse. Blood drips from a tree on a man who dies of fright (0:16:51).  The priest urges the burning of the chests and the body of the man (0:17:44). The chests and man's body are burned, while the priest walks around the fire chanting in Latin.  The priest finishes his prayers and arrows fly from all around, piercing the priest and killing many men (0:18.49).  Cabeza de Vaca is caught in a net as the priest with ten arrows in his back slowly walks into the woods holding the cross in front of him.
0:19:06 Cabeza de Vaca, Dorantes, Castillo, and Estebanico in Captivity
Natives in a riverside village catch fish, and prepare and eat food.  A boat with a painted shaman shaking a gourd on board approaches the village.  The four captives are seen in a bamboo cage in the village (0:21:27).  A native dwarf with no arms named Malacosa gets off the boat and walks around the cage cursing the captives.  The natives pull Cabeza de Vaca out of the cage, and he is taken captive by the shaman and Malacosa (0:22:57).  Cabeza de Vaca is put in a boat and taken on the river by the pair as he prays and watches trees overhead.
0:23:46 Cabeza de Vaca Enslaved by the Shaman and Malacosa
A boat with four natives arrives at the camp of the shaman and Malacosa. Cabeza De Vaca (enslaved to the pair) stands by the side of the river in a loincloth.  The shaman emerges from the hut with Cabeza de Vaca's crucifix around his neck as Cabeza de Vaca unloads the boat and the natives trade.  The enslaved Spaniard suffers verbal abuse from Malacosa and harvests roots from the water  (0:26:10). Malacosa spits food in Cabeza de Vaca's face as the Spaniard feeds him, and he expresses inner agony at his abuse and slavery.
0:29:26 Cabeza de Vaca's Attempted Escape and Breakdown
Cabeza de Vaca runs away from his captors, while the shaman ties a lizard to a stake in the sand and performs a ritual  (0:30:04).  Cabeza de Vaca, apparently under the influence of the shaman's magic, runs in a circle and returns to his captor's camp (0:31:01).  Cabeza de Vaca seems to go mad, rants and raves, recites a Spanish poem, and weeps while the shaman and Malacosa watch.
0:33:24 Cabeza de Vaca, the Shaman, and Malacosa Leave the Camp and the Shaman Performs a Ritual
Cabeza de Vaca carries the possessions of the two natives on his back as the trio march through the shoreline, make camp, and start a fire. The shaman draws an image of a man in the sand, fills it with chalk, chants invocations, and impales the sand-figure's eye with a spear (0:36:56). A native is seen in the next moment screaming, holding his eye, and wandering towards a village as Cabeza de Vaca, the shaman, and Malacosa watch.
0:35:39 Cabeza de Vaca in a Supernatural Trance Heals the Injured Native's Eye
The injured man in great agony is taken into a hut in the village and tended by four women (0:40:05). The shaman chants over the head of a lizard dangling from a string over a fire (0:41:05).  The women continue to try to comfort the injured man, while Cabeza de Vaca and Malacosa watch the shaman's ritual. The shaman and Malacosa drink a potion the shaman mixes and offer it to Cabeza de Vaca who drinks the potion. Cabeza de Vaca covers his hair with mud and, along with the shaman and Malacosa, enters the village.  They enter the hut of the injured man and Cabeza de Vaca assists the shaman in a healing ritual (0:44:28). Cabeza de Vaca appears to be going into a supernatural trance as the shaman stops his ritual to watch. Cabeza de Vaca lays his hands on the injured man's eye, while the natives chant.  Cabeza de Vaca reels around the hut, possessed and enraptured by supernatural power, and collapses on the floor of the hut as the shaman watches in amazement (0:47:46). The injured man is now healed, and the whole village celebrates his healing by marching around the outside of the hut.
0:48:42 Cabeza de Vaca Initiated by the Shaman
At nighttime in the hut the shaman paints Cabeza de Vaca's face, gives him water, and puts the crucifix (now covered with feather's and bones) around his neck.  The shaman repeats the Spanish word for "hand" several times to Cabeza de Vaca.
0:50:33 Cabeza de Vaca is Set Free and Leaves the Shaman and Malacosa
The shaman releases Cabeza de Vaca from slavery and gives him a pack of supplies.  Cabeza de Vaca slowly walks out of the village as Malacosa watches and cries as he leaves.
0:52:51 Cabeza de Vaca Wanders the Land Alone
Cabeza de Vaca wanders through the wilderness in a rocky, cold region and enters a cave, where he cries out in fear of dying from exposure (0:55:52).  As the shaman (back at the village) blows on a firebrand and chants, Cabeza de Vaca nears a tree which bursts into warming flames (0:55:52) .  He sits on a rock in the sun speaking the native word for "bird"  (0:56:45).  He walks, but stops when he hears native voices over a hill, which he climbs to spy on a village.
0:58:16 Cabeza de Vaca Captured by Hostile Tribe
Hostile natives capture Cabeza de Vaca who discovers Dorantes, Castillo, Estebanico, a Spaniard named Esquival, and two other natives who are also held captive by the hostile tribe. Esquival tells Cabeza de Vaca the fate of Captain Narvaez and other Spaniards of the doomed expedition force (1:00:34).  Esquival recounts a tale of cannibalism by a group of starving Spaniards (1:01:02). Estebanico is taken in bonds by the natives and marched around the captives, while a painted woman leads three other painted women to the center of the captives, who are tied to stakes in a circle.
1:03:32 The Captive's Fate in the Hostile Native Camp
At night the painted women taunt the captives, while the native men drink and mock the captives, untie Esquival, hit him over the head, and kill him (1:05:32). The natives are attacked by flaming arrows, while one of the painted women stabs one of the native captives named Cascabel in the chest with an arrow. (1:06:04). Estebanico kills the woman and frees the rest of the captives as Cabeza de Vaca takes the wounded Cascabel in his arms and attempts to pull out the arrow.
1:06:16 Surgery is Performed on Cascabel by Cabeza de Vaca
A group of  natives from Cascabel's tribe tend to the wounded young man.  Cabeza de Vaca raises his crucifix to his lips, prays, lays his hands on Cascabel, cuts open the wounded man's shirt, and removes the arrowhead from his chest  (1:08:47).  Cabeza de Vaca washes (and appears to baptize) Cascabel, who revives.
1:09:42 The Spaniards and Estebanico go to Cascabel's Village
The natives take Cascabel on a stretcher with the Spaniards and Estebanico to the village.  The villagers from the cliff-side settlement come out to greet them in celebration.
1:10:40 Communing with the Natives in Cascabel's Village
Cascabel brings Cabeza de Vaca to the tribal chief in a cliff-side dwelling (1:11:05). A native woman undresses before Dorantes in another dwelling and kneels next to him  (1:11:22).  The chief blesses Cabeza de Vaca as a tribal elder examines the arrowhead that was removed from Cascabel's chest  (1:11:50).  The native woman examines and caresses Dorantes's scarred wrists  (1:12:19).   Cabeza de Vaca, Cascabel, the chief, and tribal elder take part in a drinking and cleansing ritual  (1:13:01).  Estebanico, in a hut full of children, sings songs and passes out a drink, while Castillo sleeps next to a native woman.
1:14:08 Cabeza de Vaca Raises a Woman From the Dead
A funeral ceremony takes place as the tribe takes a woman into a stone tomb.  Cabeza de Vaca watches while the tribe mourns the dead woman. (1:16:43)  Cabeza de Vaca enters the tomb, prays over the woman, and passes a crystal over the length of the woman's body.  Dorantes protests Cabeza de Vaca's actions and urges him to leave  (1:20: 05).  The woman starts breathing and completely revives ( 1:21:53).  The resurrected woman walks out of the tomb as the tribe celebrates, and Cabeza de Vaca lays in the tomb completely exhausted.
1:23:08 The Tribe Migrates and Discovers a Village that has Been Attacked
The tribe, the Spaniards, and Estebanico migrate and discover a village that has been attacked by an unknown enemy with most of the villagers missing or dead (1:26:02).  Cascabel discovers one man still alive in a hut. Cabeza de Vaca enters the hut and takes a Spanish musket ball out of the man's side.  Cabeza de Vaca looks at the musket ball and says, "Death, death" as the wounded man dies (1:28:40).  Dorantes and Castillo enter the hut, realize the Spanish are in the area, and warn Cabeza de Vaca that if he tells the truth about his experience he'll be sent to Spain in chains.  Cabeza de Vaca is deeply troubled and decides that he will lie about his experiences with the natives.
1:31:02 Cabeza de Vaca Warns the Natives
The Spaniards set fire to the village, and Cabeza de Vaca tells Cascabel and the rest of the tribe to leave him.  Cabeza de Vaca tells Cascabel as he leaves that they will be "together forever," as the natives leave (1:32:09). Cabeza de Vaca flings his gourd, necklace, and pack of shamanic materials to the ground. He sits next to the burning village in great distress as Dorantes, Castillo, and Estebanico come to him.
1:34:10 The Four Survivors Meet the Four Spanish Conquistadors
The four men walk across a huge dry lake bed and spot four Spanish soldiers in the distance on horseback riding towards them.  The soldiers circle the men as the survivors cry out that they are Christians.  Cabeza de Vaca asks the soldiers what day it is.
1:36:01 In the Spanish Camp
The men enter the Spanish camp and see cages filled with enslaved natives. Cabeza de Vaca slowly walks by a cage looking inside at the natives. He is shocked that it is 1536 and that he has been in the wilderness for eight years (1:37:40).  Spanish soldiers talk about the need for more slaves, while the camp captain tells Cabeza de Vaca that they are building a cathedral and ask him for his help to get more slaves. Cabeza de Vaca questions the captain about the nature of faith and notes that he has seen evidence of the destructive nature of the captain's faith "all over this land."  The captain orders that a guard be put on Cabeza de Vaca.
1:39:26 Nighttime in the Spanish Camp
Dorantes is drinking with a group of soldiers by the fire and telling stories of his sexual exploits and the cities of gold he has seen during his travels.  Cabeza de Vaca sits next to Estebanico, quietly listening to Dorantes, and tells Estebanico that he has decided to tell the truth about his eight years with the natives.  Cabeza de Vaca sees something and jumps up in alarm.
1:42:37 Cabeza de Vaca Discovers Cascabel's Death
Cabeza de Vaca runs up to a wagon filled with dead native slaves and pulls off the body of his friend Cascabel. Cabeza de Vaca carries Cascabel's body in his arms, collapses with the dead man on his lap, and cries out in deep sorrow "Why? Why? Why?"
1:45:56 Enslaved Natives Carry a Giant Cross
A group of natives led by a drummer carry a huge silver cross across a dry lake bed.  In the background storm clouds are blackening the sky, as the cross is carried towards the storm.