Reel American HistoryHistory on trial Main Page

AboutFilmsFor StudentsFor TeachersBibliographyResources

Films >> Cabeza de Vaca (1991) >>

See the extensive bibliography (divided into print, video/audio, and online resources) below the essay. Bibliography updated by Adam Kaufman 3/10.

[1] Sixteenth century explorer Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca is best known as the first Spaniard to travel on foot through a large section of what is now the Southwestern United States. Cabeza de Vaca's eight-year journey (1528-1536) was chronicled in the self -penned Relacion (The Account) first published in 1542 in Zamora, Spain. A second edition was published in Valladolid in 1555. Cabeza de Vaca's Relacion is one of the earliest written documents of Spanish contact with a wide variety of American native peoples. His account, which contains not only a narrative of his own experience but also a description of the lands which he traveled and the natives he encountered, is considered an important document by historians, ethnographers, literary scholars, and anthropologists. His journey of eight years through the United States and Mexico predates the expeditions of Hernando De Soto and Francisco Vasquez de Coronado.

[2] Cabeza de Vaca was born about 1488 in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, a small Andalusian town. His father was Francisco de Vera, son of the conqueror of the Canary Islands Pedro de Vera Mendoza. Alvar Nunez's last name Cabeza de Vaca (which means "the head of a cow") was taken from his mother Dona Teresa Cabeza de Vaca's side of the family. His mother bestowed the Cabeza de Vaca name on her fourth son to evoke the prestige of her noble lineage. The house of Cabeza de Vaca was a prominent line of Spanish nobility since the thirteenth century. The origin of the Cabeza de Vaca name has been ascribed traditionally to Alvar Nunez's supposed ancestor Martin Alhaja. Alhaja is a legendary shepherd who reportedly helped the Spanish Christians win an important battle against the Moors at Las Novas de Tolosa in 1212. The story is that Alhaja marked an unguarded mountain pass with the skull of a cow, which allowed the Spanish troops to find a route to the top of the mountain and defeat the Moors in a surprise attack. Alhaja and his descendants were awarded with the title of "Cabeza de Vaca." Recent scholarship has discounted the Alhaja story and traces Alvar Nunez's lineage to thirteenth century Spanish nobleman Inez Perez Cabeza de Vaca. The actual history of the name's origin is unknown.

[3] Little is known about Cabeza de Vaca's early life, but scholars believe that he was involved in military service to four dukes of Medina Sidonia from 1503 to 1527. Cabeza de Vaca in 1527 received a royal appointment as treasurer and second in command of the Panfilo Narvaez expedition to conquer and govern Florida. Cabeza de Vaca's duties as treasurer included collecting royal revenues (about one-fifth of all income), keeping accounts of financial transactions, paying the royal officials their salaries, and sendngi regular reports of the expedition to the Emperor Charles V.

[4] The Narvaez expedition left Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain on June 17, 1527. Two ships were lost in a hurricane off the coast of Trinidad, which Cabeza de Vaca relates in detail in his narrative. Four ships commandeered by Narvaez narrowly escaped the storm. After wintering in Cuba, the Narvaez expedition set out with four ships and five hundred men for Florida. In April 1528 the fleet sailed into Tampa Bay. After friendly contact with natives in Florida, Narvaez ordered the expedition to leave the ships and march inland to explore the land and look for gold. Cabeza de Vaca cautioned Narvaez against the inland march, but Narvaez ignored Cabeza de Vaca's warnings. The land force set out with three hundred men on May 1, 1528. Narvaez's decision to split his sea and land forces sealed the fate of the expedition. The ships sailed out of the Bay but were never seen or heard from again.

[5] The expedition found no gold and little food, was ravaged by disease, and was forced to survive by eating its horses. After several hostile skirmishes with natives, the group marched overland to Apalachee Bay, built makeshift rafts, and sailed into the Gulf of Mexico in an attempt to reach Panuco, Mexico. Cabeza de Vaca and a small group of survivors were separated from Narvaez and eventually landed on what is now Galveston Island, Texas. The small band of survivors were captured by natives and the rest of Cabeza de Vaca's Relacion recounts how he and three other survivors (Andres Dorantes, Alonso Castillo, and Estebanico) began a journey across the Southwestern United States and northern Mexico.

[6] In 1536, after a journey of eight years of contact with a variety of native people including the Karankawas, Caddoes, Atakapan, Jumano, Concho, Pimas, Mariames, and Avavares tribes, the survivors encountered the Spanish settlement of San Miguel De Culican on the Sinalo River in Mexico. During his journey, Cabeza de Vaca in Relacion reports that he lived as a slave, a trader, and a shaman among the native peoples. Relacion, written to the Spanish crown, contains an appeal for tolerant treatment of the native peoples. Cabeza de Vaca, Dorantes, and Castillo journeyed to Mexico-Tenochtitlan and reported the fate of the Narvaez expedition in a dispatch to the Emperor and the Audiencia in Santo Domingo. Cabeza de Vaca returned to Spain in the autumn of 1537.

[7] The account of the failure of the Narvaez expedition and the travels of the four survivors is detailed in Cabeza de Vaca's 1542 Relacion and a now lost document known as the Joint Report, a thirty page summary of the failed expedition written by Cabeza de Vaca, Dorantes, and Castillo in 1536 in Mexico-Tenochtitlan. A version of the lost Joint Report can be found in a work by Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdes written in 1539. Cabeza de Vaca wrote his account in Castile between 1537 and 1540.

[8] When Cabeza de Vaca returned to Spain in 1537 following his experiences in North America, he attempted to secure a royal commission from Emperor Charles V to command an expedition to Florida. He went to the royal court at Vallodolid between November 8 and December 24, 1537, to present his credentials in hope of securing the commission. The emperor, however, had already commissioned Hernando de Soto on April 20,1537, to lead the expedition in conquest of Florida.

[9] On March 18, 1540 the emperor awarded Cabeza de Vaca the title of Adelantado (a title awarded to conquerors and discoverers) and a royal contract for the governorship of Rio de la Plata, a region in South America that stretches from Peru to the Straits of Magellan and includes modern- day Paraguay. Cabeza de Vaca accepted the commission and set sail for Rio de la Plata from Cadiz on December 2, 1540, with four ships and four hundred men. After a five-month sea journey, Cabeza de Vaca's expeditionary force landed at the island of Santa Catalina, Brazil on March 29, 1541. After an eight-month stay in Brazil, Cabeza de Vaca led the expedition on an overland one thousand mile march to Paraguay. Along the way, Cabeza de Vaca was the first European to see the Igauzu Falls. The expedition arrived in Asuncion on March 11, 1542, and Cabeza de Vaca took command of Rio de la Plata, replacing the interim governor Martinez de Irala.

[10] Cabeza de Vaca's term as adelantado of Rio de la Plata was marked by a series of progressive reforms for the treatment of natives and for handling conflict with other Spanish officials. Rolena Adorno and Patrick Pautz in their history of Cabeza de Vaca's life note that "the title of adelantado gave Cabeza de Vaca supreme powers as judicial and military ruler " in Rio de Plata, but the title "meant little to conquistadors and soldiers already established in the area who jealously guarded the prerogatives they had claimed for themselves" (Vol.1, 387-88). Most historians report that the colonists of Rio de la Plata and former governor Irala were at odds with Cabeza de Vaca over his reform policies towards the treatment of the natives. On April 8, 1544, Cabeza de Vaca returned to Asuncion from an unsuccessful expedition seeking the mythical city El Dorado and found himself faced with a revolt of the colonists led by Irala. Cabeza de Vaca was arrested on April 25, 1544, imprisoned for eleven months, and sent back to Spain for imprisonment on March 8, 1545.

[11] Cabeza de Vaca arrived in Seville on September 2, 1545, was imprisoned in Madrid for three months, and released on bond to live under house arrest. Cabeza de Vaca was accused of a number of criminal charges including the abuse of native populations in South America, the abandonment of members of his expedition, the prohibition of trade with the natives, and the confiscation of the property of members of his expedition without compensation. On March 18, 1551, he was found guilty of the charges and sentenced by the Council of the Indies. His sentence included the stripping of all titles, banishment from the Americas, and a five-year banishment from Spain to a penal colony in Onan (now Algeria). Cabeza de Vaca appealed his conviction and his banishment from Spain was suspended, while his banishment from the Americas only included the Rio de la Plata region. Cabeza de Vaca eventually vindicated himself against the charges of professional incompetence in Rio de la Plata and restored his honor in the eyes of the royal court. He published a second edition of La Relacion in 1555, which included a second part detailing his account of his time as governor of Rio de la Plata.

[12] Cabeza de Vaca spent the remainder of his life in Seville. He was named by the emperor as Chief Justice of the Tribunal of Seville in 1556. His activities in his final years are largely unknown. The exact date of his death has never been determined, but recent historical research indicates that he died between 1559 and 1560 and is buried in the family vault in Jerez de la Frontera.

Print Resources

Adorno, Rolena, and Patrick Charles Pautz. Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca: His Account, His Life, and the Exploration of Panfilo de Narvaez. 3 vols. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1999. (Paperback edition of the text and introduction 2003.)
This work is the result of a project by the two authors since 1991. The massive three-volume set is a detailed analysis of the life, times, and written work of Cabeza de Vaca. Volume one offers a translation of Cabeza de Vaca's 1542 Relacion and an exploration of the life of Cabeza de Vaca. Adorno and Pautz explore the history of the Cabeza de Vaca family name and offer a detailed biography of Cabeza de Vaca, including details of his early years in Jerez de Frontera, his appointment to the Narvaez expedition, his time as governor of Rio de la Plata, and his later years of arrest, imprisonment, and ultimate vindication in Spain. Volume two offers an account of the origin and eventual outcome of the Narvaez expedition. A detailed analysis of Cabeza de Vaca's account of the expedition is the bulk of this volume. Volume three traces the textual history of Cabeza de Vaca's Relacion and offers a wide ranging sampling of readers from the Sixteenth through the Eighteenth centuries. The last section of volume three investigates the historical contexts. This is currently the premier scholarly examination of the life, work, and times of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca. (Paperback edition of the text and introduction 2003.)
Adorno, Rolena. "The Negotiation of Fear in Cabeza de Vaca's Naufrigios." Representations 33 (1991): 163-99.
As is problematic of many true stories, the line between embellishments and lies remains unclear. Adorno comments on the differences between Cabeza de Vaca's story before and after meeting with the emperor, where his previous descriptions of an impoverished country suddenly transform into accounts of wealth and grandeur. The conference with the Spanish nobles and the later publication of Naufragios mark the onset of debates between what is conveyed by Cabeza de Vaca, and what is voiced about Cabeza de Vaca. Deliberations began later that year and continue today. All Adorno wishes for is her own interpretation to be heard by the literary community, using logical reasoning while following Cabeza de Vaca on his journey according to his account and the postulations conceived by critics. The Joint Report, penned by other Spanish survivors of the Narváez expedition, will serve as a basis for disparity. Also crucial towards an accurate interpretation of events is an understanding of how an author's interpretations affect his experiences, or "reading between the lines." Often looked over by historians is the art behind personal accounts – the language used, the emotional reactions embedded inside the words. Adorno argues the loudest of all emotions is fear. Utilizing its frequent occurrence throughout literature concerning the European/Amerindian interaction, she plans on studying Cabeza de Vaca‘s control of his own fear, the fear inspired by his presence, and the negotiation of these fears fluctuating between nightmarish slave hunters and the promise of peaceful resettlement.
Ahern, Maureen. "The Cross and the Gourd: The Appropriation of Ritual Signs in the Relaciones of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca and Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo's Illustrations." Early Images of the Americas. Ed. Robert Lewis and Jerry Williams. T
Ahern explores the way Europeans and Amerindians in their early contacts interact culturally through the "appropriation of ritual signs" (215). Her focus on Cabeza de Vaca involves an analysis of the symbolic power of the ritual gourd, the calabaza, that is mentioned several times in Cabeza de Vaca's Relacion. Ahern notes that Cabeza de Vaca and his fellow survivors used the calabaza "as a symbol of healing prowess and knowledge" and as a symbolic means of securing safe passage "from tribe to tribe through the Greater Sonoran Desert" (215). The focus of her essay is an examination of the way Cabeza de Vaca appropriated Native symbols and signs as "a bridge for cultural mediation" (216). She traces the passages that relate the healing practices of Cabeza de Vaca among the tribes and suggests that "two referential systems are operating in the text" -- the language of the Christian gospels and native shamans (219). Ahern notes that Cabeza de Vaca writes about the healings in a manner that is suggestive of the healing accounts in the New Testament but uses native ceremonial objects, such as the calabaza which emphasizes native shamanic authority and power.
Arroyo, Silvia. "Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, or the Construction of a Hero through His Travels in The Journey of Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca." The Image of the Road in Literature, Media, and Society. Ed. Will Wright and Steve Kaplan. Pueblo: Society for the Interdisciplinary Study of Social Imagery. Pueblo: Colorado State University, 2005. 78-81.
Arroyo compares Cabeza de Vaca to a prophet whose journey has many parallels to Christianity. She argues that Cabeza de Vaca's main goal is to appear as an improved man, since on the surface his expedition failed. The Journey serves as a personal validation of the growth Cabeza de Vaca has experienced in spite of his apparent failures.
Bishop, Morris. The Odyssey of Cabeza de Vaca. New York: Century,1933.
Bishop's book is a biographical sketch of the life of Cabeza de Vaca that includes a retelling of Cabeza de Vaca's Relacion y Comentarios. Bishop sets his story in a historical context and includes a variety of illustrations including maps, the Cabeza de Vaca family coat of arms, and a facsimile of Cabeza de Vaca's legal appeal after his arrest. Bishop writes his work in the style of a non-fiction novel but takes most of his material from primary sources and historical documents.
Bruce-Novoa, Juan. "Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca." The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Paul Lauter et al. 2nd ed. Vol.1. Lexington: Heath, 1994. 129-39.
Bruce-Novoa's focus in this essay is in affirming Cabeza de Vaca's Relacion as "a fundamental text of Chicano literature" (4). He suggests a dual analysis of the work to affirm the meaning of Cabeza de Vaca's place in the Chicano literary heritage. First, he asserts the need for a "refocus" of traditional critical analytical approaches. Second, he says that Chicano critics need to "demonstrate how the text exerts a creative force on Chicano letters" (4). Bruce-Novoa is also concerned that the defining characteristics of Cabeza de Vaca's text are "in one way or another, our [Chicano] very own" (4). He believes that Cabeza de Vaca's experiences in the New World changed him forever and that his "American alterability distinguished him from other Spaniards" (16). Juan-Novoa concludes by asserting that Cabeza de Vaca's attributes are Chicano and Relacion represents Cabeza de Vaca's " metamorphosis" as a "founding" text of Chicano culture and literature (5).
Cabeza de Vaca, Alvar Nunez. The Account: Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca's Relacion. Trans. Martin Favata and Jose Fernandez. Houston: Arte Publico P, 1993.
Favata and Fernandez's edition is a 1993 translation of Cabeza de Vaca's Relacion published in Valladolid in 1555. They provide extensive annotations on historic, geographic, and environmental issues relating to the text.
Cebollero, Pedro. "The Double Discourse of Indian Mythicizing in Cabeza de Vaca's Naufragios." Hispanic Journal 28.1 (2007): 23-34.
Cebollero argues that in Cabeza de Vaca's Naufragios there is a dual representation of the Amerindians, both as noble savages and as demons (having demonic attributes and as evil people). This dual discourse is based on evangelical and militaristic goals, and the two roles are not contradictory. Rather, the goals complement one another. Cebollero strengthens his argument by pointing out that the two representations are supported through a religious basis in historical Christian arguments, which he details in his work.
Dowling, Lee. "Story vs. Discourse In the Chronicle of the Indies: Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca's Relacion." Hispanic Journal 5 (1984): 89-99.
Dowling's central argument is that many texts such as Cabeza de Vaca's Relacion create a tension for the modern reader because of the "chronicle's use of devices commonly associated with fiction and a reader's knowledge that what he is reading is not fiction but history" (89). He notes that the fictional element is a feature of "chronicle discourse" (such as Cabeza de Vaca's), therefore Cabeza de Vaca's work is of interest to literary scholars as well as historians, ethnographers, and historians. Dowling focuses on the evaluative techniques of Cabeza de Vaca and its intertextual importance and concludes by reasserting the place of Cabeza de Vaca's account as historical record.
Fellner, Astrid M. "Performing Cultural Memory: Scenarios of Colonial Encounter in the Writings of John Smith, Cabeza de Vaca, and Jacques Cartier." Transnational American Memories: Media and Cultural Memory. Ed. Udo J. Hebel. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2009.
Fellner analyzes the conquest of the Americas from a performance related perspective. Touching on mysterious figures like the infamous Don Luis, Opechancanough, and Powhatan, and treating these historical figures like characters, Fellner delves into the inconsistencies and confusion inducing portions of American history. He advocates that this "notion of performance. . . . makes visible" the elements of American history that are already there, but otherwise overlooked. By examining one "scene" of Cabeza de Vaca's journey across the southern United States in which the men happened upon mysterious dead bodies, Fellner draws out the implications of what he calls the "performative practices" of American history. He also uses the scenario to highlight the value of knowledge over the value of gold -- a notion that Cabeza de Vaca seemingly begins to understand but perhaps not fully.
Gomez-Galisteo, Carmen. "The Conquistador Who Wrote a Captivity Narrative: Cabeza de Vaca's Naufragios as a Captivity Narrative." Americana: E-Journal of American Studies in Hungary 4.2 (2008): n.p.
Gomez-Galisteo highlights the ways in which Cabeza de Vaca's "official report" on his conquest that he sent to Spain is really more of a captivity narrative. Explaining the technical elements of captivity narratives, Gomez-Galisteo analyzes the religious and moral content of Cabeza de Vaca's work. He compares Cabeza de Vaca's captivity narrative to those of Puritans, highlighting the differences and ultimately concluding that Cabeza de Vaca's report is, in fact, a captivity narrative specific to Spanish Catholic culture and standards.
Goodman, Nan. "Mercantilism and Cultural Difference in Cabeza de Vaca's 'Relacion'." Early American Literature 40.2 (2005): 229-50.
Although Goodman views Cabeza de Vaca as a kind of "renaissance man" for his unusually realistic and sympathetic texts, she argues such praises may elicit overly compassionate sentiments from unfamiliar readers. He is a human, not a legend. His writings clearly exemplify a man who still considers himself separate from the "Others," making exaggerated felicitation superfluous and misleading. Goodman disputes fellow scholars' claims that Cabeza de Vaca was an early ethnographer. Rather, he states de Vaca was simply an observer, not a scientist. Keeping the time of publication in mind during analysis of La Relación places the subject matter in the correct context. His attempts at accommodation and appeasement are still wildly unconventional in contrast to Spanish imperialism and mercantilism. However, if mercantilism is such an important factor in explaining the goals of The Conquest, then perhaps Cabeza de Vaca's works should also be viewed in such light. Goodman's focus lies in the interpretation of La Relación as a description of native trade, market productivity, and population density. He claims his investigation still centers on studying hybridity, only now utilizing Cabeza de Vaca's cultural handbook to scrutinize the relationship between political agendas, mercantilism, and social objectives, and their effects on Cabeza de Vaca's identity.
Hallenbeck, Clive. Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca: The Journey and Route of the First European to Cross the Continent of North America, 1534-1536. Glendale: Arthur H.Clarke, 1940.
Hallenbeck's book includes a paraphrase of Cabeza de Vaca's narrative and a detailed analysis of the possible routes of Cabeza de Vaca's journey on foot from Florida to Mexico. The book includes maps and chapters devoted to Cabeza de Vaca's routes through Texas, the Southwestern United States, and northern Mexico. Hallenbeck devotes the last part of his book to offering the opinions about the transcontinental route of Cabeza de Vaca by a variety of scholars including Adolphe Bandelier, Hubert Howe Bancroft, J.N. Baskett, Benjamin Read, R.E. Twitchell, and Davenport and Wells. Hallenbeck concludes that the discrepancies in Cabeza de Vaca's account of his travels are "the result of confused recollections and not of intentional misrepresentation" (28).
Hickerson, Nancy P. "Rituals of Confrontation: Cabeza de Vaca and the Texas Indians." Intertexts 1.2 (1997): 169-76.
Hickerson discusses the erroneous interpretation that the Spanish people were welcomed into the Native world as Gods and showered with gifts as a superior people. Rather, it was common practice to shower all travelers with gifts as a sign of hospitality, respect, and hope that the favor would be exchanged later. Cabeza de Vaca's state as a healing Shaman, not his Spanish heritage, would also command great respect. Hickerson warns against perceiving Cabeza de Vaca as a "conqueror," pointing out several instances in which he successfully assimilates to such a degree that the Natives viewed him and his comrades as "their" Spaniards -- Spaniards not associated with the Christian conquerors.
Howard, David A. Conquistador in Chains: Cabeza de Vaca and the Indians of the Americas. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 1997.
Howard's book focuses on Cabeza de Vaca's treatment of Native Americans during his period of wandering the American Southwest and his term as governor of Rio de la Plata. Howard suggests in his preface that Cabeza de Vaca's notions of justice and liberty towards the native were "entirely Spanish," and, despite good intentions, he was "an imperialist who imagined that the policies of the government of Spain might be achieved in America by just and humane means under Spanish law" (xi). Howard, however, does set Cabeza de Vaca's policies apart from the generally cruel, tyrannical, and brutal actions of most of the Spanish conquistadors towards the natives of the Americas. Cabeza de Vaca's attitudes towards the natives, according to Howard, is a result of his eight-year sojourn among the natives from 1528-1536 after the failure of the Narvaez expedition and his reaction to the abuses by other conquistadors attempting to subjugate natives according to Spanish law. Howard offers his analysis of Cabeza de Vaca's policies on primary sources relating to the Narvaez expedition and the colonization of Rio de la Plata.
Lee, Kun Jong. "Pauline Typology in Cabeza de Vaca's Naufragios." Early American Literature 34 (1999): 241-62.
Lee explores the religious iconography implemented throughout Cabeza de Vaca's account of his eight-year estrangement from European society. The original report, dubbed the "Joint Report," was written by the four survivors of the Narváez expedition and later enhanced by Cabeza de Vaca based upon his own spiritual journey titled Naufragios. Although the authority in the matter, Oviedo, in charge of discerning what occurred in the past eight years, preferred the Joint Report, he also added his own brand of mystical upon his retelling. Both recollections, Lee notes, are soaked in Biblical allegory and medieval legend. The study of popular literature from the 16th century may prove to be very relevant if critics of Cabeza de Vaca wish to dissect his symbolizations, according to Lee, especially Pauline typology. He quotes Peter Wild as the first to recognize Cabeza de Vaca likening himself not only to Jesus (a common criticism), but to Saint Paul as well. Both Cabeza de Vaca and Paul underwent very intense religious conversions or, more specifically, integrations during journeys through foreign lands. Lee takes this idea deep into the heart of Mexico, where a "born-again" Cabeza de Vaca will come to be, in his own mind, the first apostle of the New World. Lee hopes to contrast the Pauline corpus with the Naufragios in order to prove the former's influence over the latter.
McGann, Thomas. "The Ordeal of Cabeza de Vaca." American Heritage (December 1960): 78-82.
McGann outlines in detail the ill-fated Narváez expedition, whose five boats and six hundred men met their fate off the coast of Florida. After landing in Cuba, Captain Pánfilo de Narváez set sail towards Florida with three hundred men in search of gold, but he found only hostile natives and new diseases. After a period of starvation, the party decided to build boats out of horsehide and, God willing, make it back to Cuba. Unfortunately for the dwindling population of sailors, hurricane winds and wood rot led to the drowning of most of the expedition, including Narváez himself. Before his end, Cabeza de Vaca's wrote of an altercation involving the number of healthy men on Narváez's boat versus the sick and dying on Cabeza de Vaca's. Despite his pleas, Narváez refused to trade any men, or even tie the rafts together. That was the last Cabeza de Vaca ever saw of the captain. Several days later, their vessel crashed off the coast of Texas. All subsequent attempts to escape and reach the Spanish settlements in Mexico failed, and the survivors were forced to winter on the island. Of all the men who made it to Texas, only four would survive the eight-year period between estrangement and rescue. Cabeza de Vaca, after separating from his crew, began to integrate into Indian society and traveled among various native tribes throughout the Mexican outback.
Mueller, Roseanna. "Two Unofficial Captive Narratives: Gonzalo Guerrero's Memorias and Cabeza de Vaca's Naufrigios." Latin America and Its Literature. Ed. Maria Elena De Valdes, Mario Valdes, and Richard Young. New York: St. John's UP, 1995.
Mueller's essay is a comparison of Cabeza de Vaca's 1542 Relacion and the recently discovered Gonzalo Guerrero's 1511 Memorias. She focuses on how these works explore the issues of acculturation and cross-cultural encounters. Mueller suggests that both narratives "break" with the "colonialist enterprise" and "echo the voice of the other" (22). Both narratives are reports of unsuccessful expeditions and chronicle the experiences of conquered conquistadors. Both Guerrero and Cabeza de Vaca function as interpreters of native cultures from an insider's perspective. Both narratives also reveal the difficulty of returning to the native culture. Cabeza de Vaca returned to Spain after his eight-year experience with a variety of native tribes, but Guerrero remained with the Mayans until his death. Mueller concludes by noting that both captivity narratives reflect an "attitude of tolerance and acceptance" of aspects of native culture (33).
Nanfito, Jacqueline C. "Cabeza de Vaca's Naufrigios y Comentarios: The Journey Motif in the Chronicle of the Indies." Revista de Estudios Hispanicos 21 (1994): 179-87.
Nanfito's essay suggests that the journey motif of Cabeza de Vaca's Relacion is a way to convey what she calls "nonspacial experiences" (179). Nanfito means that unlike many other chronicles of the New World that often function as guide books for travelers, Cabeza de Vaca's text uses the spatial elements as a metaphor of his spiritual journey. The spatial journey of Cabeza de Vaca is paralleled by a spiritual journey. The geographical account by Cabeza de Vaca of his eight years of interaction with the lands and natives of the Americas, according to Nanfito, is "simultaneously" tracing "the inner movement of his spiritual awakening" (180). Nanfito notes that the westward movement of Cabeza de Vaca in his travels is consistent with the notion in western thought that the West symbolizes "knowledge and spirituality in the symbolism of the Cosmos" (180). The journey motif, according to Nanfito, also serves as a way of representing Cabeza de Vaca's actual conquest of space through his adaptation as trader and shaman among the native tribes. Nanfito concludes that Cabeza de Vaca represents America in Relacion not only as a space for Spanish conquest but a place to be visioned with "the eyes of the heart" (187).
Ortiz, Ann Massengill. The Prophetic Dimensions of the Naufrigios of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca. Diss. U of North Carolina, 1995. Ann Arbor: UMI,1995.
Ortiz's's dissertation focuses on the issue of prophecy in Cabeza de Vaca's narrative. She provides an overview of critical literature on Cabeza de Vaca's narrative and the general topic of prophecy. Cabeza de Vaca, according to Massengill, embodies in his self-descriptions a conception of hero, saint, shaman, and prophet. Relacion has been described by many as hagiography, and Ortiz asserts that "hagiographic overtones in the text permit the reader to see Nunez as a wilderness prophet and Christ figure" (iii). She examines how these notions of Cabeza de Vaca have been explored in critical literature. Patterns of prophecy and false prophecy are evident in Cabeza de Vaca's writing, creating a "weaving of prophetic voices" in a "unifying structure" (iv). Ortiz examines the ramifications of the prophetic dimension of Cabeza de Vaca's narrative on his own prophetic and shamanic activity.
Pastor, Beatrice. "Silence and Writing: The History of the Conquest." 1492-1992: Re/Discovering Colonial Writing. Ed. Renee Jara and Nicholas Spadaccini. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1989. 121-63.
Pastor asserts at the beginning of her essay that the 1992 celebration of Christopher Columbus's landing in America should have been the symbolic genesis of "a process of radical criticism" that approached the issues of conquest and discovery as "part of a project of demystifying and reevaluating" the study of the encounter between European conquerors and Native Americans (122). She calls Eurocentric historical accounts as a "vast mirage" that is created from "silence, omission, and absence" of Native voices. Columbus, Cortes, and Cabeza de Vaca are examined by Pastor. She suggests that Cabeza de Vaca's narrative "breaks the limits of the discourse of domination," by replacing the discourse of conqueror, with the discourse of ethnographer (136). Pastor traces in Cabeza de Vaca's Relacion, the stages of the transformation of the lost conquistador's consciousness. Pastor concludes, however, that Cabeza de Vaca's narrative ultimately reveals "another facet of the imperial mask" (146).
Pastor-Bodmer, Beatrice. The Armature of Conquest: Spanish Accounts of the Discovery of America. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1992.
Pastor-Bodmer analyzes Cabeza de Vaca's Relacion as a literary expression of "the process of critical demythification" that she perceives as evident in earlier documents about the failure of expeditions (4). Cabeza de Vaca's narrative does not portray the lands of the Americas in mythical terms but as a hostile, wild, wilderness that at times appears uninhabitable. Pastor-Bodmer suggests that Cabeza de Vaca's portrayal of America is presented in ways that "unequivocally contradict the mythical representations initiated by Columbus" (131). The overall sense that Cabeza de Vaca communicates in his narrative is a type of destruction of the mythical conquest model. The author notes that Cabeza de Vaca expresses a "new identity" in his narrative that "goes hand in hand with a radical change in his view of reality" (142). Pastor-Bodmer suggests that Cabeza de Vaca's narrative is an expression of a "spiritual journey" that "leads to the humanization of the conquistador and the critical demythification of the conquest" (150).
Pilkington, William T. "Epilogue." Cabeza de Vaca's Adventures in the Unknown Interior of North America. Trans. Cyclone Covey. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 1984.
Pilkington's epilogue to Cyclone Covey's 1984 translation of Cabeza de Vaca's Relacion focuses on the literary and cultural significance of Cabeza de Vaca's narrative. Pilkington suggests that these two perspectives are more significant than the historical element to the narrative. Pilkington calls the narrative of Cabeza de Vaca a "peculiarly American document" that portrays a distinctly American theme -- "the physical and emotional struggle for an accommodation between races" (146). He also suggests that another distinctive theme that Relacion explores is the notion of the solitary individual on a "voyage of exploration, of physical and spiritual discovery" in an isolated wilderness setting (149). Pilkington advances the notion that Cabeza de Vaca "became the first American" to offer a narrative with these distinctly American literary features (150). Comparing Cabeza de Vaca with other Spanish conquistadors, Pilkington says that "Cabeza de Vaca's conquest lay in the realm of the spirit rather than that of territory and treasure" (145).
Rabasa, Jose. "Allegory and Ethnography in Cabeza de Vaca's Naufrigios and Comentarios." Violence, Resistance, and Survival in the Americas. Ed.William Taylor and Franklin Pease.Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990. 40-66.
Rabasa's contention is that Cabeza de Vaca's Relacion allows for readings from an allegorical as well as ethnographical perspective. Cabeza de Vaca not only records specific place names and geographical features of the land through which he travels but also "invests them with symbols and characters significant within the narrative of evangelization and conquest" (49-50). Rabasa notes that Cabeza de Vaca's account appears to offer a benevolent representation of his attitude towards natives but actually reproduces symbolically "the colonial myths that structure and articulate the same violence he condemns" (43). Rabasa believes that Cabeza de Vaca's Relacion reinforces the notion that native peoples are subordinate to the rule of Spain and supports the idea that native knowledge and superstition is devil-inspired. Rabasa concludes by suggesting that Cabeza de Vaca's story portrays the "paradoxical coexistence of an imperial and empathetic perspective" and should be analyzed allegorically as well as ethnographically (63).
Reff, Daniel T. "Text and Context: Cures, Miracles, and Fear in the Relacion of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca." Journal of the Southwest 38 (1996): 115-38.
Reff notes that Cabeza de Vaca stands apart from his contemporaries because of the way Cabeza de Vaca "overcame to a remarkable degree the confines of Eurocentric thought" (115). The essay focuses on the miracles, cures, and biblical allusions in Cabeza de Vaca's narrative, especially his Christ-like activities. Reff traces the opinions of various scholars about Cabeza de Vaca's role as healer and stresses the role of intertextuality in the text-formation process of Cabeza de Vaca's account, especially the Bible and hagiography. The essay also stresses how any critique that Cabeza de Vaca and his compatriots were "able to manipulate the Indians by instilling fear in them" in order to "render the Indians passive or at worst irrational" exaggerates Cabeza de Vaca's "abilities as a proto-ethnographer" (132). Reff concludes by suggesting that today's scholars comprehend the Indian's fears of Cabeza de Vaca more than Cabeza de Vaca himself ever did.
Resendez, Andres. "Cabeza de Vaca and the Problem of First Encounters." Historically Speaking 10.1 (2009): 36-38.
Resendez examines the problems of what isn't said in Cabeza de Vaca's Narrative -- namely, the cruelties enacted upon native tribes during his journey -- and explores the different attitudes towards slavery in the New World. Resendez wonders why Cabeza de Vaca was reluctant to fully describe European atrocities the latter had witnessed and offers a possible explanation with some historic context. Resendez also describes the different roles African slaves would have in Europe and the New World and illuminates the differences between European and Native American slavery as a way of showing how Cabeza de Vaca survived as a shaman in North America.
Silva, Alan J. "Conquest, Conversion, and the Hybrid Self in Cabeza de Vaca's Relacion." Post Identity 2.1 (1999): 123-46.
"My goal is to interrogate the relationship between colonizer and colonized . . . and to understand how an 'outsider' and an 'insider' can retain his conqueror's mentality yet simultaneously become more sympathetic to native customs, how an 'Indianized' Spaniard can both recognize the problems inherent in the concept of 'discovery,' but still wish to colonize the natives."

See Also

Beck, Peggy, Nia Francisco, and Anna Lee Walters. The Sacred. Tsaile: Navajo Community College P, 1995.

Bitterli, Urs. Cultures in Conflict: Encounters between European and Non-European Cultures, 1492-1800. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1989.

Cabeza de Vaca, Alvar Nuñez. The Journey of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca and His Companions from Florida to the Pacific, 1528-1536. tr. from his own narrative by Fanny Bandelier. New York: A. S. Barnes, 1905.

Cabeza de Vaca, Alvar Nunez. Chronicle of the Narvaez Expedition. Based on the translation by Fanny Bandelier. Introduction by Ilan Stevens. New York: Penguin, 2002.

Chipman, Donald E. "In Search of Cabeza de Vaca's Route across Texas: An Historical Survey." Southwestern Historical Quarterly 91 (1987): 127-48.

Docter, Mary. "Enriched by Otherness: The Transformational Journey of Cabeza de Vaca." Christianity and Literature 58.1 (2008): 3-27.

Harner, Michael. The Way of the Shaman. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1980.

Hart, Billy Thurman. A Critical Edition With a Study of the Style of La Relacion by Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca. Diss. U of Southern California, 1974. Ann Arbor: UMI, 1974.

Krickeberg, Walter, Hermann Trimborn, Werner Muller, and Otto Zerries. Pre-Columbian American Religions. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson,1961.

Levi-Strauss, Claude. Structural Anthropology. Trans. Claire Jacobson. New York: Basic, 1963.

Lyon, William S. Encyclopedia of Native American Shamanism. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO,1998.

Magro, Tania de Miguel. "Religion as a Survival Strategy in Los Naufragios and in Echevarria's Film Cabeza de Vaca." Torre de papel 14.1-2 (2004): 52-63.

Rabin, Lisa. "Figures of Conversion and Subjectivity in Colonial Narrative." Hispania 82.1 (1999): 40-45.

Taussig, Michael. Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1987.

Todorov, Tzvetan. The Conquest of America. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Harper and Row, 1984.

Werner, Louis. "Truth and Fiction Chart a Miraculous Journey." Americas 48 (1996): 22-29.

Wild, Peter. Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca. Boise: Boise State U, 1991.

Video/Audio Resources

Espanoles en la Golgo de Mexico. Dir. Apolonio Torres. Films for the Humanities, 1986.
This Spanish language video examines the role of Spain in the development of the United States. It offers a brief history of the discovery of Florida and traces the journeys of Cabeza de Vaca and Hernando de Soto.
The West. The People. Dir. Ken Burns. Turner Home Entertainment, 1996.
Volume one of a video series originally produced by WETA-TV titled "Ken Burns Presents the West," examines the original Native American inhabitants in the American West. The video contains an examination of Spanish conquistadors Cabeza de Vaca and Coronado, the Pueblo people of the Southwest, the Lewis and Clark expedition, and America's purchase of the Louisiana territory.

Online Resources

Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca
This site includes a variety of links to Cabeza de Vaca sites and sites related to the exploration of the Americas. It includes a link to online editions of Cabeza de Vaca's Relacion, including an online edition of Cyclone Covey's 1961 English translation Adventures into the Unknown Interior of America.
Archive of the West [Archived]
This site from the PBS series "The West" includes a link to a full version of Fanny Bandelier's 1905 translation of The Journey of Cabeza de Vaca, as well as general information on the explorer.
Cabeza de Vaca Page
A Palo Alto College site that contains biographical information on Cabeza de Vaca and links to a variety of English and Spanish language Cabeza de Vaca websites.
Cabeza de Vaca's Background Page http://www.webcom/sheppard/cab-back.html [Archived]
Donald Sheppard provides a brief biography of Cabeza de Vaca on this site, as well as links to an assortment of Cabeza de Vaca websites.
The Hypertext Edition of the Narrative of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca [Archived]
This is a hypertext edition of Fanny Bandelier's 1905 translation of The Narrative of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca.
The Journey of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca and his companions from Florida to the Pacific, 1528-1536; tr. from his own narrative by Fanny Bandelier, together with the report of Father Marcos of Nizza and a letter from the viceroy Mendoza; ed., with an introduction, by Ad. F. Bandelier.
Bandelier translation.
Journey of Cabeza de Vaca [Archived]
Part of the "Virtual Tour of Galveston Island" site, this is a synopsis of Cabeza de Vaca's journey  and life by Todd Guillory.
The Narrative of Alvar Nuñez Cabeça de Vaca
The Bandelier translation from: Frederick W. Hodge, ed., "The Narrative of Alvar Nuñez Cabeça de Vaca," in J. Franklin Jameson, ed., Original Narratives in Early American History: Spanish Explorers in the Southern United States, 1528-1543 (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1907), pp.1-126.
Spanish Exploration and Conquest of Native America Page
This site offers a historical overview of the Spanish conquest of North America. It offers details of Cabeza de Vaca's experiences in the New World, as well as information on Hernando De Soto.
Windows to the Unknown: Cabeza de Vaca Journey to the Southwest [Archived]
This is a premier site for Cabeza de Vaca study. The site is the joint project for the study of Cabeza de Vaca by the Center for the Study of the Southwest at the Southwest Texas State University and the Witte Museum of San Antonio. This site offers information about Cabeza de Vaca's life, position papers, historical and anthropological studies and links to a related site that contains several images of Native American artifacts, and an art page of Cabeza de Vaca images.