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"La Malinche; the Mexican Eve" by Jennifer Richart
 

Mother to the ethnic group of Mexico known as the mestizo people, La Malinche was not only a women known by many names, but also a women who wore many hats in life. La Malinche, also known as Dona Marina, Malintzin, Malinal and Malinulli, was a women who played a significant role in the Spanish conquest and settlement of Mesoamerica. Playing the parts of slave, confidant and lover, La Malinche guided Hernan Cortez into, and out of, many a battle with great success. To many of the Mexican people, she is seen as a mythical being even though she was flesh and blood, probable due to the fact that she was a slave that rose to a position of leadership.

  La Malinche was born around the year 1505 in the village of Painalla in the province of Coatzacualco, at the north end of the base of the Yucatan peninsula. She was the daughter of a great cacique, a Cuban term for an aboriginal nobleman. (1) In her younger years, her father died and her mother remarried and had a son. Determined that her son be the heir to her first husband's estate, Malinche's mother sold her into slavery during the night so as to prevent discovery. In order to explain her daughter's disappearance, her mother took the body of a slave's child who had died and buried it saying that it was her own child. (1) Malinche ended up the possession of a cacique of Tabasco and it was obvious to all that she was no ordinary slave. She demonstrated qualities of having a higher education and carried herself with a great confidence that commanded the respect of others.

  Malinche became the possession of Cortes after the first significant victory for the Spanish at the village of Tabasco. She, along with twenty other Indian women, was sent to Cortez by the Tabascan caciques to be cooks for the Spanish. (1) When the women were first brought to the Spanish camps, Cortes distributed them among his officers. Malinche was first given to Alonzo Hernandez Puertocarrero. (1) Cortes then made Puertocarrero his messenger to Carlos V of Spain and as soon as he left camp, Cortes took Malinche for himself. Malinche proved to be more than just a slave to Cortes. Because she was well educated as a child and the fact that she was moved often during her time in slavery, Malinche was able to develop her facility with language. (1) "She would learn Spanish, by all accounts, in a matter of weeks, and her principal value to Cortes was that she had learned Nahuatl, the tongue used throughout the northern, Aztec, reaches of the country." (1) Malinche learned Spanish from a priest who had been captured by Indians, escaped, and had taken refuge with a friendly cacuque of another tribe. There he learned a native tongue spoken in the south. Before Malinche learned Spanish he would translate Cortes' words into a language that she understood, and she retranslated the words into the needed language of their present location. (1)

  Malinche proved to be one of Cortes' greatest assets. Not only did she serve a great purpose as a translator, but " although she showed sympathy towards the conquered races, she always remained faithful to the countrymen of her adoption. Without her it would have been Cortes who was conquered for her knowledge of the language and customs of the Mexicans, and often their designs, enabled her to extricate the Spaniards more than once, from the most embarrassing and perilous situations." (1) It is stated in many of the accounts from Cortes' men of how Malinche would " stand beside Cortes and translate his words or issue instructions of her own" (1) Malinche came to be seen by the Spanish as a great warrior princess and was baptized taking the name Dona Marina.

  (During the conquest of the Americas, it was common practice of the Spanish to baptize their female Indian slaves. It is believed that this happened because the Spanish felt this justified their taking them as mistresses, or in Cortes case, taking her as his adulteress.) She was given the name of Dona Marina as a sign of respect by the Spaniards. (1) The term Dona (Don for a man) is placed before a person's Christian name as a mark of respect. (1) For the Spanish, Dona Marina was a crucial possession. There is an account from one of Cortes' soldiers: " let us leave this and say how Dona Marina who, although a native woman, possessed such manly valor that, although she had heard every day how the Indians were going to kill us and eat our flesh with chili, and had seen us surrounded in the late battles, and knew that all of us were wounded and sick, yet never allowed us to see and sign of fear in her, only a courage passing that of a woman." This account was stated after a battle were the remarks of the soldier recognized that his life was saved by the actions of another. (1)

  Malinche served Cortes as translator, warrior and confident. She was the key in Cortes' success to convince other Indian nations to join them in their quest of destroying the great Aztec nation. Not only did Malinche translate his words for the Indian people, she fought beside them and used her knowledge of their customs and ways to show them that the Spanish quest was the right one to follow. Along with the instructions of seizing all lands, the Spanish came to the Americas with the idea of spreading Christianity. Cortes decided that the practice of human sacrifice needed to be stopped ( although the Spanish were killing thousands of Indians in the name of Christianity). (1) He determined that to end the practice he needed to destroy the temples in which they were conducted. (1)

  He ordered the destruction of the temples. In Malinche's hands fell the task of convincing the allied Indians that such profane destruction was a good idea. Already fearful of the Aztec's wrath, now the Indians also had their gods to fear.(1) Malinche accomplished her task through a series of threats, encouragement, flattery and the reminder of what the Aztecs would do to them if they failed to conquer them. Through Malinche's help, Cortez was able to convince the Indian allies that the Spanish quest to conquer the Aztecs was the right one.

  "In 1519, Cortes and Malinche, along with the Indian allies, reached the Aztecs central city of Tenochtitlan. There he invited the Aztec leader, Moctezuma, to his quarters to talk and captured him. Malinche first talked him into captivity and then tried to convince him to surrender all of his forces, giving all of his riches and his kingdom to the Spaniards." (1) To Cortes' dismay, Moctezuma was killed by his own people and he lost his only hope of convincing them to surrender peacefully. Because of this, the Spanish were driven from the city, and in the process, lost many men. " As a result of his retreat, Spanish romantics have portrayed yet another side of their Dona Marina. The woman of "la noche triste", the nurse of defeated soldiers, the comforter of Cortes, drying the tears that stained his lined face, has proved irresistible to Spanish chroniclers of the conquest." (1) La Malinche proved to be more that just a slave to Hernan Cortes. She was, in many ways the key reason as to why he was able to conquer one of the most powerful Indian nations.

  Malinche and Cortes eventually gave birth to a son named Martin, after Cortes' grandfather. He took Malinche and Martin on a trip to Honduras that took her back to her home village. There she met up with her mother and her half-brother and forgave them for all that they had done. Malinche eventually married a man named Juan Jaramillo in a small town named Ostotipec. (1) Cortes bestowed upon her many plots of land, one of which once belonged to Moctezuma. (1) It is said that the line of her progeny extended at least until the death of a nine-year-old boy, Fernando Gomez de Orosco y Figueroa, who was born in Tlzapan in 1930. (1)

  La Malinche, the mother of the Mother of Conquest, was one of the key factors in the Spanish success over the Mesoamerican peoples. Without her help and diplomatic skills, Cortes may have never accomplished his goal of conquest in the New World. To this day in Mexican society there many xenophobes that are connected with the name of Malinche. "Malinchismo" is the term for opening Mexico to outsiders, rendering Indian stock "impure" and sullying the culture.(1) Despite this fact, she remains a woman of historical contradictions. (2) In many cases she is shown as the betrayer, but in others she is shown as "the Mexican Eve" and "La Llorana". (1-2) "The Mexican Eve", for she is seen as the mother of the mestizo people and "La Llorana" for she is seen as "a white ghost who utters prolonged and tearful lament on dark nights, who is the soul of Malinche, who walks in pain for having been a traitor to her country." (2)

  La Malince witnessed the end of an old civilization and the rise of a new and became symbolic mother to the new ethnic group that prevails in Mexico to this day. (2) She remains to be a controversial figure for the Mexican people and probably will forever.

 

Works Cited

1. Adams, Jerome R. 1991. Liberators and Patriots of Latin America: Biographies of 23 Leaders. McFarland and Company, Inc.

2. Jane, S. Susan. "La Malinche". Ashby, Ruth, and Gore Ohrn, Deborah. 1995. Herstory: Women Who Changed the World. Viking.

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