spaniards eaten by native south american tribes -- 6/29/21

Today's selection -- from River of Darkness by Buddy Levy. Rescues and recoveries of Spaniards exploring South America in the 1500s:
"As unlikely as such scenarios seem, rescues, recoveries, and discover­ies of shipwrecked Spaniards living among indigenous populations had in fact occurred, and recently. These, in all likelihood, [Francisco] Orellana would have known about.

"In 1519, just after Cortes landed on Cozumel off the Yucatan Coast, he heard from locals on the island that across the way, on the mainland, were some white men, Christians like Cortes and his men. Cortes, intrigued by the possibility of Spanish-speaking countrymen who had been living among the mainland Indians, dispatched a ship with two captains -- Juan de Escalante and, ironically, Diego de Ordaz himself, with fifty armed men for protection -- to look for these Spaniards and deliver a handwritten message from Cortes to them. A week later, Escalante and Ordaz returned saying that they had delivered Cortes's message to a village chieftain, but nothing had come of it.

"Then, just as Cortes was set to sail from Cozumel, where they had been repairing their leaky boats, a canoe came paddling up to shore, making land down the beach from where Cortes was hearing mass. Cortes's men ran down the beach to investigate, and they were stunned by what they found. A tall man stood in the prow of the boat, next to a half-dozen naked men holding bows and arrows.

"The tall man spoke:

"'Brothers, are you Christians?' he asked.

"When the Spaniards nodded that they were, the man knelt in the sand and wept. He was a priest named Jeronimo de Aguilar, and the story he told was miraculous. Back in 1511 the ship Aguilar had been on struck low shoals off the coast of Jamaica, and he and some twenty other survivors escaped in a rowboat. With no food or water, trading turns at their one set of oars, they caught a westerly current and washed up on the shores of the Yucatan, half their number dead and the rest barely hanging on.

"Mayan tribesmen found them and took them prisoner, immediately sacrificing their leader -- a conquistador named Valdivia -- and four other men, then eating those Spaniards during a festival feast. Aguilar and his remaining surviving friends, including a man named Gonzalo Guerrero, were crammed into cages and could only look on in horror at the sacrifi­cial ceremonies, as drums rumbled into the lowland jungle and cele­brants blew mournful songs on conch shells. The Spaniards were being fattened for sacrifice. Once they understood their imminent fate, they banded together and broke the cage slats, then escaped into the night.

"Aguilar and Guerrero, along with a few others, found refuge in another village but were quickly enslaved, though they were allowed to live. Aguilar acquired the nickname 'the white slave,' and through hard work, luck, and his deep faith, he survived eight years among his Mayan captors and finally earned his freedom. He had received Cortes's letter from the messengers, and then visited his countryman Guerrero, who by now was living in a nearby village.

"Guerrero had won his own freedom through feats of strength and hard work, and he was now an accepted member of his tribe, a warrior and a military leader. He had taken a wife, a chief's daughter, and she had borne him a daughter and two sons. His heavily muscled body was covered with tattoos, his ears were pierced, and he wore a hunk of green jades tone as a labret. He had gone native, and he told Aguilar that he had no desire to return."



Buddy Levy


River of Darkness




Copyright 2011 by Buddy Levy


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