April 20, 2022

#08-204: Cabeza de Vaca

Cabeza de Vaca crosses the desert

Note: Few works of fiction rival the Relación of Cabeza de Vaca, a supposedly objective report of explorations in North America.

Get Ready: Is there any rational explanation for stories of healing by means other than traditional medicine, such as "faith healing"?

It's hard to believe that much of our heavily-populated world was largely unmapped just a few centuries ago. One expedition meant to claim what is now the Gulf Coast of the United States for the Kingdom of Spain started out under the conquistador Panfilo de Narvaez in 1527 with five ships and 600 men; only four men returned, as a result of storms, attacks by indigenous forces, disease, starvation, and bad decisions.

After "crash landing" in Florida, some of the men attempted to sail to Mexico on makeshift rafts; about 80 survived a storm that swept them onto the coast of modern Texas., where they were enslaved by native peoples.

By the end of eight years, only four were alive: the Captain, Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, who was Narvaez's second-in-command; Alonso del Castillo Maldonado; Andrés Dorantes de Carranza, "owner" of an enslaved Black man; and Dorantes' slave Estevanico.

Cabeza de Vaca later wrote an account of their journey for the King of Spain. Given the king's importance, we might imagine that Cabeza de Vaca would try to tell the unvarnished truth. What he wrote was, instead, frankly incredible.

This much is certain: Cabeza de Vaca and the three other men traveled across what is now Texas, into parts of northern Mexico and parts of the American southwest; they eventually met other Spaniards and returned to Mexico City. Cabeza de Vaca's work, the Relación, was published in 1542, the first written account of the peoples, flora, and fauna of inland North America.

But beyond that, Cabeza de Vaca claimed to have became a healer, saying that (among other "miracles") he performed the first surgical operation, removing an arrowhead that had struck a native in the chest and lodged above his heart. He also claimed to have healed people merely by breathing on them, and using this method even said he once raised a man from the dead! Numerous local people began to follow him on his journey (he says), believing he was a man of great power (all of which he attributed to God).

Castillo and Dorantes both died decades later in Mexico. Cabeza de Vaca became governor of a province in South America before returning to Spain, where he died. Estevanico later returned to New Mexico guiding an expedition, and disappeared into the wilderness, presumed dead.


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. fauna
  2. flora
  3. heavily-populated
  4. indigenous
  5. inland
  6. lodged
  7. makeshift
  8. presumed
  9. rafts
  10. unvarnished

  1. animal life
  2. thought to be
  3. native to a place
  4. having many people
  5. away from the coast
  6. small, simple boats
  7. roughly or hastily built
  8. plant life
  9. stuck; settled
  10. plain; straightforward

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for April 20, 2022

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. a; 2. h; 3. d; 4. c; 5. e; 6. i; 7. g; 8. b; 9. f; 10. j