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It is also evident that as more advanced native groups came into contact with the explorers, the religious cultures became themes of considerable importance to the chroniclers. Examples are plentiful. The Aztecs were highly advanced in their religious practices, housed in temples that rivaled the European architectural concept of sacred grounds or churches. The facilities were tended by some five thousand men.

The bloody sites included the display of some , human skulls as part of the architecture of one of the temples if the reader is to trust the accuracy of such a count. The effect presented a challenge for the Spanish priests who attempted immediate conversions. The process increased in violence as indigenous groups attempted to resist the Spanish imposition of their Catholic faith. In the early stage of the religious indoctrination of the Aztecs, Tapia states, the Spaniards claimed that their Christian God, although invisible, was invincible.

Latin American Literature

After they had cleared away the blood, other sacrificial gifts, and Aztec religious symbols, a former religious tower became a consecrated church containing two altars. The locale, as Tapia presented it, must have been conspicuously humble. The only decorations of the altars dedicated to the Virgin Mary and to Saint Christopher were wooden carvings. Such crude religious iconography must have appalled the Aztecs, accustomed to artistic statues, richly decorated and with plenty of gold offerings. As the Spaniards separated the Aztecs from their idols, a drought fell on the land, bringing havoc to the cornfields.

The Aztecs believed that it was a punishment from their rain gods and proceeded to claim permission from the Spanish military authorities to reinstate their traditional religions. In answer to their pleas, the Spaniards organized a Christian religious procession and a mass took place, followed immediately by heavy rains. The Spaniards were willing to embark on fantastic adventures, aided by religious icons.

Tapia did not doubt that the rains came upon the dying cornfields because of divine intervention by the right God. The implication that divine approval was on the side of the Spaniards was found in many chronicles. Such ethno- and religiocentric focus today clouds the veracity of history developed through the chronicles, and it has promoted new interpretations of the Conquest process. Anonymous Chronicler There were, however, chroniclers who recorded details of indigenous cultures apparently without any motive other than sheer desire for ethno- 8 Literature of Latin America graphic documentation.

His chronicle appeared printed in the second half of the sixteenth century as part of a compilation of Italian writings about exploratory trips by the Spanish and the Portuguese De Fuentes It is a testimony of European thirst for in-depth information about American indigenous cultures. His chronicle is multifaceted and covers a considerable number of socioeconomic details of life in the territory of New Spain, today Mexico.

Through his detailed accounts, the reader gains a more positive depiction of native Mexican societies. This is certainly a paradise, with large rivers, freshwater springs, forests, plains, and mountains De Fuentes Still awaiting exploration a process that the chronicler predicts will take at least a hundred years , the country had proven to have plentiful mines of gold, silver, copper, tin, and iron De Fuentes In this chronicle, as in others, natives had successfully inhabited this generous earth to their advantage.

The writer was speaking of the Aztecs, who, despite their cruel socioreligious behavior, had produced a rather advanced civilization. The chronicle also includes frank statements about the superiority of these constructions to comparable architectural examples in Spain. This proud attitude can be viewed as the beginning of a long tradition of a cultural rivalry between Latin America and Spain. It also points to the earliest manifestation of a mestizo identity, a merging of Native American and European cultural values.

Latin American Literature and Culture

Today mestizo traditions have come to symbolize the fusion of two radically different cultural traditions that make up the prolific manifestations of Latin American culture. Writing about the Americas 9 The chroniclers as self-appointed historians played an important role in disseminating data on American cultural traditions.

The technological superiority of the Spaniards and their brutal physical aggression in warfare were clearly effective tools of domination. Their collective writings may be taken as a profile of the indigenous mind, providing information that was useful in establishing sociopolitical domination after the Conquest. Known as the Conquest, this exploration was a complex process that combined military expertise with the religious conversion of the native inhabitants and a search for scientific knowledge.

His zealous efforts to dominate indigenous opposition led initially to use of military force. Because of these brutal practices against the indigenous populations, most Latin Americans consider the conquest of the Americas as the darkest period of Latin American history. At the root of this negative view is a compendium of the crimes that Columbus and later conquistadors committed against the natives, commonly referred to as the Black Legend.

It was Spaniards who documented the crimes against the indigenous populations. The perspective of the writers differed in regard to the tactics used for submission of native groups. This section analyzes the military chronicles as firsthand documentation and as historical accounts pertaining to the conquest period.

Although the core of these texts was detailed description of military campaigns, they contain ample comments on the indigenous cultures as the conquistadors and soldiers first encountered them. The conquistadors wrote the history of the exploration of the Americas when Spain had reached a peak in its acquisition of humanist knowledge. The process was, however, a military venture. Knowledge of their individual approaches to pacification and of their civil legacies in the founding and administration of the first Latin American cities 10 Literature of Latin America is a useful tool in understanding certain national trends ranging from religious traditions to military practices.

The strength of the military and guerrilla groups in certain countries also speaks to the impact and ramifications of violence in contemporary Latin American society. In the recording of key events in the exploration and colonization of the Americas, the name of Italian-born Amerigo Vespucci is prominent.

Vespucci — , a cartographer trained in physics, geometry, and cosmography, began a series of exploratory trips in Because of his detailed writings on his findings and the maps drawn of his trips, the increasingly explored landmass became known as America in For some historians, this decision is unfair to Columbus, but it reflects the general view of the latter as a cruel and despotic man and as an initiator of crimes against American indigenous groups.

Explorations of the Americas continued at a surprisingly fast rate. Then came the colonizing period, which included not only pacification of the indigenous population but also the founding of cities. During his last two trips — and — , Columbus set up commercial enterprises, such as mines for river gold and agricultural and cattle projects, on this island.

The colonization of the largest Caribbean islands, Puerto Rico , Jamaica , and Cuba , produced for Spain and Europe the first contact with American agricultural products such as tobacco. The conquest of these Caribbean islands led to later pacification of the continent. Heavy military punishment against indigenous peoples, commonly practiced in the Caribbean, was a weapon used on a grander scale in the conquest of the continental territories.

The rapid destruction of the Caribbean indigenous populations nearly eradicated within about fifty years provoked the beginning of an international campaign against Spanish mistreatment and violation of the human rights of the American natives. Of particular interest to a North American reader are their incursions into what is today U. In quests for fabled cities, Francisco de Coronado — marched north from the western coast of Mexico and in explored southeastern Arizona, to arrive at the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River.

Tales of a vast, fabulously rich and unexplored land inspired further exploratory trips. Reports by the explorers and the conquistadors about their exotic findings soon became well known throughout Spain. Their texts provided additional characterizations of the Latin American natives, including detailed descriptions of the behaviors and customs that were so radically different from European standards.

There were accounts of the vast American geography and its native animals and plants, as well as the religious practices and defensive mechanisms of native peoples, the organization of their cities, and details of their social customs. These accounts also led to legends of incredible wonders of wealth to be found in the mythical American geography. Born in to an impoverished but noble family, he embarked at age nineteen on a voyage to the Indies, like many young men coming to age at the beginning of the Conquest.

This was the beginning of his military training; he learned important skills, such as the tracing of runaway enemies in a rugged and exuberant topography. In , he was on the island of Juana today Cuba , where in reward for his fierce warrior spirit in controlling the natives, he became mayor of the city of Santiago. Located on the extreme western point of the island, Santiago was part of a major plan for pacification of the island, which was the largest of the Spanish Caribbean territories. In , after much lobbying, he gained permission to start the exploration of mainland Mexico.

The historical focus of the events was his military strategy, which led to the defeat of the Aztecs. His triumphant trip to Spain in , part of his scheme to retain control of Mexico, illustrates this point. Backed by natives some of them nobles , he offered to the king exquisitely crafted gold jewelry, exotic birds, tigers, and other rare American animals. They stand out today among the earliest descriptions of Mexican indigenous groups. He even claimed to understand some of the native languages.

She was of noble origin, sold into slavery by her own parents as part of a convoluted political scheme, so she had in-depth knowledge of indigenous diplomatic matters. Marina is today a rather controversial figure because Mexicans consider her a traitor to her people. Two other texts about expeditions of exploration and conquest stand out for their novel presentation of incredible events that the authors experienced in the Americas. The first example is that of a shipwrecked Spaniard-turnednative, a subject matter of particular impact on the literary imagination. His memoir of this fantastic trip, with plentiful characterization of the indigenous groups, was the core of his testimony.

Although without weapons and therefore at the mercy of his enemies, Alvar had more positive views of the natives than had Writing about the Americas 15 writers of earlier accounts. Like other chroniclers, he was greatly impressed by the American land and by the variety of native animals. Some eighty years after the publication of Castaways, Catalina de Erauso ?

She escaped from a Spanish convent where she was a novice and, disguised as a soldier, arrived in Panama in Her military career took her to the warfronts in Chile and Peru before her secret identity became public. The text described here is her defense of herself as a good and effective soldier and a moral citizen.


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Erauso wrote her testimony between and , but not published until within the tradition of the picaresque. Her accounts, like those of Cabeza de Vaca, are significant documentation of the cross-cultural processes experienced in the development of the mestizo, a new Latin American racial identity. Her text is unique, however, in that she is a woman speaking of issues related to war against native groups, and this female point of view is rare indeed. On the contrary, as the Spanish armies encountered more indigenous groups, there was growing need for data on indigenous cultures.

Later military operations took shape on the basis of results of previous expeditions. Priests accompanied the military campaigns, an unusual characteristic in European conquest of the New World. The main purpose of their memoirs was to gain recognition as active participants in the conquest or in the colonization. Most of the chroniclers therefore gave positive reviews about the intervention campaigns against indigenous groups. Expression of an opposing point of view resulted from a clash between the personal interest of the chronicler usually financial and the official limits set on the American colonists.

As stated previously, chroniclers recorded in great numbers the native religious practices that they encountered and fought. The Spaniards aimed to stop such pagan cults as idolatry of multiple gods and prominent display of 16 Literature of Latin America human sacrifices on a large scale.

Religious conversion became an integral part of the Conquest. Catholic dogma became synonymous with acceptable behavioral patterns in line with the Spanish approach to Western civilization. The forced conversion of natives into the Catholic faith, mandated by Pope Alexander VI in , became a central component of the political campaign of the Conquest. In fact, it can be argued that the wars against the American native groups were fought under platforms of religious ideology. The forced conversion banned a considerable number of native socioreligious customs.

Priests documented those cults, targeted as obstacles to religious conversion or evangelization. There are in the accounts, however, noticeable contrasts between points of view of the lay chroniclers and those of the priests. The priest, unlike the soldier, was interested in gaining deeper cultural knowledge of the indigenous groups that he was serving in the role of preacher. Three aspects stand out in the chronicles written by priests: the presentation of natives as characters of their own story; the documentation of native religious practices, in particular, the recording of rituals and oral legends; and the compilation of dictionaries of the native languages.

As natives became part of the war booty, they became slaves in a system known as the encomienda. The encomienda did not protect the natives, however, when the encomendero subjected his workers to the most vile and inhuman treatments and also denied them their rights as granted by the Spanish crown as early as For example, the laws provided specific regulations for the maximum length of continuous work in mines five months , provided a generous maternity leave, and had specific provisions for the amount of food and for living quarters that the encomendero was required to provide for his workers.

The laws also provided the right of an education, mainly religious conversion within the Roman Catholic faith. The violations of human rights and the physical abuses committed against the natives fed the so-called Black Legend. Emerging European powers fiercely challenged the authority of Spain over the American territory and the natives living there.

The first formal protests against the violation of the encomienda bylaws came from priests who had come to the Americas as part of well-thoughtout programs of evangelization and indoctrination. Their clashes with civil authorities, and in particular with wealthy encomenderos, were apparent in their accusations of open and outrageous violations of the encomienda. Deaths from mistreatment may be partially responsible for the elimination of indigenous groups on the greater Caribbean islands within a fifty-year period. His documentation of these violations, like those of other chroniclers, were detailed, eyewitness accounts based on his extensive experiences of living on the major Caribbean islands since There he had witnessed the bloodiest campaigns against rebellious indigenous groups.

He was writing from a pacifist point of view as a Dominican priest with ample experience in the evangelization process. Writing on behalf of the oppressed, Las Casas established a passionate defense of the natives, portraying them as rational human beings. The mismanagement of the encomienda became, therefore, a terrible crime that went beyond violations to the civil code. In his characterization of natives, Las Casas used the medieval literary motif of the locus amoenus, a place of beauty where the human spirit achieves its maximum capacity for goodness.

The indigenous groups inhab- 18 Literature of Latin America ited such a territory of natural perfection and possessed an idyllic social order, where they lacked only the presence of the true Christian God. Such is the case of two allied caciques, or regional chiefs, Guarionex and Mayobanex, from the island that is now the Dominican Republic; they claimed for their people equal treatment under the Spanish law.

The story is simple: Guarionex, a former cacique, is subjected to the harsh conditions of a gold mine, where he works along with his surviving subjects. Knowing that a rebellion would mean death to him and his followers, he seeks refuge with the unconquered kingdom of Mayobanex, a former political ally. It is a rational attack against the mismanagement of power by the Spanish authorities: Tell the Christians that Guarionex is a good and honorable man.

He has done evil to no one—that is a public, a known fact. For that reason, he is worthy of a heartfelt help in his humiliation and flight, worthy of support and protection. But the Spaniards are evil men, tyrants. They come for one reason, to seize land not theirs. They know only how to spill the blood of people who never provoked them.

Therefore, say to them, I do not want their favor, nor to see them, nor hear them. Instead I intend to try, with all the power I have, my people have, to smash and drive out the Christians from this land. I take the side of Guarionex. At the end, as expected, the rebellion is contained, but only by means of trickery on the part of the Spanish. The two great native leaders are captured, and their followers are enslaved. Their deaths are not fitting for these noble characters: Guarionex drowned himself on his way to Spain, and Mayobanex died in prison. His documentation of the Caribbean, an area that he depicted with particular poignancy, was officially challenged.

As for the inhumane treatment against unruly indigenous groups, he heatedly defended it as a necessary means for the maintenance of a rising Spanish empire. The Roman Catholic Church was an influential colonialist power in its support, on religious grounds, of military battles against rebellious native groups and in its participation in the encomienda system. The earliest priests in the Americas, such as Las Casas, found themselves at a crossroad as they experienced firsthand the great diversity of the American natives. Their testimonial documentation of their experiences is today an obligatory point of departure in the understanding of modern American religious practices.

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Amid the evangelization campaign, priests compiled the first dictionaries of indigenous languages. They also drafted grammar treatises that promoted the recording of a rich indigenous religious oral tradition. These complex transcriptions of native religious stories had a positive reception that may have ensured the survival of a considerable number of cultural traditions. Located in Mexico City, this liberal arts school offered boys a curriculum in Nahuatl, Spanish, and Latin, and it included instruction in logic, philosophy, theology, and the fine arts.

This was the genesis of General History of the Things of New Spain, a compilation of twelve books written in Nahuatl and in Spanish, transcribed between and He was writing, however, as a priest who stressed the indigenous cultural mind in relation to their reactions to events of the Conquest and colonization. There are some 1, of these, produced by local indigenous artisans trained in late medieval drawing style. The drawings point to miniscule details that enrich the data discussed in the text. They are also significant because of the self-representation of native culture by means of elaborate drawings that, before the arrival of the Spaniards, had been used as written texts.

None of those pre-Hispanic texts survive. He is also known for his Book of the Gods and Rites and the Ancient Calendar, written for the Dominican order in The stories reveal the Mayan religious belief system as they present a highly sophisticated cosmology and theology. That rendition of the revised stories into equivalent biblical stories may have been a part of the evangelization campaign.

Within a time frame of cycles, the Popol-Vuh stories take the reader into a mystical world in which, much as in biblical stories, events provide important lessons, both from the theological point of view and in a pragmatic way of life. The impact of the Popol-Vuh on contemporary Central American literary tradition is notable. It can be argued that its complex narrative structure and obscure symbols have inspired writers to explore experimental literary trends.

For instance, Guatemalan novelist and short story writer Miguel Angel Asturias — , while studying at the Sorbonne in , did extensive research on the Popol-Vuh, leading to its translation into French. A testimony to his literary success was his receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in The impact of the religious practices of other ethnic groups, such as those of imported Africans, as I discuss later, is also important in contemporary Latin American literature, particularly in Caribbean literary production.

They came from diverse social and cultural backgrounds, but collectively they made strong statements about a colonial system that severely limited the rights of 22 Literature of Latin America indigenous populations and of other marginalized groups.


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Viewed from a modern perspective, they were the voice of the masses, claiming for their people social justice and equal opportunities under the law. Unlike the Spanish chroniclers, who in some instances also became committed activists, the native chroniclers boldly went a step further by proposing solutions to the problems they denounced. These solutions were often anchored in calls for a return to ancient indigenous ways of living.

Native chroniclers displayed a keen interest in the documentation of indigenous cultural data. These recordings are their most significant contribution to the anthropology of pre-Colombian civilizations. They are more significant than the observations of the Spanish chroniclers because native chroniclers had fewer linguistic barriers and were not writing as outsiders commenting on and interpreting foreign cultural traditions.

In fact, because many of the cultural traditions were accessible only through oral accounts, the native chroniclers understood their unique role as disseminators and preservers of native cultures. Their writings are especially important because many of those traditions, such as religious practices, are extinct today. The king never received the text, however, and it was lost until its discovery in in the Royal Library at Copenhagen.

Several factors make this book especially interesting as anthropological testimony. His including in the Spanish text some passages in Quechua the ancient language of the mighty Incan empire indicates his esteem for his native language. The use of Spanish also reveals several interesting facts. This record of Peruvian Spanish spoken by a Native American is a case study for linguistic research.

In Spanish, Poma de Ayala writes of his sense of an emerging bicultural identity, the so-called mestizo or criollo culture. Mestizos, the Latin American—born generations of mixed ancestry, maintain elements from both cultures. One result is their bilingual ability to sustain a Writing about the Americas 23 rich cultural life both in Spanish and in other native languages. This developing Peruvian criollo identity shows a strong influence of Quechua, a language that he fully identified with the ancient Quechua culture. Drawings depicting violent scenes emphasize his bold presentation of the numerous cases of violation of the human rights of the marginalized natives.

These drawings depict graphically the frequent crimes and unjust punishments against native populations. His dislike of the Spanish government is notable. His highly negative view of the Spanish mistreatment of the native Peruvian can be considered an early precursor of an independence movement. His open criticism of the ill-treatment of native populations and his pride in native traditions make Poma de Ayala one of the first exponents of a contemporary Latin American sociopolitical movement known as Indigenismo. His stand was direct, challenging the unacceptable Spanish administrative institutions, in contrast to the highly developed former Inca governmental system: To sum up what I have to say, the Spaniards in Peru should be made to refrain from arrogance and brutality towards the Indians.

Just imagine that our people were to arrive in Spain and start confiscating property, sleeping with the women and girls, chastising the men and treating everybody like pigs! What would the Spaniards do then? Even if they tried to endure their lot with resignation, they would still be liable to be arrested, tied to a pillar and flogged. And if they rebelled and attempted to kill their persecutors, they would certainly go to their deaths in the gallows. Inca Garcilaso de la Vega Another native Peruvian, Garcilaso de la Vega — , in his Comentarios reales —; embarked on an exploration of native traditions, many of them from small indigenous groups marginalized and excluded from an emerging national identity.

His case is also noteworthy because of his personal background, which he proudly traced in his intricately researched anthropological and historical account. Like Poma de Ayala, de la Vega actively sought to uncover and to preserve the rich Peruvian cultural traditions, including the rich Quechua religious system. He was writing, however, from a multiethnic perspective because he produced his Comentarios in Spain after formal literary training.

In Comentarios, de la Vega explored in detail the oral history accounts that he had heard as a child and as a young man from important Incan personages, some of them his own relatives. Because the Incans did not develop a writing system other than the quipu, a complex system of strings and knots mainly for accounting purposes , their vast knowledge was transmitted via oral traditions.

De la Vega drew from ancient indigenous folk motifs, including stories with a strong religious background. Like those of the Popol-Vuh, the historical accounts in Royal Commentaries are complex, showing highly developed plotlines, well-rounded characters, and an experimental style in the representation of events of distant times. With his Comentarios, de la Vega attempted to incorporate the rich Incan traditions into mainstream culture.

Comentarios does display rich anthropological data. His critical opinion included a clear motive to produce a new history of the Incan empire. He Writing about the Americas 25 drew his data predominantly from pre-Hispanic oral traditions, from various chronicles, and from other written sources dealing with the conquest of the Incas. He covered an expansive historical period and vast subject matter, but the topics on which he commented most frequently are religious belief and traditions of worship. Unlike the Spanish-born chroniclers, de la Vega wrote his history from a personal level.

He and Poma de Ayala were writing as Native American speakers, conscious of their role as interpreters of the folktales and of other popular knowledge that came to them in an indigenous language. They both created for themselves privileged positions as the voice of their people. De la Vega, a trained man of letters, went a step further than Poma de Ayala. His position on the importance of Peruvian history including his detailed reproduction of native characters descriptive of an emerging national identity provided material worthy of literary exploration.

Poma de Ayala and de la Vega injected their interpretations of Peruvian history into their personal and family memoirs, and they were both writers committed to a cause. At the core of their production is a strong call for social justice and acceptance of differences in ethnicity. There was a native travel guide who came along on this arduous and dangerous route. His intimate knowledge of the area is evident in his detailed comments on the various ethnic groups whom the traveling caravan encountered.

Spanish readers were still interested in detailed knowledge of the American territories, including the rich topography, socioeconomic conditions, ethnic characteristics, and local products. El Lazarillo stands out for its interest in reflecting American life and its differences from Spanish lifestyles from the viewpoint of ethnicity and class structures.

The components of American society were clearly established, with no deviation from that order permitted. Each level had characteristics and attitudes that the narrator used to explain differences that are obvious between the territories. The Lazarillo is, therefore, a document that intends not only to copy a new world, but also to examine it in the light of social concepts. The rigid stratification of colonial Latin American society was established during the beginnings of the Conquest.

The exclusive, closely knit racial divisions were evident, for instance, in Poma de Ayala. El Lazarillo also reflected this preoccupation with racial purity. The use of anecdotes is a remarkable element in the presentation of the interaction among these social groups, which often appear confrontational.

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These clashes were often rooted in insurmountable ethnic differences. They reflected numerous problems encountered in the late colonial American socioeconomic structure. For instance, it is evident that certain ethnic groups mainly the indigenous and the blacks were restricted to low-paid, despised manual labor. A close reading of the texts produced by Latin American—born chroniclers is today an indispensable tool for understanding the Latin American identities emerging after the conquest.

Their point of view was highly critical, unlike that of their Spanish counterparts. Native chroniclers saw themselves as part of the troubled political scene that they were describing. Because Writing about the Americas 27 they were part of the oppressed peoples, they saw themselves as effective voices for protest.

Their expertise in multiple aspects of the rapidly developing Latin American societies appeared unquestionable. The three native chroniclers analyzed here display common characteristics in their interest in documenting native Latin American cultures.

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First, it is evident that their attachment to the land, symbolized in the overwhelmingly powerful Latin American landscape, is part of the psychological profile of the various ethnic groups on the continent. Although geographic accounts abound, nature is presented as home for the natives and not as a foreign or mysterious backdrop, as Spanish chroniclers often portrayed it. They did not portray themselves as living in a lost paradise, a common motif among Spanish-born chroniclers.

The second important characteristic among native chroniclers is their insightful approach to Latin American indigenous cultures. They placed themselves as functioning members of an ethnic-bound community, so that their view of that culture was that of an insider, and therefore their expertise was trustworthy.

Unlike the Spanish chroniclers, native chroniclers were not mere observers who related events outside a cultural context. The writers were not, however, free of racial bias against particular cultural groups. Their testimony responded to political agenda in favor of certain social groups, as did the writings of Spanish chronicles before them.

The modern reader must be cautious because personal prejudices may exert strong influence on the narrative line or the critical analysis. As already stated, the chroniclers openly confronted high authorities, pushing for fair treatment under the Spanish colonial imperial system. Their extensive multidisciplinary knowledge produced rich texts that are in the vanguard of modern anthropology and that set them apart from the linguistically restricted accounts of most monolingual Spanish chroniclers. These detailed accounts of ancient customs have become today bases of a rich pro-indigenous movement, covering diverse creative facets in literature, in music, and in other modern arts.

The first laborers were of indigenous groups, who worked for landholders under the encomienda system. As the numbers of indigenous workers started to dwindle, especially in the Caribbean, in Central America, and in coastal South America, their replacements soon came from Africa. Although Africans arrived in most Latin American countries, it is in the Caribbean basin that the strong black influx would develop one of the most distinctive popular American cultures. The precise date of the arrival of the first slaves from Africa is still a matter of debate. It appears, however, that in , King Ferdinand allowed the entrance of some seventeen Africans, who arrived as slaves into the Dominican Republic.

The number of African slaves increased rapidly in the Caribbean. A conservative estimate indicates that 75, slaves inhabited this area by the end of the sixteenth century. It was the beginning of a shameful period that would extend until the late nineteenth century. In fact, Spain would be the first and the last European power to allow slavery in its American colonies. Thus, African culture became the substratum of most contemporary Caribbean popular traditions. The earliest African slaves had little protection under the Spanish civil laws. Nor were there sufficient observers, as in the case of the indigenous peoples, to record in-depth data of their ancient oral traditions.

Slaves from the same tribal origins e. This concept was not an American product. Some of these groups flourished in the New World. For instance, the Efik, located in the Calabar area prior to their enslavement, were organized as Egbos, well known for their secret society.

Today these active practitioners of ancient religious practices ban from their activities all except the initiated. Today this rich folk narrative often appears in several genres—poetry, narrative, and drama. Some manifestations of black popular culture, such as music, won acceptance faster than others. Civil regulations restricted them, however, because musical gatherings had a potential for organized civil disobedience.

In particular, the use of the drums in public performances was under tight control, because the authorities understood their dual religious and social roles. The rich African musical heritage has survived today in numerous popular rhythms, such as the Cuban mambo, the Puerto Rican plena, the Dominican merengue, among others. Among the best-known African-based cultural byproducts in the Americas, religious practices are prominent. The lively presence of these religious activities among predominantly black communities maintains their affinity to pure forms of an African-based theology and a complex belief systems.

These religious practices are today part of a vibrant African—Latin American culture and an integral way of life for millions of inhabitants of the Caribbean basin. A testimony of the strength of these religious practices is their rapid importation and spread in the United States in recent years. Contemporary Cuban customs reflect the great impact of a rich African heritage. The evangelization was merely oral because landowners kept the slaves illiterate.

This rather primitive approach to evangelization led to a merge of African and Roman Catholic religious practices. Expenses and Financial Aid. Campus Life. Academic Policies and Procedures. Undergraduate Degree Requirements. The George L. Argyros School of Business and Economics. Crean College of Health and Behavioral Sciences. Dale E. Schmid College of Science and Technology. School of Communication. In order to survive, Cabeza de Vaca joined native peoples along the way, learning their languages and practices and serving them as a slave and later as a physician.

When after eight years he finally reached the West, he was not recognized by his compatriots.

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In his writing Cabeza de Vaca displays great interest in the cultures of the native peoples he encountered on his odyssey. As he forged intimate bonds with some of them, sharing their brutal living conditions and curing their sick, he found himself on a voyage of self-discovery that was to make his reunion with his fellow Spaniards less joyful than expected.

Cabeza de Vaca's gripping narrative is a trove of ethnographic information, with descriptions and interpretations of native cultures that make it a powerful precursor to modern anthropology. Frances M. Lopez-Morillas's translation beautifully captures the sixteenth-century original. Based as it is on Enrique Pupo-Walker's definitive critical edition, it promises to become the authoritative English translation.

His edition of Naufragios was published in Spain in Lopez-Morillas is an award-winning translator living in Austin, Texas. Subscribe now to be the first to hear about specials and upcoming releases.