La Malinche
Overview
La Malinche known also as Malintzin, Malinalli or Doña Marina, was a Nahua woman from the Mexican Gulf Coast
Gulf of Mexico
The Gulf of Mexico is a partially landlocked ocean basin largely surrounded by the North American continent and the island of Cuba. It is bounded on the northeast, north and northwest by the Gulf Coast of the United States, on the southwest and south by Mexico, and on the southeast by Cuba. In...

, who played a role in the Spanish
Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 conquest of Mexico
Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

, acting as interpreter, advisor, lover and intermediary for Hernán Cortés
Hernán Cortés
Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro, 1st Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca was a Spanish Conquistador who led an expedition that caused the fall of the Aztec Empire and brought large portions of mainland Mexico under the rule of the King of Castile in the early 16th century...

. She was one of twenty slaves given to Cortés by the natives of Tabasco in 1519. Later she became a mistress
Mistress (lover)
A mistress is a long-term female lover and companion who is not married to her partner; the term is used especially when her partner is married. The relationship generally is stable and at least semi-permanent; however, the couple does not live together openly. Also the relationship is usually,...

 to Cortés and gave birth to his first son, Martín
Martín Cortés (son of doña Marina)
Martín Cortés el Mestizo was the first-born and illegitimate son of Hernán Cortés and Doña Marina...

, who is considered one of the first Mestizos (people of mixed European
European ethnic groups
The ethnic groups in Europe are the various ethnic groups that reside in the nations of Europe. European ethnology is the field of anthropology focusing on Europe....

 and indigenous American ancestry).

The historical figure of Marina has been intermixed with Aztec legends (such as La Llorona
La Llorona
La Llorona is a widespread legend in Mexico, Puerto Rico and Central America. Although several variations exist, the basic story tells of a beautiful woman by the name of Maria killing her children by drowning them, in order to be with the man that she loved. When the man rejects her, she kills...

, a woman who weeps for lost children).
Encyclopedia
La Malinche known also as Malintzin, Malinalli or Doña Marina, was a Nahua woman from the Mexican Gulf Coast
Gulf of Mexico
The Gulf of Mexico is a partially landlocked ocean basin largely surrounded by the North American continent and the island of Cuba. It is bounded on the northeast, north and northwest by the Gulf Coast of the United States, on the southwest and south by Mexico, and on the southeast by Cuba. In...

, who played a role in the Spanish
Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 conquest of Mexico
Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

, acting as interpreter, advisor, lover and intermediary for Hernán Cortés
Hernán Cortés
Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro, 1st Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca was a Spanish Conquistador who led an expedition that caused the fall of the Aztec Empire and brought large portions of mainland Mexico under the rule of the King of Castile in the early 16th century...

. She was one of twenty slaves given to Cortés by the natives of Tabasco in 1519. Later she became a mistress
Mistress (lover)
A mistress is a long-term female lover and companion who is not married to her partner; the term is used especially when her partner is married. The relationship generally is stable and at least semi-permanent; however, the couple does not live together openly. Also the relationship is usually,...

 to Cortés and gave birth to his first son, Martín
Martín Cortés (son of doña Marina)
Martín Cortés el Mestizo was the first-born and illegitimate son of Hernán Cortés and Doña Marina...

, who is considered one of the first Mestizos (people of mixed European
European ethnic groups
The ethnic groups in Europe are the various ethnic groups that reside in the nations of Europe. European ethnology is the field of anthropology focusing on Europe....

 and indigenous American ancestry).

The historical figure of Marina has been intermixed with Aztec legends (such as La Llorona
La Llorona
La Llorona is a widespread legend in Mexico, Puerto Rico and Central America. Although several variations exist, the basic story tells of a beautiful woman by the name of Maria killing her children by drowning them, in order to be with the man that she loved. When the man rejects her, she kills...

, a woman who weeps for lost children). Her reputation has been altered over the years according to changing social and political perspectives, especially after the Mexican Revolution, when she was portrayed in dramas, novels, and paintings as an evil or scheming temptress. In Mexico today, La Malinche remains iconically potent. She is understood in various and often conflicting aspects, as the embodiment of treachery, the quintessential victim, or simply as symbolic mother of the new Mexican people. Her sexual relationship to Cortés gave birth to Martin - arguably a mestizo and criollo, those who eventually resented Spain for not allowing them any ruling position just because they were born in America. The term malinchista refers to a disloyal Mexican.

Life

La Malinche was born in 1505, then a "frontier" region between the Aztec Empire
Aztec
The Aztec people were certain ethnic groups of central Mexico, particularly those groups who spoke the Nahuatl language and who dominated large parts of Mesoamerica in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, a period referred to as the late post-classic period in Mesoamerican chronology.Aztec is the...

 and the Maya
Maya peoples
The Maya people constitute a diverse range of the Native American people of southern Mexico and northern Central America. The overarching term "Maya" is a collective designation to include the peoples of the region who share some degree of cultural and linguistic heritage; however, the term...

 states of the Yucatán Peninsula
Yucatán Peninsula
The Yucatán Peninsula, in southeastern Mexico, separates the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico, with the northern coastline on the Yucatán Channel...

). In her youth, her father died and her mother remarried and bore a son. Now an inconvenient stepchild, the girl was sold or given to Maya slave-traders from Xicalango, an important commercial town further south and east along and hard the coast. Díaz claims Malinche's family faked her death by telling the townspeople that a recently deceased child of a slave was Malinche.

The Conquest of Mexico

Malinche was introduced to the Spanish in April 1519, when she was among twenty slave women given by the Chontal Maya of Potonchan (in the present-day state of Tabasco
Tabasco
Tabasco officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Tabasco is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in 17 municipalities and its capital city is Villahermosa....

) after the Spaniards defeated them in battle. Her age at the time is unknown; however, assumptions have been made that she was in her late teens or early twenties. Bernal Díaz del Castillo remarked on her beauty and graciousness; she was the only one of the slaves whose name he remembered. Cortés singled her out as a gift for Alonzo Hernando Puertocarrero, perhaps the most well-born member of the expedition. Soon, however, Puertocarrero was on his way to Spain as Cortés' emissary to Charles V
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor
Charles V was ruler of the Holy Roman Empire from 1519 and, as Charles I, of the Spanish Empire from 1516 until his voluntary retirement and abdication in favor of his younger brother Ferdinand I and his son Philip II in 1556.As...

, and Cortés kept her by his side for her value as an interpreter who spoke two native languages—Mayan and Nahuatl.

According to Díaz, she spoke to emissaries from Moctezuma in their native tongue Nahuatl
Nahuatl
Nahuatl is thought to mean "a good, clear sound" This language name has several spellings, among them náhuatl , Naoatl, Nauatl, Nahuatl, Nawatl. In a back formation from the name of the language, the ethnic group of Nahuatl speakers are called Nahua...

 and pointed to Cortés as the chief Spaniard to speak for them. Cortés had located a Spanish priest Gerónimo de Aguilar
Gerónimo de Aguilar
Gerónimo de Aguilar O.F.M. was a Franciscan friar born in Écija, Spain. Aguilar was later involved with the 1519 Spanish conquest of Mexico, and with La Malinche he assisted Hernán Cortés in translating indigenous language to Spanish....

 who had spent several years in captivity among the Maya peoples
Maya peoples
The Maya people constitute a diverse range of the Native American people of southern Mexico and northern Central America. The overarching term "Maya" is a collective designation to include the peoples of the region who share some degree of cultural and linguistic heritage; however, the term...

 in Yucatán following a shipwreck. Thus he had learned some Mayan, but he did not speak Nahuatl. Cortés used Marina (her Christian name) for translating between the Nahuatl language (the common language of central Mexico of that time) and the Chontal Maya language
Chontal Maya language
Yoko ochoco, also known as Chontal Maya, and Acalan, is a Maya language of the Cholan family spoken by the Chontal Maya people of the Mexican state of Tabasco. There are at least three dialects, identified as Tamulté de las Sábanas Chontal, Buena Vista Chontal, and Miramar...

. Then Aguilar could interpret from Mayan to Spanish, until Marina learned Spanish and could be the sole interpreter. She accompanied him so closely that Aztec codices always show her picture drawn alongside of Cortés. The natives of Tlaxcala, who formed an alliance with Cortés against Moctezuma, called both Marina and Cortés by the same name: Malintzin.

According to surviving records, Marina learned of a plan by natives of Cholula to cooperate with the Aztecs to destroy the small Spanish army. She alerted Cortés to the danger and even played along with the natives while Cortés foiled their plot to trap his men. Cortés turned the tables on them and instead, slaughtered many Cholulans.

Following the fall of Tenochtitlán in late 1521 and the birth of her son Don Martín Cortés
Martín Cortés (son of doña Marina)
Martín Cortés el Mestizo was the first-born and illegitimate son of Hernán Cortés and Doña Marina...

 in 1522, Marina stayed in a house Cortés built for her in the town of Coyoacán, 8 miles south of Tenochtitlán, while it was being rebuilt as Mexico City. Cortés took Marina to quash a rebellion in Honduras
Honduras
Honduras is a republic in Central America. It was previously known as Spanish Honduras to differentiate it from British Honduras, which became the modern-day state of Belize...

 in 1524–26 when she is seen serving again as interpreter (suggestive of a knowledge of Maya dialects beyond Chontal and Yucatán.) While in the mountain town of Orizaba in central Mexico, she married Juan Jaramillo, a Spanish hidalgo
Hidalgo (Spanish nobility)
A hidalgo or fidalgo is a member of the Spanish and Portuguese nobility. In popular usage it has come to mean the non-titled nobility. Hidalgos were exempt from paying taxes, but did not necessarily own real property...

. Historians such as Prescott
Prescott
Prescott is of English origin; habitational name from any of the places so called, in southwestern Lancashire , Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Shropshire, and Devon, all of which are named from Old English preost ‘priest’ + cot ‘cottage’, ‘dwelling’...

 generally lost track of Marina for some time, even the year of her death being in some dispute. However, Sir Hugh Thomas reported that her death occurred in Spain in 1551.

Role of La Malinche in the Conquest of Mexico

For the conquistador
Conquistador
Conquistadors were Spanish soldiers, explorers, and adventurers who brought much of the Americas under the control of Spain in the 15th to 16th centuries, following Europe's discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus in 1492...

es
, having a reliable interpreter was important enough, but there is evidence that Malinche's role and influence were larger still. Bernal Díaz del Castillo
Bernal Díaz del Castillo
Bernal Díaz del Castillo was a conquistador, who wrote an eyewitness account of the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards for Hernán Cortés, himself serving as a rodelero under Cortés.-Early life:...

, a soldier who, as an old man, produced the most comprehensive of the eye-witness accounts, the Historia Verdadera de la Conquista de la Nueva España ("True Story of the Conquest of New Spain"), speaks repeatedly and reverentially of the "great lady" Doña Marina (always using the honorific title, "Doña"). "Without the help of Doña Marina," he writes, "we would not have understood the language of New Spain and Mexico." Rodríguez de Ocana, another conquistador, relates Cortés' assertion that after God, Marina was the main reason for his success.

The evidence from indigenous sources is even more interesting, both in the commentaries about her role, and in her prominence in the drawings made of conquest events. In the Lienzo de Tlaxcala (History of Tlaxcala)
History of Tlaxcala
History of Tlaxcala is an illustrated codex written by and under the supervision of Diego Muñoz Camargo in the years leading up to 1585. Also known as Lienzo Tlaxcala and by its Spanish title, Historia de Tlaxcala, this manuscript highlights the religious, cultural, and military history of the...

, for example, not only is Cortés rarely portrayed without Malinche poised by his ear, but she is shown at times on her own, seemingly directing events as an independent authority. If she had been trained for court life, as in Díaz's account, her loyalty to Cortés may have been dictated by the familiar pattern of marriage among native elite classes. In the role of primary wife acquired through an alliance, her role would have been to assist her husband achieve his military and diplomatic objectives.

Origin of the name "La Malinche"

The many uncertainties which surround Malinche's role in the Spanish conquest begin with her name and its several variants. At birth she was named "Malinalli" or "Malinal" after the Goddess of Grass, on whose name-day she was born. Later her family added the name "Tenepal" which means "one who speaks much and with liveliness."

Before the twenty slave girls were distributed among the Spanish captains to serve them in "grinding corn", Cortés insisted that they be baptized. Malinalli then took the Christian name of "Marina," to which the soldiers of Cortés added the honorific "Doña," meaning "lady." We do not know whether "Marina" was chosen because of a phonetic resemblance to her actual name, or chosen randomly from among common Spanish names of the time. A Nahuatl mispronunciation of "Marina" as "Malin" plus the reverential "-tzin" suffix, formed the compounded title of "Malintzin," which the natives used for both Marina and Cortes, because he spoke through her. One possible reading of her name as "Mãlin-tzin" can be translated as "Noble Prisoner/Captive" - or "Marina's Lord" - a reasonable possibility, given her noble birth and her initial relationship to the Cortés expedition. "Malinche" was a Spanish approximation of "Mãlin-tzin." To distinguish the masculine "Malinche" from the feminine, the prefix "La" gives us the name by which the historical and legendary figure is best known: La Malinche. We may assume that her preferred name was "Marina" or "Doña Marina," since she chose it and it has not acquired the negative connotations that engulfed the name "Malinche" after her death.

The word malinchismo is used by some modern-day Mexicans
Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

 to refer in a pejoratively to those countrymen who prefer a different way of life than that of their local culture, or a life with other outside influences. Some historians believe that La Malinche saved her people from the Aztecs, who held a hegemony throughout the territory and demanded tribute from its inhabitants. Some Mexicans also credit her with bringing Christianity to the "New World" from Europe, and for influencing Cortes to be more humane than he would otherwise have been. It is argued, however, that without her help, Cortes would not have been successful in conquering the Aztecs as quickly, giving the Aztec people enough time to adapt to new technology and methods of warfare. From that viewpoint, she is seen as one who "betrayed" the indigenous people by siding with the Spaniards. Recently a number of feminist Latinas have decried such a categorization as scapegoating, blaming her for forces beyond her control.

Malinche's figure in contemporary Mexico

Malinche's image has become a mythical archetype
Archetype
An archetype is a universally understood symbol or term or pattern of behavior, a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated...

 that Latin America
Latin America
Latin America is a region of the Americas where Romance languages  – particularly Spanish and Portuguese, and variably French – are primarily spoken. Latin America has an area of approximately 21,069,500 km² , almost 3.9% of the Earth's surface or 14.1% of its land surface area...

n artists have represented in various forms of art. Her figure permeates historical, cultural, and social dimensions of Latin American cultures. In modern times and in several genres, she is compared with the figure of the Virgin Mary, La Llorona
La Llorona
La Llorona is a widespread legend in Mexico, Puerto Rico and Central America. Although several variations exist, the basic story tells of a beautiful woman by the name of Maria killing her children by drowning them, in order to be with the man that she loved. When the man rejects her, she kills...

 (folklore story of the woman weeping for lost children) and with the Mexican soldaderas (women who fought beside men during the Mexican Revolution
Mexican Revolution
The Mexican Revolution was a major armed struggle that started in 1910, with an uprising led by Francisco I. Madero against longtime autocrat Porfirio Díaz. The Revolution was characterized by several socialist, liberal, anarchist, populist, and agrarianist movements. Over time the Revolution...

) for their brave actions.
Finally, one must understand that La Malinche's legacy is one of myth mixed with legend, and the opposing opinions of the Mexican people about the woman. Many see her as the founding figure of the Mexican nation. Still many, however, continue to find the legends more memorable than the history, seeing her as a traitor, as may be assumed from her twin sister that went North and the profane nickname
Nickname
A nickname is "a usually familiar or humorous but sometimes pointed or cruel name given to a person or place, as a supposedly appropriate replacement for or addition to the proper name.", or a name similar in origin and pronunciation from the original name....

 La Chingada
La Chingada
La Chingada is a Mexican concept famously analysed by Octavio Paz in his book The Labyrinth of Solitude. The offspring of the male Spanish and the Indian woman is usually identified as hijo de la chingada : perhaps the strongest insult in Mexico...

associated with her twin.

See also

  • Gerónimo de Aguilar
    Gerónimo de Aguilar
    Gerónimo de Aguilar O.F.M. was a Franciscan friar born in Écija, Spain. Aguilar was later involved with the 1519 Spanish conquest of Mexico, and with La Malinche he assisted Hernán Cortés in translating indigenous language to Spanish....

  • Hernan Cortés
    Hernán Cortés
    Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro, 1st Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca was a Spanish Conquistador who led an expedition that caused the fall of the Aztec Empire and brought large portions of mainland Mexico under the rule of the King of Castile in the early 16th century...

  • History of Mexico
    History of Mexico
    The history of Mexico, a country located in the southern portion of North America, covers a period of more than two millennia. First populated more than 13,000 years ago, the country produced complex indigenous civilizations before being conquered by the Spanish in the 16th Century.Since the...

  • Spanish Conquest of Mexico
    Spanish conquest of Mexico
    The Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire was one of the most important campaigns in the Spanish colonization of the Americas. The invasion began in February 1519 and was acclaimed victorious on August 13, 1521, by a coalition army of Spanish conquistadors and Tlaxcalan warriors led by Hernán Cortés...



External links

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