Dona Marina, also called Malintzin, or La Malinche (1496-1529) was an American Indian originating from the Nahua (Aztec) ancestry. Malinche played a very important role during the conquest of Mexico by the Spanish. She was believed to be a princess of the Aztec language (Nahuatl) speaking tribe and was sold as a slave in her youth to the coastal traders because of the family politics.
Malinche’s father, who was a rich and powerful Aztek chief, died when Malinche was still a young child and therefore, her mother got married for the second time and gave birth to a son with her new husband. In order to prevent Malinche from taking her rightful inheritance, Malinche’s mother gave a false report that Malinche had already died. Actually, Malinche’s mother took the dead body of a slave girl to prove that indeed Malinche was dead, but in reality, she sold her secretly into slavery to a slave trader coming from Xicallanco.
However, in 1519, together with the other twenty female slaves, Malinche was handed over to Cortes as an offering of peace. Cortes distributed these slaves among his captains and Malinche was handed over to Alonso Hernandez, who was one of the Cortes’ favorites. On 20th March, the journey proceeded to the north-west and all the slaves were embarked on a single boat; for the majority, that was their initial honey-moon together with the Spaniards. During this period, Malinche understood only how to obey her master and she did not know anything known as own criterion and free will. After sailing for four days, Cortes and his expedition reached San Juan de Ulua. After a short time, two Montezuma ambassadors came towards the white men and requested to see the captain using an unknown language, and thus nobody understood them, including even the translator Guilar. But from among the slaves, one answered by pointing Cortes to them, and at that time, Malinche got courage and recognition that enabled her to be transformed for the natives and Spanish. Cortes became too interested on her once he discovered that she was speaking Aztec language. This is because Cortes had the biggest challenge of communicating with the local people, despite the fact that he initially had a priest who was an interpreter, and he knew only the Mayan while a different language was being spoken by the Aztec. Malinche was fully assimilated into that new life, and her slave details indicated that she was supposed to be helpful and loyal to her new masters.
She was later baptized in Christianity and was named Dona Marina. The term “Dona” was usually placed before ones name as a sign of respect. Since she was fluent in both Mayan (dialect which was understood by the Cortes’ Spanish translator) and Nahuatl (which was the language of rulers of Mexico), she was made a linguistic link (interpreter) between the Mexica and the Conquistadors. In Cortes’ crew there was Spaniard who had lived together with the Mayans for a period of eight years after being shipwrecked. Because Malinche was able to spoke Aztec and Mayan, she was used by Cortes in communicating with the other tribes residing in the Aztec empire. This made her earn lot of respect from the Cortes’ troops and she was regarded as an important person by all his captains. For instance, Diaz del Castillo, who was one of the Cortes’ soldiers, said that Malinche was a precious gift to them more than any other gifts they have ever received, and therefore, this demonstrates her importance. This soldier described Malinche’s life since she was of great importance to their victory and success, and he pointed out that without her help they “could not have understood the language of New Spain and Mexico.”
Besides interpreting, Malinche also made Cortes to get a deeper understanding of the Aztec culture, and this made Cortes to depend on her for advice in all matters that need solution. Despite the traditional customs of the Aztec society that restricted women from doing some activities done by men, Malinche proved to be an exceptional since she often accompanied Cortes to the battle grounds, even some codices indicated that she used to carry the shield. Although the women in pre-Columbian Mexico were not considered to be popular, Malinche’s services towards Spaniards made her to be a public figure. She went further to be a collaborator by participating in discussions with and speaking to the “caciques”; and with her intelligence, dialogue and persuasion were enhanced for the Spaniards.
Furthermore, through Malinche, Cortes together with his men and allies were rescued from complete destruction as they were traveling. For instance, she was able to reveal conspiracy against Cortes through her brilliant observations. Through this discovery, Cortes was able to intimidate the Tlaxcala people into alliance. In addition, Cortes and his team survived one of the tragedies known as “Noche Triste” when they were kicked out of Aztec capital. The conqueror, which was ill and injured, was rescued through Malinche’s ministrations. Because of Cortes’ status as at that time, Malinche was required to join his assistants in their decision making process for the subsequent agendas. Indeed, Malinche became so much involved during all these negotiations and she did not stop in her activities until the time the conquest of Tenochtitlan was over. She was highly regarded because of her eloquent discretion especially when giving speech to the Aztec Emperor, on Cortes’ behalf. It is believed that her public address contributed a lot to the successes in a way that minimized the loss of life. Each of these situations, and several others, relied on Malinche’s knowledge for the “indios” together with her insight into the will and minds of the conquerors.
Despite the fact that some people consider Malinche to be a traitor, many women of Chicana regarded her as an outstanding public figure in history, the one whose defamation and denigration of character differed their own. Even though she was a reject from her homeland, she did not owe allegiance to the other powers of Mesoamerican. What she did was just to take the advantage of her linguistic skills to move up the ladder to the position she held. Malinche’s dedication to the service was shown through her loyalty to the Cortes, even though she had many opportunities in which she could have betrayed him during the process of unfolding the convoluted history of the conquest.
However, the professional relationship between Cortes and Malinche went deeper and deeper, and by 1525, Malinche bore him a son who was named Don Martin Cortes. This means that their friendship went deeper with Malinche in some affectionate way because he named his son after his own father, called Martin. Martin Cortes grew up to become a military leader among the other Spanish forces in Mexico. But sometimes later, the relationship between the two lovers floundered. During that same year, Malinche reunited with her mother after long period of separation, and she also forgave her mother for selling her to the slave traders.
After the conquest ended in the late 1526, Cortes, who had already married in Spain, showed his respect for Malinche when he arranged a marriage ceremony between her and Don Juan Jaramillo (who was a Castilian Lieutenant). Malinche was also able to bore a daughter, named Dona Maria, to Don Jaramillo (her new husband). As the mother who bore a mixed blood (same blood of the Mestizo that courses through many Mexicans) of son and daughter, it would be rightful to regard Malinche as the “Mother of the Nation of Mexico.” It is believed that Malinche spent the rest of her short life in her native granted lands in Coatzacoalcos province, and she died there.
Diaz del Castillo, Bernal. The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico. London: Bedford Press, 1585. https://archive.org/stream/tesisnoqueprese00garcgoog#page/n95/mode/2up
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