Gonzalo Guerrero: Father of the First Mestizos and Army Captain of the Mayans
Gonzalo Guerrero (known also as Gonzalo Marinero, Gonzalo de Aroca, and Gonzalo de Aroza) was a Spanish soldier who hoped to become a conquistador in the New World. Instead, he was captured by the Mayans, and became a slave. Gonzalo eventually gained the trust of his captors, and even used his military knowledge to aid them in battle. Gonzalo became an elite warrior, and even married one of the native women. The children produced by Gonzalo and his native wife are often thought to be the first mestizos, i.e. people of mixed (European and Amerindian) descent, in Mexico.
Not much is known about the early life of Gonzalo Guerrero. According to some sources, Gonzalo is said to have been born around 1470 in Palos de la Frontera, Huelva, Spain. The year 1492 saw the fall of Granada, the last Muslim stronghold on the Iberian Peninsula, which is taken to mark the end of the Reconquista. It is commonly held that as a young man, Gonzalo was trained as a soldier, as was most probably fighting against the Moors during the last years of the Reconquista. The records, however, are silent about this period of Gonzalo’s life. One source claims that most of the records of Gonzalo’s life were destroyed by the Spanish as he was considered a traitor.
The New World
According to one source, shortly after the conclusion of the Reconquista, Gonzalo followed the renowned Spanish general, Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba to Naples, where the First Italian War was being waged. Gonzalo Fernández came to the assistance of Ferdinand II, the King of Naples, who was defending his kingdom against the French.
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It was during his time in the service of Gonzalo Fernández that Gonzalo heard about the voyages of Christopher Columbus to the New World. It is possible that the desire to seek his fortune in the New World was engendered in Gonzalo’s mind during this time. Another source claims that rather than being in the service of Gonzalo Fernández, Gonzalo had been a member of Columbus’ first voyage to the Americas.
Statue of Gonzalo de Córdoba in Madrid. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Whether Gonzalo was fighting in Europe or sailing across the Atlantic Ocean during the final years of the 15 th century will probably remain a mystery. What is more certain is that by 1510, Gonzalo was in the New World. In 1511, Gonzalo was on a ship that left Panama for Santo Domingo. There were problems in the new settlement of Santa María la Antigua del Darién, and that the governor, Vasco Núñez de Balboa had hoped to convince the Spanish authorities in Santo Domingo to sort them out. To illustrate the importance of that settlement, he sent them a shipment of gold and slaves.
The ship ran into a storm near Jamaica, and was wrecked. It has been claimed that there were only 20 survivors, who managed to get into a small skiff. About half of them are said to have perished before reaching the shores of the Yucatan coast. The survivors were then enslaved by the Mayans. One by one, the Spanish slaves died, and eventually only two were left alive.
One was Gonzal Guerrero, whilst the other was a Franciscan friar by the name of Geronimo de Aguilar. According to one source, the two men escaped from their original captors, and travelled southwards. Another source claims that they were captured by another tribe.
Both men are said to have been assimilated into the culture of their captors, and learnt the Mayan language. Nevertheless, the degree of assimilation between the two was different. The friar, for example, kept his Spanish and Catholic identity, as well as his priestly vows. Nevertheless, he had learnt enough of the Mayan language, and eventually served as a translator to Hernan Cortes.
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Statue of Gonzalo Guerrero. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
On the other hand, Gonzalo embraced the culture of the Mayans, and became much more integrated into their culture than the friar. Gonzalo became a warrior, and rose to the rank of captain. Furthermore, he was given the hand of Zazil Ha, the daughter of a Mayan chief, in marriage. Their children were the first mestizos in Mexico. Gonzalo is recorded to have been killed in the 1530s during a battle with the Spanish.
Statue by Raúl Ayala Arellano in Akumal, Quintana Roo commemorating Gonzalo Guerrero. ( Public Domain )
Top image: Changes in Guerrero. (alolami.blogspot.com)
By Wu Mingren
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Available at: https://bizarreandgrotesque.com/2015/09/06/gonzalo-guerrero-and-geronimo-de-aguilar-two-spanish-men-who-were-captured-by-the-mayans/
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