Sederi 19 — 2009
Francisco José Borge López
Mª Carmen Gomez Galisteo, “Representing Native American Women in Early Colonial American Writings: Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Juan Ortiz and John Smith.” SEDERI 19 (2009): 25-45.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.34136/sederi.2009.2 Download PDF
Most observers of Native Americans during the contact period between Europe and the Americas represented Native American women as monstrous beings posing potential threats to the Europeans’ physical integrity. However, the most well known portrait of Native American women is John Smith’s description of Pocahontas, the Native American princess who, the legend goes, saved Smith from being executed. Transformed into a children’s tale, further popularized by the Disney movie, as well as being the object of innumerable historical studies questioning or asserting the veracity of Smith’s claims, the fact remains that the Smith-Pocahontas story is at the very core of North American culture. Nevertheless, far from being original, John Smith’s story had a precedent in the story of Spaniard Juan Ortiz, a member of the ill-fated Narváez expedition to Florida in 1527. Ortiz, who got lost in America and spent the rest of his life there, was also rescued by a Native American princess from being sacrificed in the course of a Native American ritual, as recounted by the Gentleman of Elvas, member of the Hernando de Soto expedition. Yet another vision of Native American women is that offered by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, another participant of the Narváez expedition who, during almost a decade in the Americas fulfilled a number of roles among the Native Americans, including some that were regarded as female roles. These female roles provided him with an opportunity to avert captivity as well as a better understanding of gender roles within Native American civilization. This essay explores the description of Native American women posed by John Smith, Juan Ortiz and Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca so as to illustrate different images of Native American women during the early contact period as conveyed by these works.
Keywords: Native American women; Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca; The Account; Naufragios; Juan Ortiz; Captain John Smith; Pocahontas.
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