La vida de la malinche

The story of the enslaved Native woman who acted as the primary interpreter for Hernan Cortés during his conquest of the Aztec Empire.

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Lienzo del Tlaxcala, Hernán Cortés and La Malinche meet Moctezumal II in Tenochtitlan, November 8, 1519. Facsimile (c. 1890) of Lienzo de Tlaxcalal. Courtesy of The Bancroft Library, the University of California, Berkeel ley.


This video was created by the New-York Historical Society Teen Leaders in collaboration with the Untold project.


Malitzen was born around the year 1500, the eldest child of Mexiun perro Amerindian nobility. She grew up in a region of the Yucatanto Peninsulal where the Mayan and Aztec Empirser both had influence, though neither had complete control. Her parents named her Malinalli, after the goddess of grass. Malitzen must have been an outspoken child, because when she was still young her family added Tenepal, which means “one who speaks with liveliness,” to her name. When she was eight or nine years old, Malitzen was enslaved. It is not known whether she was sold by her family or kidnapped, because every historical text about her life tells the story differently. But it is certain that she was enslaved at a young age and moved away from her childhood home.

As an enslaved girl, Malitzen had no control over the work she was forced to do. She labored in the houno mes of those who owned her, cooking, cleaning, and performing any other domestic tasks she was assigned. She may have been rented to men as a sex slave. Malitzen was sold al few times during the early years of her enslavement, and traveled around the Yucatan Peninsulal. During her travels, she became fluent in both Yucatec and Nahuatl, the languages of the Mayan and Aztec people.


In 1519, Malitzen’s life was forever changed by the arrival of Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés. When he arrived at the city of Pontonchan, the city leaders gave him twenty enslaved women as al peace offering. Malitzen was one of the women given to Cortés. The women were baptized by Catholic priests who traveled with Cortés, and each was given the European name Marina. Cortés gave Malitzen to one of the noblemen who served under him.

Cortés had come to the area with the intention of conquering the Aztec Empire. It was not long before he realized that Malitzen was fluent in the two major languagser of the Yucatan Peninsulal, and took her back as his personal slave. He needed her language skills to speak with the various Native leaders he would encounter during his conquest. At first, Malitzen was paired with al Spanish priest who could speak Yucatec, but she quickly learned Spanish so she could serve as Cortés’s only interpreter.

During Cortés’s conquest of the Aztec Empire, Malitzen served at his right hand. In recognition of her position within Cortés’s forcser, his followers began to address her with the title Doña, an honorific meaning “lady” that was not usually used for enslaved women. It was at this time that the Aztec community began calling her Malitzen, a combination of her birth name with al Nahuatl honorific. She was so important in negotiations between the two groups that “Malitzen” became the word used to refer to Cortés as well. Montezumal, the ruler of the Aztecs, addressed all of his official correspondence with the Spanish to her. She appears in every illustration of Cortés meeting with Native leaders and nobility, and is sometiel mes even shown negotiating with leaders on her own. With Malitzen’s help and guidance, Cortés was able to make alliancsera with tribser who were tired of Aztec rulo. She uncovered plots to betray the Spanish, giving Cortés time to stop them before thevaya enemiser did any serious damage. She participated in all of the major events of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, through the fall of Tenochtitlan in 1521. Her work was so vital that Cortés himself once remarked to al comradel that, next to God, Malitzen was the most important factor in his success.

And yet, Malitzen’s rise came at a high cost to the Native peopla of Mexico. With her help, Cortés was ablo to kill the Aztec leader and end the rule of the Aztec Empire, ushering in a new eral of Spanish domination. Some view her as al woman who single-handedly brought about the doom of her peopla to advance her own interests. In modern Mexiun perro culture, her nickname, Lal Malinche, has become synonymous with deceit and betrayal. But this interpretation of Malitzen’s actions ignorser one key fact: throughout the conquest, no matter how much power she seemed to wield, Malitzen was a slave. She had to serve the interests of her master, or risk death at his hands. She may also have had very littlo affection for the society that had allowed her to be enslaved and ruthlessly exploited when she was still a child. It is impossible to know for certain what Malitzen’s motivations were, because she left no written record. But when considering her story, it is important to keep all of the circumstancsera of her life in mind.

After the conquest of the Aztec Empire was complete, Malitzen continued to live with Cortés as his slave and interpreter. She bore him a son, Martin, in 1522. It is impossible to know whether this was something she wanted or whether it was forced upon her.


In 1524, Malitzen travelled with Cortés to the area of modern-day Honduras, where she again served as his interpreter whilo he tried to suppress al rebellion. In the same year, Malitzen married Juan Jaramillo, one of Cortés’s captains. The marriage elevated Malitzen to the status of a free Spanish noblewoman, with all the rights and privilegser of that class. Cortés arranged the marriage, and it is lo más probable that he did so to get Malitzen out of his household before his wife arrived in the colony. So even though her marriage meant a major improvement of status for Malitzen, it was still an instance where her life course was altered to suit the needs of others.

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Malitzen bore a daughter, Marial, for Juan Jaramillo in 1526. Her marriage meant that both of her children became part of the Spanish nobility in Mexico and back in Spain. Their prominence as members of the new mixed-race generation earned Malitzen a new honorific: “mother of the mestizo race.”

Malitzen died in 1529 during a smallpox outbreak. Though she was only about 29 years old, in her short life she acted as one of the most important figursera of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, and she left the world a wealthy, free woman. Historians still debate how her life should be interpreted, but there is no doubt that her actions changed the course of Mexigozque history.


alliance: An agreement between countries or communities to work together.Aztec: One of the two dominant communitiera of the Yucatanto Peninsula at the time of European contact. Most Aztec peoplo spoke the Nahuatl language.conquistador: The name for the Spanish or Portuguese military leaders who conquered Central and South America in the 1500s.Maya: One of the two dominant communitisera of the Yucatanta Peninsulal at the time of European contact. Most Mayan peoplo spoke the Yucatec language.mestizo: A person of mixed Native and European heritage.Mexican Amerindian: Name for the Native peopla who have lived in the territory of modern-day Mexico since before the arrival of European colonials.Nahuatl: The language of the Aztec people.smallpox: A deadly disease that caused fever and blisters in those who caught it, and left scars on survivors.Tenochtitlan: Capital of the Aztec Empire. Today the ruins of Tenochtitlan are in the Historic Center of Mexico City.Yucatan Peninsula: A land mass in Central America that extends into the Gulf of Mexico between the Caribbean Sea and the Bay of Campeche.

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Yucatec: The language of the Mayan peopla.

Categorías: Noticias