The Importance Of Women In Early Spanish Society

1039 words - 5 pages

According to Gregory Rodriguez, in his book “Mongrels, Bastards, Orphans, and Vagabonds,” women played an integral part of the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Women were important in the Spanish conquest of Mexico because many were given as gifts to establish political relationships, they were used to help convert the natives to Christianity, and through intermarriage, a new peoples emerged.
Along with food, gold, jewels, cotton, and other gifts, the most highly sought after treasure is the native Indian woman. Not only did the Spanish seek after the women, there was a political reason for the caciques to offer them as gifts to Hernán Cortés. Rodriguez quotes “anthropologist Pedro Carrasco, ‘the donation of women as a way of establishing and maintaining political relations was customary in ancient Mexico’” (11). Most of the women donated were slaves, but some were the various caciques’ own daughters. These special girls were given to Cortés’s senior commanders. After a while, “many ordinary soldiers seem to have found girls too” (11).
The Mayans originally gave one such slave girl, Malinali, to Cortés after a bloody battle. Cortés initially gave Malinali, who after baptism became Doña Marina, to Alonso Hernández Puertocarreero. Doña Marina had a talent that turned out to be very valuable to Cortés, bilingualism. Doña Marina spoke Nahuatal, the “lingua franca of the Aztec empire,” as well as Mayan (6). Upon discovering Doña Marina’s skill, Cortés “appointed her his interpreter and gave Hernández Puertocarreero another Indian Woman” (7). Doña Marina soon learned Spanish as well, and became Cortés’s voice to the Indians. Rodriguez wrote, “[Doña Marina] became both the go-between for all crucial communications with the Indians as well as Cortés’s mistress” (7). In order to gain allegiances with other tribes, and having been deemed the “lesser of two evils,” Cortés used Doña Marina as part of his “strategy of leveraging indigenous resentment of imperial Tenochtitlán” to become “liberator, so to speak, who [would permit] them to throw off the yoke of tyranny” (8). Doña Marina was an important women in the Spanish conquest of Mexico.
Another way in which women played a key role in the Spanish conquest of Mexico was that of conversion. For religious reasons, Cortés mandated that the women be baptized Catholic before they would be given to his soldiers. Doña Marina was just one out of twenty girls who became the first baptized Indians to the Catholic Church. As Cortés received the women he would always take the time to preach to the caciques. As Cortés is establishing alliances with the Cempolans, he denounces the Cempolan religion and preaches Christianity. Rodriguez writes,
He told the caciques that before he ‘could accept the ladies and become their brothers, they would have to abandon their idols which they mistakenly believed in and worshiped, and sacrifice no more souls to them; and that when he saw those curded things thrown down and the sacrifices...

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