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gonzalo guerrero

Gonzalo Guerrero, The History Of A Conquered Conquistador


A Spanish seaman who joined the Mayans to fight against the European invaders.

Of all the stories of the conquest of the Americas, that of Gonzalo Guerrero is without a doubt one of the most surprising. A Spaniard who was shipwrecked off the coast of the Yucatán peninsula, captured and then forced into slavery by the local Mayans, he gained the trust of his captors, fought alongside them and married a woman who bore his children, presumably the first cross-bred children of the American continent.

Guerrero left the port of Palos, Spain, in 1511 and was shipwrecked en route from Panama to Santo Domingo. The crew survived using the ship’s launches and, after several days adrift, reached the coast of what is today Quintana Roo, on Mexico’s Caribbean coast. Almost all of the crew were killed or enslaved.

By 1519, when Hernán Cortés began the conquest of Mexico, there were only two survivors of that shipwreck still alive: Gerónimo de Aguilar, who, after becoming an interpreter for Cortés in the Mayan region alongside Cortés’ future wife la Malinche, had returned to Spain, and Gonzalo Guerrero, who became a famous captain in the Mayan army under the orders of Nachan Can, the leader of Chactemal.

It is said that after serving as a slave, Guerrero gained the trust of Nachan Can, who as well as making him the captain of his army, allowed him to marry his daughter, Zazil Há, with whom he had three children, the first ‘sons of the conquest’.

Bernal Díaz del Castillo, in his famous chronicles of the conquest of Mexico, tells that when Aguilar wrote to Guerrero to persuade him to join Cortés, Guerrero refused, claiming to be an army captain and with a tattooed face and pierced ears, and the father of three beautiful sons. Gonzalo Guerrero had become Mayan. He had changed sides.

Gonzalo Guerrero, who led military campaigns and died in battle against his compatriots, was conquered by the Mayan world, by the Caribbean, by the local customs and by a woman and three sons, and perhaps by the power that he had gained in that paradisiacal place. For the Spanish crown he was a traitor and his decisions after his shipwrecking were seen romantically as an act of justice, with the Mayans falling into the hands of the ambitious Spaniards after many years of battles.

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