Saturday, July 2, 2011

Black Conquistador--16th Century


The first black man
in North America?

As a black American exploring black Latino cultures, I'm not at all proud of this man's role in American history. He was an oppressed person of color who represented a government oppressing other people of color. He was known as Estevánico the Moor, or Esteban, Little Steven, or Stephen the Black. He was born a Muslim in Morocco around the year 1500, and is said to be the first black man in North America.

While a teenager he was enslaved by the Portuguese and was later sold to a Spanish nobleman, and the two became close. They went on an expedition to colonize what the Spaniards referred to as the New World. Intending to check out the northern and western shores of the Gulf of Mexico, their ship was blown off course and landed in what is now known as Florida. They then traveled on to a territory that eventually became known as Texas.

“He is a large and powerful man,
blessed with a shrewd and quick mind

--- Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca

Because Estevánico was a talented man who learned five Native American languages and sign language, and because he is a self-made medicine man, the Spaniards used him as a scout and mediator with the natives. In March of 1539 Estevanico and a group of Spaniards went looking for the mythic Golden City and traveled on to what is now Arizona. He came upon the Zuni settlement where the people suspected that Estevánico was “Five-0”--a spy for the Spaniards, and killed him to protect their location. To prove that he was not the god many natives thought he was, they skinned him.