Monday, September 09, 2019

New Mexico's First "White Man" & Saint Guinefort

So we continue to learn more and more about the not too distant past of our new home state – and about our grand-dog’s ancestors. Today’s lessons are (1) the first “white man” the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico ever saw saw was black, and (2) and our grand-dog’s forebears were not at all sweet-tempered couch-potatoes like she is. Interestingly, the two discoveries are part of the same story.
The subject of the “white black man” quip was a Moroccan slave named Esteban (aka "Esteban the Moor," "Estevan," "Stephen the Black," "Esteban de Dorantes" (after his owner), or "Estevanico" (in the condescending diminutive with which the Spanish referred to their human property.)  By whatever name, in 1539 he was the first non-Indian to enter what are now the states of Arizona and New Mexico – 46 years before the first English-speaking colonists crossed the Atlantic.
The African adventurer was a complete unknown to us until we met him in person as one of the “Spirits of New Mexico” reenacted at El Rancho de las Golondrinas’ Halloween event. Recently we learned more at a lecture at the New Mexico History Museum.
Not much of Esteban’s early life is known. He was sold into slavery in 1522 in the Portuguese-controlled town of Azemmour, Morocco – then resold five years later to Spanish nobleman, Andrés Dorantes de Carranza who brought him as his slave on Pánfilo de Narváez's 1527 expedition to colonize Florida and the Gulf Coast, and (as is usual with the Colonial Spanish) to hopefully find gold. Although almost certainly raised as Muslim – and even though the Spanish were very much in the business of converting such non-Christians to Catholicism – there seems to be no evidence of a change of faith (voluntary or not) on his part.
The crew for Narváez's Florida expedition initially numbered about 600 and included men from Spain as well as Portugal, Greece, and Italy. (Such a variety of national origins was not unusual.) The odyssey met with disaster before reaching its destination. While making stops at Hispaniola and Cuba the fleet was devastated by a hurricane and lost two ships. After landing near Sarasota Bay, Florida a party of 300 men, including Esteban and Dorantes, were sent overland in search of gold.  They underwent numerous attacks by indigenous peoples including the Apalachee Indians – and suffered from disease and starvation. There was none of the precious metal. In September 1528, what remained of the group tried to escape to Mexico on makeshift rafts, and were swept onto Galveston Island off the coast of Texas. Eighty men survived and were captured and enslaved by the Karankawa Indians. Four of them – Esteban, Dorantes, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, and Alonso del Castillo Maldonado – lived through this and managed to escape five years later, in 1534.

Esteban is described as a physically intimidating man – muscular and over six feet tall in a world of 5’ 6” people – as well as being a natural polyglot who quickly learned enough of the native languages to act as chief negotiator, interpreter, go-between, and (drawing upon his knowledge of African and Spanish medicine) folk healer. Thus he became the de facto leader of the wandering pack, although not formally in charge due to his position as Dorantes’ slave. In 1536, the quartet of survivors, and a retinue of six hundred Indian escorts they had accumulated on their travels, happened upon a Spanish slaving expedition near Mexico City – finally ending their eight-year-long, 15,000-mile sojourn.
With the apparently miraculous arrival of four seasoned (although mostly unsuccessful) explorers the attention of the Spanish colonial administrators in Mexico City turned to the mysterious north, which (like Florida) had long been rumored to harbor treasure equal to that of the Aztecs.  Dorantes, de Vaca, and Castillo Maldonado however refused to lead or take part in such an expedition.  So, Don Antonio de Mendoza, the Viceroy of New Spain, engaged the services of Esteban, purchasing him from Dorantes. Since a slave could not be put in charge of such a safari, Mendoza persuaded a Franciscan friar, Marcos de Niza, to nominally head the venture – albeit from quite a distance to the rear as shown by his diaries. (By agreement, Esteban traveled several days ahead of Fray Marcos, leaving behind him a trail of crosses of varying size, corresponding with his findings.)
The group set out in 1539 with Esteban reprising his previous roles as negotiator, healer, interpreter, go-between – as well adapting a new persona, as the “Son of the Sun.” It apparently worked. Their passage was safe, and convinced of the slave’s powers, over 300 natives joined his entourage. All was going well on the trip northward until the lead party reached Hawikuh, a Zuni pueblo located just east of the present Arizona-New Mexico border – and then things suddenly went south for the previously unstoppable Moroccan slave.
Although historians do not totally concur on what went wrong – they do agree that the adventures of Esteban ended at Hawikuh. Remember that the official documentarian of this trip was at least several days behind and working off of at best second hand information.
In one version of the story Esteban sent a message to the Zuni tribal leaders, announcing that “he was coming to establish peace and heal them.” The Pueblo elders responded with a warning that he must not enter the village.  Esteban ignored it – possibly blasphemously crossing a line of corn pollen the Zuni priests had sprinkled around the pueblos during a sacred ceremony – and was killed.  Word of his death reached Fray Marcos, who took a quick look at Pueblo Hawikuh from afar, then headed back to Mexico City claiming to have discovered the fabled golden city of Cibola.
Another variation asserts that a gourd decorated with red ribbons and bells, which Esteban had sent with his message, gravely offended the Zuni leadership. Other tales say that the Zuni did not believe Esteban's story that he represented a party of whites – ­ or that they did believe it and knew that what was coming behind him would not be good for the Indians – or that he was killed for demanding turquoise – or that because he was black and wore feathers and rattles, he may have looked like a malevolent wizard to the Zuni.
Zuni oral history likewise is ambiguous – with some accounts even alleging that Esteban and his Indian friends faked his death so he could gain freedom from slavery.
Interestingly there are many images of Esteban the New Mexican explorer available today. According to some folklore the Zuni Kachina figure, Chakwaina, is based on Esteban.
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At the lecture we were shown an illustration portraying him clothed in animal pelts with his ankles and arms adorned with bells, feathers, and pieces of turquoise – a man who was clearly dressed to impress – and intimidate. And to increase this sense of menace he is shown accompanied by several intense looking greyhounds – one of the breeds of war dogs (along with wolfhounds, lurchers, pit bulls and gigantic mastiffs) that the Spanish brought with them from Europe.
(That image is not available online. The one attached to this email shows Esteban attired in a more traditional Conquistador outfit – something not in line with written descriptions. But he does have his greyhound dogs of war with him.)

As described in, these canines were “trained to fight and kill with the utmost ferocity,... having been used repeatedly in acts of genocide against the Indians of Hispaniola and Cuba...Unleashed in snarling, baying packs...they have great dragging jowls and fangs like daggers and blazing eyes of burning yellow that flash fire and shoot off sparks.” (There is more but we think you get the idea.)
The natives also had dogs. But they were not fighters – or even really pets as we might have today. They were small, hairless, creatures, much like the former “Spokes-dog” for the Taco Bell fast food franchise – who (not to be indelicate), had she been an Aztec pup likely would been found inside the Chalupa rather than peddling it.
Our grand-dog Taylor – a retired Alabama greyhound racer, nom de track “Shake It Off” ( a song by Taylor Swift, hence her less formal sobriquet) – is way more likely to be saying “Yo quiero [I want] my stomach rubbed,” than “bring it on!”
But an April 2010 New York Times article indicates that some of that Spanish warrior dog spirit may still exist in the rural, southern part of our new home state.
"'Greyhounds are calm, gentle dogs, but they're also pretty efficient killers,' [cattle rancher John] Hardzog said as he picked a clump of tawny coyote hair from one dog's teeth. 'This is exactly what they're born and bred to do. Yep, this is what they live for.
"'When you get the dogs running in a dead run after a coyote, now that's a sport,' Hardzog said before spitting snuff into a tiny gold spittoon." Being in non-rural, northern New Mexico we prefer golf.
Nonetheless these canines – be they “efficient killers” or total couch potatoes – at one time had a patron saint who is literally one of their own – Saint Guinefort, a 13th Century member of that breed.

The story goes that Guinefort the greyhound, the family pet, had been left at home to guard an otherwise unattended infant. When the baby’s father returned he found the room covered in blood – especially around the crib, next to which the dog was sitting.  In a fit of anger the father shot and killed the hound with an arrow – and then discovered the fresh, lifeless body of a snake beneath the cradle.  Overcome by guilt he buried the greyhound and planted a grove of trees around the grave in its honor. Local villagers soon began making pilgrimages to the gravesite, miraculous events happened, and "Saint Guinefort" became an object of worship among the townspeople.

But the Catholic Church never formally canonized the dog. And eventually Etienne de Bourbon, an Inquisitor, had the dog "disinterred and the sacred wood cut down and burnt, along with the remains of the dog." Guinefort was declared a heretic.
It didn't work. Up until the 1940's pilgrims continued to visit the site, praying for the protection of their children, and nourishing their own spirituality.
So we have sainthood by popular demand for a loyal hound. While the Moroccan slave who paved the way for the Spanish settlement of New Mexico is remembered as a black monster katsina dancer by the tribal group that ended his life – but nowhere else.
The more we study the past the more we realize that Jack Webb’s television creation Sgt. Joe Friday was wrong, It is not “just the facts ma’am.” But also what those that were there, and their successors, chose to make of them.
And no we are not changing Taylor’s inheritance. As author Tad Williams puts it, “Whatever my ancestors did to you, none of them consulted me.”

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