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  • Writer's pictureE. Rael-Galvez

A:shiwi and Estebanico

Updated: Mar 20, 2018

Excerpts from “Coyote Convergence,” in Converging Streams: Art of the Hispanic and Native American Southwest © Estevan Rael-Gálvez

Recently, I had the great privilege of visiting Halona:wa Idiwana, the Middle Place, present-day Zuñi Pueblo. Following the short drive from Halona:wa Idiwana, mid-morning, September 2007, Jim Enote invited us to step out to the edge of Hawikku. We were poised on that edge, ancient breath and pottery sherds all around us, and the ancestral pueblo beneath us, as Enote extended his right hand and invited our gaze southward, into the valley before us. There were about a dozen of us and what we saw and felt undoubtedly depended upon our own personal standing, what we knew and didn’t, where “home” was, who our ancestors were and how willing we were to widen our gaze. My own eyes were transfixed as he opened them to see a centuries old story—one of the most profound narrative realities of convergence and transformation, at once local, regional, continental and certainly global.[1]

The A:shiwi perhaps could never have predicted what would begin to unfold with this convergence. The year was 1539. “What happened here,” Enote said, “changed our world.” Cross-cultural convergence was not new to these indigenous communities, but what happened following 1539 was definitive. My emotions were palpable in my eyes and in my heart; the fibers of my genetic empathy leaning toward this and all Pueblo, communities. But in my mind, Enote’s gestures and words also shaped the figure coming towards the A:shiwi in that year. Esteban de Dorantes was also known as Esteban the Black and Estebanico. Colonialism and its foothold of slavery had obscured his name and origin alike and in the absence of his own testimony, who he was and where he came from is still subject to countless stories.

Slavery begins with displacement and Esteban was part of a larger aim of imperialism. Indeed, he was a part of what Ira Berlin has called the “charter generation,” some of the first slaves to arrive in the Americas, whose experience as this generation allowed flexibility in mobility and stature unlike the generations that would follow. These he argues were “Atlantic creoles,” bearing features of Africa, Europe, and the Americas.[2] Fluent in many of the languages of the Atlantic and cosmopolitan in every sense, what is known is that Esteban emerged as perhaps the very first of this generation to walk upon the land that is known now as the United States of America. His, was however a long journey. The transatlantic distance between the ancient cities of Azemmour, Morocco and Hawikku was over 5000 miles. For Esteban, he would traverse water and land, crossing through many different communities. But for many like Esteban, those journeys began on an auction block.

Andrés Dorantes first purchased Esteban in the city of Azemmour, Morocco, a city occupied by Portugal in the early 16th century. Dorantes and his slave were part of 600 men joining the 1527 Pámfilo de Narváez expedition to conquer and settle La Florida. The Atlantic crossing met the surviving crew with a hurricane, fever, starvation, mutiny, shipwreck and finally captivity. In this state, with dysentery affecting their indigenous captors near modern day Galveston, Texas, the survivors were encouraged into serving as healers. In time and with the evident propensity to learn indigenous languages, Esteban became the intermediary. Along with knowledge, the four sole survivors were given gifts, including a gourd granted to Esteban from the Arbadaos people, near present day Big Spring, Texas. After eight years of travel across the land, through countless encounters, these naked and barefoot survivors found themselves in the middle of a slave raid for Indians. Saved by slavers, this motley crew was then taken to Mexico City.[3]

In Mexico City, Esteban’s linguistic skills and ever growing famous encounters eventually garnered the attention of the Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza, who quickly appointed him to serve as interpreter and scout for the expedition being led by the French born Fray Marcos de Niza, who was being sent north to investigate rumors of great wealth beyond the northern border of New Spain. Brimming with overconfidence, he was adorned with bells and feathers on his arms and legs and his gifted gourd in hand. His calculation and experience with other tribes would fail in Zuñi and the answer to why may always remain a mystery to those outside of this ancient pueblo. He was said to have wanted the women and turquoise too much.

On that day and in that place, Esteban’s eyes must have met the eyes of the A:shiwi. Each gaze fixed upon the other and yet perhaps unknown to the A:shiwi, each were caught in the web of the hold of colonialism. While it is true that the contact between the Spanish and Pueblo people appeared inevitable, it may be said that it would have happened eventually; if not then, soon and if not there, some other Pueblo. Yet the significance of this particular crossing of worlds and people cannot be overemphasized, even if just symbolically. Here, if the extension of colonialism defined the conquest and domination of indigenous peoples of the continent, so too did it mean the displacement and enslavement of those, like Esteban caught up in the transatlantic slave trade. His mere presence at the edge of Hawikku may perhaps have seemed like a premonition of changes to come; it was.

Encounter, however, is just the beginning and if this transcontinental gaze embodied meaning, so too did Fray Marcos’ gaze. The irony is that Fray Marcos de Niza perhaps never even looked upon Hawikku and yet in his report to the Viceroy, he nevertheless greatly embellished the descriptions of the village, spinning straw into gold, reporting that these “cities” were grander than the gold of Mexico City and thus giving rise to more excursions to find a new Mexico. Just as people and places converge so too do stories converge; indeed, it is sometimes the stories that create the possibilities to begin with. Edges, boundaries and contacts also have their own origins and what made this encounter possible began perhaps as an old story tangled in the centuries itself.[4]

Seven centuries before the Niza’s lie, another tale was spun and it was from that narrative well that Niza drew a story. What comprises modern day Spain and Portugal, was born from an amazing confluence of cultures—Jewish, Christian, and Moorish, with the vestiges of Rome, Greece and Goth, a confluence from which flowed the music, philosophy, law, government, science, art and architecture. What seems common to all imperial transitions and the overlapping of empires is a creative tension and this time and place is no exception. Here, a Portuguese and Spanish legend held that with the fall of the Goths, and with the Moorish conquest of Iberia, an archbishop along with six other bishops fled with its religious relics and followers. Accordingly, these bishops founded cities in a remote land. This land was thought to be called Antilia, an island far in the Atlantic, where they founded seven cities, one for each of the bishops.[5] This legend held a great deal of pull to early explorations and was perhaps precisely the story that Fray Marcos drew from when he reported that Cíbola was one of the “Seven Cities of Gold.”

Who could have predicted that a legend formed from a real conquest in the 8th century could have converged with the A:shiwi villages, themselves formed from migration and convergence. From the archaeologists, we learn the story that Zuñi Pueblo was formed from a mix of early southwestern cultures, including the Mogollon, the Hohokam and ancient Puebloan cultures known as Anasazi. From A:shiwi living memory we learn that following emergence onto the Fourth World at a place in the Grand Canyon, followed by many migrations until they arrived at the center. There, K'yhan'asdebi, the water spider stretched his legs in the four directions, with two legs touching the zenith and nadir, the highest and lowest places. The Middle Place defined the join and was where the heart of the spider beat and touched earth.

Because of the encounter in 1539, this place may also always be known too in the Spanish colonial gaze as Cíbola. In these Spanish accounts, we find the first use of the name Cíbola, which is what the Spaniards called the A:shiwi villages. Because the A:shiwi villages sat along a major north-south trade route, where many things were exchanged, the exchange in bison pelts may have been definitive, influencing somehow this naming. On the other hand, in the A:shiwi language Cíbola is loosely translated as buffalo and remarkably similar to tsibolo:wa, which is what Zuñi called the Spanish, in reference to their burly facial hair. Tangled by the intricacies of cross-cultural etymology and linguistics, it is as though this name is a mirror, one culture pronouncing it upon the other. Hubert Howe Bancroft himself concluded: “About the origin of the word Cíbola, there seems to be no certainty.”[6] Yet, beyond the immeasurable convergence in 1539 and the arrogance of colonial occupation violently pronounced upon this village a year later by Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, what this name and word points to, is perhaps a confusing convergence similar to the opening epigraph or perhaps something much deeper still.

Cíbola nonetheless sits as symbol, place and people, narrative and event. The imagined community born of golden origin stories shapes the cartographic reality, merging 8th century Iberia with the A:shiwi villages. It would also, connect the plains to the east of present day New Mexico and for many become an occupation; Cíboleros were those New Mexicans—including men from Indo-Hispano as well as Pueblo communities—that traveled out into the plains to hunt buffalo. From this foundation, a convergence and exchange of people, stories, places, would come New Mexico itself. It is hardly surprising then that a 19th century trovo, ballad would accentuate how important this symbol had been since the 16th century:

Nuevo Méjico insolente

Entre cíbolos criado,

Dime ¿quién te ha hecho letrado

pa’ cantar entre la gente?

Insolent New Mexico

Raised among the buffaloes,

Tell me,who has educated you

To sing among the people?

There are many ways to read this poetic interrogation. Here, the interrogative is like the “how” in this essay’s opening epigraph, punctuated with the offensive question of how a learned, confident voice can rise from the margins and edges—read here, raised in the wild among the buffalo or read, raised out of an imagined community. What is clear, is that the symbol Cíbola first emerged here, born perhaps from a centuries old, real or imagined event, as well as this actual encounter and the lie that would shape this place. But the world did not stop turning and neither did the tension between being and becoming New Mexico and the people who would emerge from it.

Copyright 2018 Estevan Rael-Gálvez



1. Jim Enote is the Executive Director of the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center.

2. Ira Berlin, Generations of Captivity: A History of African-Americans Slaves. (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003).

3.For more information and other biographical sources, see “Esteban de Dorantes,” an essay on the website of the New Mexico Digital History Project; © 2004-2008 New Mexico Office of the State Historian. Some of these notable sources include: Adorno, Rolena and Patrick Charles Pautz. Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, His Account, His Life, and the Expedition of Pánfilo de Narváez. 3 vols. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.

Ilahiane, Hsain. "Estevan de Dorantes, The Moor or the Slave? The Other Moroccan Explorer of New Spain." The Journal of North African Studies 5(3) (2001):1-14.; Ladd, Edmund J. "Zuñi on the Day the Men in Metal Arrived." In The Coronado Expedition to Tierra Nueva: The 1540-1542 Route Across the Southwest, ed. Richard Flint and Shirley Cushing Flint, 225-33. Niwot, CO: University Press of Colorado, 1997.

4 George Peter Hammond and Agapito Rey Narratives of the Coronado Expedition 1540-42 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1940).

5 Donald S. Johnson, Phantom Islands of the Atlantic: The Legends of Seven Lands That Never Were. (New York: Walker and Company, 1994).

6 H.H. Bancroft, History of Arizona and New Mexico, 1530-1888, p. 44. In taking up this issue, on page 44, note 23, Bancroft writes, “It is the Spanish name in modern dictionaries of the American bison, or buffalo (feminine of cíbolo), and was, I suppose, of American origin. I learn from Gatschet, through Bandelier, Hist. Introd., 9, that Sibulodá in the Isleta dialect means ‘buffalo.’ We may suppose either that the Spaniards, finding a strange animal during their trip to the much talked of seven cities of Cíbola, formed a needed name from that of the towns; or that the towns had previously received the native name of the buffalo. I think it not unlikely, however, that the name was never applied to the towns till after the Spaniards came; but that the latter, far in the s. w., hearing the name—that of the buffalo or buffalo country—often used by the natives, took it for granted that it belonged to the cities or province, the Ind. Gradually adopting the usage. But all is mere conjecture, so far as I am concerned. In a not to a doc in Pacheco, Doc., iv 299, Cíbola is said to be the name of a province or its capital in Peru, noted for its hides.”

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