ESTEBANICO by Helen Rand Parish


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Told in the form of a dictation addressed to the King of Spain, this is the history of Estebanico, the black slave who was one of the four survivors of Cabeza de Vaca's ill-fated company and, until his murder by hostile Indians, the interpreter and herald of Coronado's expedition in search of the seven cities of Cibola. Considered as biography, the narration raises problems of both form and content; however, it presents a vivid and suggestive portrait of a proud black man, better-fitted to the challenges of the New World than his masters, with an original, daring intelligence, quick to establish a special position among the Indians by a combination of healing lore and showmanship. Parish's afterword attests to her extensive original research; nevertheless many elements here are informed conjecture rather than established fact -- Estebanico's identification as a Hausa, his early life in Morocco, even his leading role among the de Vaca group's survivors and the humanitarian pleas he directs to the King (""Your Majesty, you can conquer territories by fire and the sword, but you can win loyal vassals only with justice and love!""). And though the first-person narrative brings the exotic, remote locales to life, it lacks any flavor of the Spanish language in which it is supposedly written and allows for no explanation of de Vaca's actual route (there is one map on the title page) or of the background and eventual puncturing of the Cibola legend. An engaging fictionalization, which generally succeeds in presenting a black hero on his own terms.

Pub Date: Sept. 30th, 1974
Page count: 128pp
Publisher: Viking