The Narrative of Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca

Cabeza de Vaca, the treasurer of an expedition from Spain was shipwrecked and was ultimately forced to trek several miles by natives of Hernan Cortes. Cabeza de Vaca survived by learning the language of the natives and serving them as their physician. After eight years of living with them, he imbibed the culture of the native people in the area, developed an affinity with them such that his rescue from them was not quite a welcome treat for him.

He and his 600 men meandered along the interior of New Spain but they ended up to only 4 men on the journey. This compassion for the natives is quite interesting as we see how he changed his ways and some beliefs about. There are many answers to this question. Some say that maybe De Vaca truly began to respect the natives’ ways. But in the context of the work, I believe this is nothing more than an extended case of Stockholm syndrome.

It shows more the changes that he experienced with the natives over the course of his years in America such that he has been smitten by the natives (Societal Stockholm Syndrome). What is Stockholm Syndrome? This term was used during the early 70s to denote the different reactions of bank employees to the people who hostaged them. This happened when three women and one man was hostaged in one of the largest banks in Stockholm. Instead of completely resisting these ex-convicts, the captives even resisted the government’s efforts to rescue them.

They had developed an affinity with the men. It may seem puzzling at first, but when one looks at this to explain what Cabeza de Vaca experienced with the natives, one can readily say that it was largely due to the fact that the Cabeza had developed compassion to the natives who also showed him kindness while they kept him prisoner (Societal Stockholm Syndrome). In sharing of himself and what he knows as a physician, his giving was also his receiving. At such time, giving is its own reward.

He was with the natives at those times in a way he will never forget, even if they were to meet again after being separated. Sharing with love and caring comes when one gives freely of himself and what he has, and one reciprocates the kindness. This is gleaned all over his writings as illustrated in one of the Chapters where he recounts. “Then, supporting us under our arms, they hurried us from one to another of the four big fires they had built along the path.

At each fire, when we regained a little warmth and strength, they took us on so swiftly our feet hardly touched ground. ” (Cabeza de Vaca’s Adventures in the Unknown Interior of America). This seemed like being pampered guests instead of being captives. In any relationship, there are things one appreciates. If the relationship has much depth, such as what transpired in the narratives of Cabeza de Vaca, then, it was but natural for the Cabeza to be so involved with the activities of the natives. Telling them of his fears is as much a gift as telling them of his appreciations.

Sharing these feelings opened up the natives’ innate inclination toward elasticity and trust. Genuine concern for the welfare of the people in one’s life never takes the form of violence towards them as lived by the Cabeza. He did not use violence to gain his own ends and he even convinced himself that “it’s good for them” as when the natives initially became oppressive. It is difficult for one to acknowledge acts of violence and oppression for they are statements of one’s own feelings of incompetence.

Perhaps the Cabeza knew that violence ultimately leads, in most cases, to results just the opposite of those it was intended to produce.


Cabeza de Vaca’s Adventures in the Unknown Interior of America. Translated by Cyclone Covey. Retrieved May 29, 2007 at: http://www. ibiblio. org/eldritch/cdv/rel. htm#c19

Castaway: The Narrative of Alvar Nunez Cageza de Vaca. University of California Press. September 23, 1993. Societal Stockholm Syndrome. Retrieved May 29, 2007 at: http://web2. iadfw. net/ktrig246/out_of_cave/sss. html

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