Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Voyagers to the East, Part XVII

For the previous entry in this series, click here.

The last few posts in this series were an extended digression on Brazilian visitors to Europe, voluntary and otherwise, between 1503 and 1616. I would like to make two more digressions into the sixteenth century, describing three different groups of Native American travelers to Europe, before resuming my chronological narrative where I left it, at the turn of the seventeenth century.

The first of these digressions is set seven years after the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan fell to Spanish adventurers under Hernan Cortes. In 1528, Cortes made a triumphant visit to Spain, where he was presented to Emperor Charles V at his court in Toledo. Accompanying Cortes were many trophies of his conquest: tropical birds and animals, samples of amber and oil, and at least twelve Mexican Indians, most of whom appear to have come to Toledo voluntarily. The delegation included five Indian acrobats who, according to Bernal Diaz, "seem[ed] to fly in the air while dancing;" four Indian jugglers who could juggle sticks with their feet; three hunchbacked dwarves; two or three caciques, or local Aztec chiefs; and one of the sons of Montezuma, the slain Aztec monarch. The scholar Harold Prins believes that Montezuma's son and the caciques, all of whom probably came to Toledo to increase their domestic political prestige, may well have been able to return home from Spain. The jugglers and other entertainers, however, went to Italy to entertain Pope Clement VII, who apparently persuaded them to remain as permanent members of his court. (Harold Prins, "To the Land of the Mistigoches: American Indians Traveling to Europe in the Age of Exploration," American Indian Culture and Research Journal 17 [1993]:175-195, esp. 189; see also Tzvetan Todorov, The Conquest of America [1984; reprint, New York: HarperCollins, 1997], 129-130.)

In the same year of 1528, another delegation of Indians arrived in Toledo, led by another would-be conquistador, Francisco Pizarro. The three visitors were native Peruvians from the coastal community of Tumbez, whom Pizarro had met while exploring the region the previous year, and whom he brought to Spain for training as translators. We rarely learn of the fate of Indian translators in Europe, but not so in this case. One of the Tumbez travelers, a boy who received the Spanish name Felipillo, later returned with Pizarro to Peru, where he helped poison relations between the conquistador and the Inca monarch Atahualpa by maliciously mis-translating the emperor's speeches. (William Prescott, The Conquest of Peru, Vol. 1, pp. 292-3, 301-314.)

In some ways, then, these two groups of Indian travelers to Spain in 1528 are mirror images of one another: one party symbolized the successful conquest of a Native American empire, while the other played a critical role in starting the conquest of another.

For the next entry in this series, click here.

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