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WE RECOMMEND
‘1519: A Journey to the End of Time”
‘1519: A Journey to the End of Time”
Mexicolore contributor John Harrison

Talking a Good Fight: Communication and Conquest (2)

This is the conclusion to travel writer and lecturer John Harrison’s insightful article based on extracts from his book 1519: A Journey to the End of Time in which he followed Cortes’s route from first landing to final battle. We highly recommend his book. Find out more about his writing by following the link at the end of this article...

Pic 1: St. Mary’s Church, Ecija
Pic 1: St. Mary’s Church, Ecija (Click on image to enlarge)

Once free, Jerónimo de Aguilar went straight to the village where the other survivor, Gonzalo Guerrero, was held. His reaction shocked Aguilar. ‘Brother Jerónimo, I am married and have three handsome children. My face is tattooed and my ears and nose are pierced, what would the Spanish say if they saw me like this? Go and God’s blessing be with you.’ Guerrero’s wife, the chief’s daughter, was blunter, snarling, ‘Be off with you, and let us have no more of your talk.’

Pic 2: Statue to Gonzalo Guerrero, Akumal, Mexico
Pic 2: Statue to Gonzalo Guerrero, Akumal, Mexico (Click on image to enlarge)

Aguilar pressed Guerrero, reminding him that this was not just a choice between two different lives here on earth. ‘Do not destroy your soul for the sake of an Indian woman. Besides, if you do not want to desert your wife and children you can take them with you.’
Aguilar gave up, but he did not know how deeply Guerrero had committed to his adopted people. Guerrero, his surname means warrior, was not nostalgic for Spain. He came from the village of Niebla where life was so hard that he had witnessed famines during which people ate the dead. In the Yucatán, he had truly gone native.

Pic 3: Cabo Catoche, where Guerrero led the Maya in an attack on the Spanish
Pic 3: Cabo Catoche, where Guerrero led the Maya in an attack on the Spanish (Click on image to enlarge)

When Spanish ships arrived under the command of Córdoba in 1517, Guerrero knew they wanted to settle, but his loyalty was to the Maya. Negotiation was useless, he advised, the Maya must kill and kill again. Guerrero led them in that fight for nineteen years. On 13 August 1536, he was killed by something he could not fight: a lead ball fired from an arquebus. His body was found floating in the sea, still suspended between two worlds: the salt cool below, the quivering air above.

Pic 4: Plaque commemorating the first printing press in the Americas, Calle Moneda, Mexico City
Pic 4: Plaque commemorating the first printing press in the Americas, Calle Moneda, Mexico City (Click on image to enlarge)

Aguilar returned to his own people and, as a translator, played a key role in the victory. After the Conquest, he was rewarded with land and encomiendas, which granted the use of Natives as tied serfs. When first freed, he had been questioned about his religion during the time with heathens He assured them his faith had never been deflected, and pointed to the battered prayer book he still kept by him. He became a canon of Mexico City Cathedral in the 1520s. When the light of history falls on him for the final time, he dies of buboes ‘poor and in want’, aged about fifty-seven, perhaps still clinging on to his grand house in Calle Moneda opposite the Government Palace on Mexico’s main square. His home later housed the first printing press in the New World (pic 4), linking again the translator with communication. In the beginning and the end, was the Word.

Picture sources:-
PART 1
• Photo of John Harrison: by and © Celia Ansdell
• Pix 1 & 2: images in public domain
• Pix 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 15, 18 & 20: photos by, © and courtesy of and thanks to John Harrison
• Pic 5: photo by Antoine Tavenaux
• Pix 12 & 13: photo-maps © Rob Harries
• Pic 14: public domain
• Pic 16: illustration by Miguel Covarrubias, scanned from our copy of The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico, 1517-1521 by Bernal Díaz del Castillo, The Limited Editions Club, 1942
• Pic 17: image courtesy of Museo degli Argenti Florence
• Pic 19: image courtesy of The Field Museum Library
PART 2
• Pix 1, 3 & 4: photos by, © and courtesy of and thanks to John Harrison
• Pic 2: photo courtesy of Edward Ferguson.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Sep 17th 2016

Go to John Harrison’s website for more, including sources and useful reading
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