of captives in early Hispanic America shows varied treatment
1628, a Spanish-colonial military captain named Francisco Nuñez
de Pineda y Bascuñán was captured by Indians on
the frontier in Chile. When he was freed several months later,
he wrote a detailed account that shocked his contemporaries.
contrast with some other captivity stories of that period, he
said the Indians greeted him not with torture or enslavement but
with a series of banquets and fiestas that continued throughout
his stay. We ate and we drank splendidly. Because
his tale glorified Native American life and also contained harsh
criticism of Spanish military practices, his manuscript wasnt
published until the 19th century.
story is one of dozens of accounts, many of them previously unpublished,
that are analyzed in a new book by a U.Va. Latin American Studies
scholar that is the first comprehensive historical examination
of Indian captivity in Hispanic America. Historias de la Frontera:
el Cautiverio en la America Hispanica (Histories of the Frontier:
Captivity in Hispanic America), by Fernando Operé, covers
captivity accounts over four centuries in Spanish-controlled territory
stretching from the American Southwest south to Patagonia.
captives, whose stories are among the first descriptions of Native
American life and the New Worlds most remote regions, included
men and women of European, African and mixed origins. Operés
research offers a wealth of details about many varied Native American
customs and early trade and migration patterns.
traveled to archives in Chile, Argentina, Spain, New Mexico and
elsewhere to track down manuscripts of captivity stories, many
of which were testimonials that former captives later gave to
government officials. The book is published in Spanish by Fondo
de Cultura Economica (Buenos Aires), and Operé is looking
for an American press to publish an English translation.
in North America, where captivity narratives from Captain
John Smiths in Virginia to tales of the Wild West
became part of popular culture, in Hispanic America there was
little contemporary interest in these emotional and exciting accounts,
said Operé, a professor of Spanish and director of U.Va.s
Latin American Studies Program. Today these early Spanish accounts
offer important descriptions for making cultural comparisons among
different parts of the Western Hemisphere.
captives was a widespread practice among Native Americans before
the arrival of Europeans, Operé pointed out. Indians took
captives for many reasons: to rebuild dwindling populations, to
put them to work and to trade for goods.
with Columbus, Europeans began taking Indians captive too, often
enslaving them in Hispanic America. The story of white captivity
there is part of the overall Indian resistance to the European
invasion, Operé said.
Hispanic America, male captives taken by Indians were often traded
for goods or sometimes killed, while women were often kept to
work, cook and bear children. Because of this, captive women played
a key role in the mingling of European and Native American cultures
there, Operé found. Women of Spanish origin influenced
the Indians in food, dress, arts and crafts and agriculture and
also brought back Native American knowledge and customs when they
the most important and best known Hispanic America captivity narratives
is that of the shipwrecked expeditioner Alvar Nuñez Cabeza
de Vaca, who journeyed overland with Native Americans from the
Texas coast through the Southwest in the early 16th century. It
provides the first inside account of a European living among Native
Americans deep in the New World. Unlike Bascuñáns
sumptuous experience in a different climate and region, Cabeza
de Vaca describes a world of nomadic hunter-gatherers constantly
searching for food.
the important role of captives and their firsthand descriptions
of Indian peoples and the land in Hispanic America, many
of their voices have not been heard, said Operé.
Captivity narratives werent popularized in Latin America
when many Europeans lived side by side with Native Americans from
the start, soon raising families and creating a new society with
them. The dominant Christian culture of Europe had problems accepting
that some captives chose the Indian way of life. Also, acknowledging
any stories about captivity showed weaknesses in the mighty Spanish