A more story focused approach.

The Narrative of Cabeza de Vaca offers such a wide variety of experiences, it can be difficult to decide the best way through the text with selections. I believe the best course would be with an increased focus on the events that occurred to de Vaca over the course of his journey. There are parts of the Narrative that read almost like an Indiana Jones story, what crazy thing will happen to him and his crew next? Especially early in the narrative there are a lot of interesting things that happen to him that I think would draw in readers better than the Norton’s focus on the interactions with the natives. I understand the approach taken by the Norton, focusing more on the cultural observations made by de Vaca. These are obviously incredibly important, they offer an amazing account of commonly held beliefs for the time and how de Vaca eventually got over them by suffering with the natives. But I think for a brief selection of excerpts it is possible to focus on more lively, exciting stuff that still shows his relation with the natives at various points, but is more interesting to read.  Hopefully I accomplish this goal with the five selections listed below:


1. Dedication (pg. 45-47):This serves as a sort of mission statement for the text. It establishes the character of de Vaca as a religious man who is completely devoted to the crown. It explains why this tale is worth retelling, and I think it provides a great hook to get readers interested with de Vaca almost pleading to the king that he did everything in his power to serve him well, but things just went so wrong.

This selection feels obvious to start off almost every list. It provides a perfect setup for the story that is not too long. It lays out why the mission took place at all, and teases the troubles ahead by hinting at how bad it went.

2. Of the skirmish we had with the Indians (pg. 79-83): This is the section where the crew is all on rafts, after being surrounded by Indians over a hostage dispute the weather turns poor and the crew must fight to survive. After much panic and danger in attempting to manage the situation, Cabeza gets told it’s every man for himself. This is where the group is separated.

This section shows the key negative encounter with the natives that sets up the majority of the tale. The show of strength in the two sides that ends in stalemate serves as a good example of the relationship between the conquistadors in their weakened state, and the natives. After the natives leave the storm that shatters all bonds in the group and makes it every man for himself shows how desperate times really got for this crew, even though this is only the beginning.

3. Of what happened to us in the villa of Malhado (pg. 93-95): This section introduces what the survivors ended up doing for most of their trip; being forced into the physician roles and asked to perform mystical cures. It shows a decent bit of the native culture, while informing the reader how the group was managing to survive at this point.

After the crash one has to wonder how de Vaca and his small crew ended up surviving in the land. This shows the beginnings of their healing journey across the land. It also portrays some of the hardships they suffered with hunger and communication challenges. It also serves as a nice mid-story check in so far.

4. Of how they robbed one another (pg. 139-140): This speaks of the big group they had traveling with them and the odd rituals that occurred at each new village. It shows how de Vaca and crew were presented with all the valuables in a village before it was raided by their large group. It also highlights a few of the items the natives held in high esteem.

This passage does a great job of telling the way in which de Vaca and crew traveled. The fact that their group of followers robbed every village they came across blind, and that the victims were usually OK with this for the chance of being healed of all ailments is a very interesting point to make.

5. The falling out with our countrymen (pg. 160-167): The great climactic ending where de Vaca finally turns on his countrymen has to finish the list. After finally being reunited with Christians, de Vaca has a disagreement with them on sides with the natives. He ends by unwittingly setting the Indian’s up in a trap that was later sprung by the Christians.

After sincerely pleading on the side of the natives, de Vaca is tricked by his people and implied to have betrayed the Indian’s trust. This has to end the list because it wraps up the story well by showing de Vaca’s changed view on the natives from when he first arrived to after his lengthy experience. This offers an interesting way for the story to end for the excerpt reader, who was probably expecting a bit more rejoicing and good times when the group is reunited with civilization. It also shows how much it takes to change opinions that are as built in as the European view of the natives was, it took de Vaca a 9 year journey last on the continent for him to change his mind.

Norton, Heath, and Wiley:

The other excerpt collections seemed to be focused more on the native culture than my selections were. The Norton uses 3 of its excerpts purely for cultural observations of the Indians. While that is a completely valid way to approach the selections, my way is slightly different. I focused on the story of Cabeza de Vaca’s story itself. I tried to get across the big things that happened to him during the nine year journey; how he got stranded in the first place, how he survived, how he got around the continent, and finally what happened when he was reunited with Christians. These both seem like completely logical ways to excerpt the story, it all depends on where one would like to put the emphasis, on de Vaca himself, or on the various cultures he witnessed on his journey.


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