Compare the Descriptions of the Indians Given by Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca and Francisco Vasques de Coronado

Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca and Francisco Vasques de Coronado are two great personalities credited for having taken part in the exploration of the American land from 1527 to 1537 and 1539 to 1542, respectively. This paper offers a comparative account between the Indians and the two explorers with the assertion that Alvar described the Indians as intelligent, open-minded and spiritual people while Coronado portrayed the Indians as being conservative, unreceptive, narrow-minded and atheist.

Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca described the Indians as intelligent people. His description of the Indians as intelligent personalities is attributed to the fact that he was only able to earn the respect of the Indians when he presented the altruistic religion; a religion that healed the sick and propagated compassion among all the Indians. According to Loker, Alvar’s approach to “Christianization of the Indians” was a contradiction of the murder and enslavement of Indians that was witnessed among other explorers (110). In Coronado’s perception the Indians were a conservative group that did not entertain promiscuity. For instance, in July 1540, the Zuni group warned Coronado against their women; since such involvement had made the Zuni to kill Estevan, one of the survivors, during Cabez de Vaca’s mission.   

Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca further describes the Indians as being quite open-minded to accepting Christianity and God despite the absence of a common language. According to Alvar, his exploration was not only geared to discovery, but also to Christianize (Loker 110). However, when he discovered that the Indians had some kind of faith with a passion about humanity such as practicing healing rituals, he capitalized on that belief thereby enabling him to easily introduce Christianity (missionary missions) to the Indians through the use of healing (the God’s power to restore health). Through such strategy, the Indians willingly accepted and openly comprehended Christianity. Nonetheless, Coronado described the Indians as being unreceptive and narrow-minded. According to Loker, Coronado attributed such description to the fact that the Indians did not accept his requirements when he arrived at Pueblo during the Zuni summer ceremony (112). In particular, the Indians known as the Zuni group were not impressed at Coronado’s forceful actions to have the community submit to his perceived church ruler and greater controller of the world.

Lastly, Alvar described the Indians as being spiritual. This is based on his report, where he cited that the Indians believed in the existence of a supernatural being with the power to heal. As such, they frequently contacted the deity for healing of all kinds of illnesses. Consequently, the Indians did not find it difficult to accept Christianity and believe in God, especially when they discovered that Alvar’s deity (God) was “more powerful on healing, medication”; created and loved all without discrimination as compared to the Indian deity (Graf, McFarre and McClain 46). Nonetheless, Coronado portrayed the Zuni (Indians) as atheists with no reverence to God and supernatural being. That is, when Coronado encountered the Zuni, he expected them to acknowledge the Spanish supernatural exhortation. However, the Indians failed to acknowledge the Church despite the threat from Coronado thereby prompting him to describe them as atheists.

In conclusion, Coronado and Alvar described the Indians they encountered during their expedition differently. For Alvar the Indians were intelligent, open-minded and spiritual. However, Graf, McFarre and McClain (2003) cited that Coronado portrayed the Indians as being unreceptive and narrow-minded, conservatives and atheists (46). In perspective, the difference in portrayal of the Indians by these two explores could be attributed to the differences in their personalities and their perceived view of the people in the unexplored world such as the Indians.

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