Malintzin Tenepal, “La Malinche”
Malintzin Tenepal, La Malinche, an Aztec slave, considered the mother of the first Mexican, was born about 1505. As a convert to Christianity and baptized Marina, she became the interpreter of the conquistador Hernan Cortes.
Malintzin spoke Nahuatl, her Aztec language and the Mayan dialects. She later learned Spanish as Cortes took her as his mistress, bearing him a child and becoming his sole interpreter. Doña Marina became instrumental in helping Cortes communicate with the Indians helping to negotiate with Moctezuma and other tribal chiefs leading to the destruction of the Aztec Empire.
She helped to communicate with the natives introducing Christianity to end human sacrifice and cannibalism. As an interpreter she communicated Cortes’s negotiations with the tribal leaders. She was never given public recognition in Mexico. She was seen as a traitor by the Aztec’s for helping Cortes in the destruction of the Empire. However, it is documented in a preserved letter in the Spanish archives from Cortes that “After God we owe this conquest of New Spain to Doña Marina.” Doña Marina was in fact the daughter to a noble Aztec family.
She was taught skills and educated by her father whose knowledge was rich from the Empire. Advanced in mathematics, the Empire created one of the most accurate calendars in society. After his death, the Princess, was handed over to traders by her mother, because after remarrying and giving birth to a son, she preferred her son rule instead of Marina. Marina was then traded off as a slave to the Cacique chief of Tabasco. Learning the languages of the Yucatan peninsula, she among 20 women was offered as slaves by the Cacique chief to Cortes. She later became the needed interpreter and mistress to Cortes.
It was during the Cortes conquest, moving out of the Mayan territory into the Aztec region, that they discovered they could no longer communicate with the natives. Being informed that one of the slave women was Aztec; Doña Marina became Cortes’s interpreter at the first meetings with Moctezuma in the capital city, which is now Mexico City. She helped in communicating the negotiations with the tribal leaders. The freedom to communicate gave her the ability to not only relay Cortes’s messages but also to communicate her own thoughts and recommendations.
Her Christian beliefs helped to teach that human sacrifice and cannibalism was wrong and needed to stop. In a revolt of the Aztec’s against Cortes and his army, much of the Aztec population was destroyed. Doña Marina was seen as a traitor for spreading her Christianity view point. Cortes went on to win the Aztec Empire in the name of Spain with more battles.The final destruction came with the spread of the smallpox virus that was brought in by Cortes’s soldiers. It was time for Cortes to return to his Spanish wife and Spain. Doña Marina or “La Malinche” as she was now referred as (a name meaning the Captain’s Woman) was married off to one of Cortes’s knights. She had reunited briefly with her mother and brother whom she forgave because of her Christian faith but was never heard of again.