Published Date

May 1, 2004

Resource Type

Primary Source

This resource was developed in 2004 as part of “The Conquest of Mexico” by Nancy Fitch.

From Bernal Díaz del Castillo, Historia Verdadera, Volume 1, Chapter 37

Before telling the story about the great Moctezuma and his famous city of Mexico and the Mexicas, I wish to give some account of Doña Marina, who from her childhood had been the Cacica of towns and vassals.

Her father and mother were chiefs and Caciques of a town called Painala, which had other towns subject to it, and lied about eight leagues from the town of Guazacualco. Her father died while she was still a child, and her mother married another Cacique, a young man, and bore him a son, and, it seems, that the father and mother loved this son they had, because they decided that he should succeed to their offices after they had died, and so that there would be no obstacle to this, they gave the little girl to some Indians from Xicalango at night so no one would see them, and told people that she had died. Since a child of one of their Indian slaves died, they announced that she was their daughter and the heiress.

The Indians of Xicalango gave the child to the people of Tabasco, and those of the Tabasco gave her to Cortés. I myself knew her mother, and the widow’s son and her [Marina’s] half-brother, when he was already grown up and ruled the town jointly with his mother, for the second husband of the old lady was dead. When they became Christians, the widow was named Marta and the son Lázaro. I knew all this very well because in the year 1523 after the conquest of Mexico and the other provinces, when Cristóval de Olid revolted in Honduras, and Cortés was on his way there, he passed through Guazacualco. And I and others from this town accompanied him on that expedition as I shall relate in the appropriate time and place, and since Doña Marina had showed herself to be such an excellent woman and fine interpreter throughout the wars in New Spain, Tlaxcala and Mexico, as I shall show later on, Cortés always took her with him.

It was at this time [on the way to Honduras] that she was married to a gentleman named Juan Jaramillo at the town of Orizava, before certain witnesses, one of whom was named Aranda, who lived in Tabasco, and this man told (me) about the marriage contract, challenging the way the historian Gomara wrote about it). [Gomara claimed Jaramillo was drunk when he married Doña Marina.]

And Doña Marina was a person of the greatest importance, and was obeyed without question by the Indians throughout New Spain.

When Cortés was in the town of Guazacualco, he summoned all the Caciques of that province to come before him in order to make a speech about our holy religion, and about their good treatment, and among the Caciques who assembled was the mother of Doña Marina and her half-brother, Lázaro.

Some time before this Doña Marina had told me that she belonged to that province and that she was the mistress of vassals, and Cortés also knew it well, as did Aguilar, the interpreter.

It was in this way [the summons] that the mother and the brother had come [before Cortés], and her mother recognized clearly that Marina was her daughter, because she strongly resembles her. And they [the mother and brother] were afraid of her, believing that she had sent for them to kill them

When Doña Marina saw they were crying, she consoled them and told them to have no fear, that when they had given her over to the men from Xicalango, they did not know what they were doing, and she forgave them. And she gave them many jewels of gold, and clothes, and told them to return to their town, and said that God had been very gracious to her in freeing her from the worship of Idols and making her a Christian, and letting her bear a son to her lord and master, Cortés, and in marrying her to such a gentleman as Juan Jaramillo, who was now her husband, that she would rather serve her husband and Cortés than anything else in the world, and would not exchange her place to be Cacica of all the provinces in New Spain.

All this, which I have repeated here, I know for certain (and I swear to it).

This seems to me very much like what took place between Joseph and his brothers in Egypt when they became subject to his power over the matter of the wheat. It is what actually happened and not the story, which was told to Gomara, who also says other things, which I will leave unmentioned.

To go back to my subject: Doña Marina knew the language [Nahuatl] of Guazacualco, which is that common to Mexico, and she knew the language [Chontal Mayan] of Tabasco, as did Jerónimo de Aguilar, who spoke the language [Mayan] of Yucatán and Tabasco, which is one and the same, so that these two could understand one another clearly, and Aguilar translated into Castilian for Cortés.

This was the great beginning of our conquests and, thus, thanks be to God, things prospered for us. I have made a point of explaining this matter, because without the help of Doña Marina we could not have understood the language of New Spain and Mexico.