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.

Hernán Cortés arrived on the Tabasco coast after sailing from Cuba. At first, it appears that he was merely interested in finding gold, but when he learned of the existence of Moctezuma’s Empire, he became determined to conquer the whole kingdom. Once he decided on defeating the Mexicas, he tried to acquire as much information about his enemy as he could. He heard some natives speaking Spanish, then concluded that there must be some Spanish living among them. He made inquiries and found two Spaniards who had survived a recent shipwreck. He sent for them, but only Jerónimo de Aguilar, now dressed as an Indian, appeared. Aguilar, fluent in Mayan, became Cortés’s chief interpreter. However, he did not speak Nahuatl, the language of the Mexica. Cortés was, thus, at a loss until some Mayan-speaking Tabasco caciques gave the Spanish twenty women, including Malinche, who was born in a Nahuatl speaking region of southern Mexico but who had also learned Mayan as a slave. At first, Cortés spoke to Aguilar, who then translated Spanish into Mayan for Malinche, who in turn would speak to the Mexicas. Malinche, however, quickly learned Spanish and soon replaced Aguilar as Cortés’ chief interpreter.