Casablanca - Estevanico is a Moroccan explorer who reached the southwest of the United States during an unprecedented spectacular journey in the sixteenth century. He was the first African, and non-Native American, to enter what is now known as Arizona and New Mexico.
Casablanca – Estevanico is a Moroccan explorer who reached the southwest of the United States during an unprecedented spectacular journey in the sixteenth century. He was the first African, and non-Native American, to enter what is now known as Arizona and New Mexico.
Estevanico was born in the late fifteenth century in Azemmour, Morocco. The place is situated in Dukkala region in the Atlantic coast of Africa. Portugal controlled the city from 1508 – 1540. The Portuguese were not only interested in importing goods but also in supplying human labour – slave trade.
At the time, Santa Cruz (Agadir) and Azemmour were the chief centers of this activity, which stil flourished during the famine that hit Morocco in the years 1522 and 1523 Estevanico was probably captured and sold in Spain. Being a slave or a servant of a Spanish nobleman called Dorantes, he joined Pamphilo de Narvaez’s expedition in 1527. The plan of the voyage was to explore the northern Gulf of Mexico. Dorantes and Estevanico who accompanied Narvaez did so along with five hundred men.
By April 14, 1528 they landed on the Florida coast after a short stay in Santo Domingo and Cuba. As they continued their journey, they faced a series of tragic events. They had to eat their horses, drink sea-water, while facing the wilderness, sickness and the threat posed by Indians. Most of them did not survive and only four men remained alive. The explorers were namely Cabeza de Vaca, Castillo, Andres Dorantes and Estevanico. They, however, ended up becoming slaves of several Indian tribes of eastern Texas. What had seemed to be the end of a tiresome journey turned out to be the beginning of a long term period of slavery.
Estevanico and his white companions were enslaved, including his former master. They spent separately eight years as slaves in different Indian tribes. Eventually, they were able to reunite and escape. They performed some forms of healing for the natives. Hence they were warmly welcomed in some tribes. It is reported that Estevanico was good at learning the languages of the natives. His role in facilitating the survival of the four explorers would accordingly be considered very significant to the expeditition.
While the other three companions stayed in the Spanish colonies, Estevanico was sent to explore the seven cities of Cabila. He then became the first non-indigenous person to enter the territories of Arizona and New Mexico. His entry into the territory of one of the tribes, however, was reported to be his final destination, for he was probably killed.
There is some controversy about, among other things, his adopted religion. Cabeza de Vaca included him among the four Christian survivors. Also the name might suggest his beliefs, for it means martyr of the Christian Church. But this only means that he was made a Christian when he entered European soil. One then might wonder whether Estevanico retained his religion regardless of being baptized as a Christian.
Moustapha Ouaarab indicates that Esteban died a Muslim just as he lived throughout his life and that he was surely forced to become Christian and hold a Christian name accordingly. He names him Moustapha, unlike Western writers who do not mention his Arab-Muslim name. He implies that he was an Arab explorer who could cross thousands of miles through the Indian tribes with no food or arms, as opposed to the white Europeans who were armed by guns and other destructive means.
His book entitled “The Azmmourian Estevanico: A Moroccan Adventurer in The Land of Indians 1500-1539, is a mixture of historical facts and fiction, which belittles somehow his arguments. Additionally, Azemour was known for its Amazigh settlers, a fact that would not support Mr. Ouarab’s claim. It is, therefore, safe to say he was Moroccan rather than Arab. Samori Rashid considers Etstevanico, though not as assertively as the Moroccan writer, to be “probably a Muslim”.
It is significant that this figure is not well known in Morocco. He is not even mentioned in any historical books that are taught in school. Worse yet, he is given almost no interest in the field of American-Moroccan relations. Esteban, therefore, might remain unknown in his homeland and given different dimensions in America and the rest of the world.
1. Anders Otterness 1 Cabeza de Vaca and Estevanico A Social Biography of a life in 16 th Century Africa, Iberia, and America By Anders Otterness cwh.ucsc.edu/SocialBio.Otterness.pdf;
2.Logan, Rayford. “Estevanico, Negro Discoverer of the Southwest: A Critical Reexamination”, Phylon 1 (1940): 305-314.
3. Dedra S. McDonald. “Intimacy and Empire: Indian-African Interaction in Spanish Colonial New Mexico, 1500-1800”, American Indian Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 1/2 (Winter – Spring, 1998), pp. 134-156.
4.SAMORY. RASHID. “Toward Understanding America’s Islamic Legacy”, Islamic Studies, Vol. 38, No. 3 (Autumn 1999), pp. 343-366 .
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