Gonzalo Guerrero and Geronimo de Aguilar, Two Spanish Men who Were Captured by the Mayans

Statue of Gonzalo Guerrero. (Image source here.)

Statue of Gonzalo Guerrero. (Image source here.)

Gonzalo Guerreo was a soldier from Spain who had come to the New World in hope of becoming a conquistador. His life, however, ended up taking a completely different turn when he became stuck on the Yucatan Peninsula after a shipwreck in 1511. Guerrero and the rest of the survivors, including a priest named Geronimo de Aguilar, were captured by a Mayan tribe and forced to become slaves.

Eventually, all of the captives except Aguilar and Guerreo died. Both of the men assimilated into the local culture and learned the Mayan language, although Aguilar was reluctant to abandon his Spanish roots. He continued to practice his priestly duties, and refused to marry or sleep with any Mayan women. The tribe’s leader, amused by the faithful priest’s chastity, put Aguilar in charge of his harem.

Picture of Geronimo de Aguilar. (Image source here.)

Picture of Geronimo de Aguilar. (Image source here.)

Guerrero, on the other hand, was eager to adopt every aspect of Mayan life. He was well-respected by his captors, and especially impressed their leader Nachan Can. After Guerrero became a free man, Nachan Can made him an army captain and gave Guerrero his daughter’s hand in marriage. The couple had three sons, possibly the first mixed-race children born in the Americas.

Hernan Cortes, while passing through the area in 1519, learned about the two white men and sent them a letter. Aguilar was eager to leave and reached Cortes’ ship by paddling a canoe. Because he was wearing Mayan clothes, Cortes was skeptical that Aguilar was a Spaniard. In a language he hadn’t used in years and years, Aguilar suddenly shouted in Spanish and was then let on board. To avoid any conflict, Cortes bought Aguilar off the Indians for only a couple of glass beads.

Gonzalo Guerrero meeting with Hernan Cortes. (Image source here.)

Gonzalo Guerrero meeting with Hernan Cortes. (Image source here.)

Guerrero, content with his new life, refused to go back to the Spanish forces. He said that he was happy living with the Mayans, and loved his children and wife far too much to leave them. When his fellow Spaniards started their conquest of the Americas, Guerrero fought against them in several military campaigns and ultimately died on the battlefield. His former countrymen condemned him as a traitor, and he languished in obscurity for several centuries until he was reappraised by Mexican intellectuals in the late 20th century.

With the help of Geronimo de Aguilar, Cortes now had the service of a translator. Shortly afterward, to add to his luck, he was given a young female slave named Malinche by the Tabascan Indians. Malinche could speak both Mayan and Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec Empire. She could translate what she heard in Nahuatl into Mayan, which Aguilar could then translate into Spanish for Cortes.

After the Conquest of the Aztecs, Aguilar finally gave in and married an indigenous woman named Elvira Toznenetzin. They had two daughters, and Aguilar is believed to have died sometime in 1531.

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