Malinche (between 1498 and 1505–1527?)

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Malinche (between 1498 and 1505–1527?)

Malinche is the first significant native female character to appear in the historical record after the Spanish arrived in Mexico in 1519. Several indigenous and Spanish chronicles mention her, but their information often does not coincide. Her biography has woven legend with reality. She is known by a variety of names: Malintzin, Malinche, or Doña Marina. Her original name was Malinalli (Twisted Grass), one of the twenty signs of the days on the Nahua calendar. Telepal appears as her second name.

Malinche was born sometime between 1498 and 1505 on the cost of the Gulf of Mexico, in the vicinity of Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz. She was the daughter of the chief of Painalan or Teticpac, a Nahuatl-speaking region. For reasons that are not clear she left her community as a slave and was sold to merchants from the region of Xicalanco, an important commercial enclave on Laguna de Términos, Campeche, where the Maya culture met the culture of central Mexico. It was there that she became familiar with the Maya language and culture.

When Hernán Cortés was exploring the coast of the present state of Tabasco in the spring of 1519, one of the local chiefs gave him several female slaves. One was Malinalli. From that moment on, the life of Doña Marina—the name the Spanish gave her—was bound to the captain of the Spanish expedition and she became not only a translator, at first with the aid of Jerónimo de Aguilar, who knew the Maya language, but also a loyal confidante and adviser on many important matters. Her presence in the company of Cortés was so well known that he came to be called "Señor Malinche," "Marina's captain," or "Marina's huehue" (old man).

Malinche was first given to Alonso Hernández Portocarrero, but she maintained an intimate relationship with Cortés, with whom she had an unspecified number of children. The most famous was Martín Cortés, who was born in 1522 or 1523 and received the title of knight of Santiago. In 1524 Malinche accompanied Cortés on his unsuccessful expedition to Las Hibueras (Honduras) and during the journey was given in marriage to Juan Jaramillo, with whom she had a daughter named Maria. Little is known of Malinche's last years, but she died in Mexico City in 1527, possibly from one of the terrible smallpox epidemics that struck the native population.

The life and actions of this notable woman have made her in modern times the symbolic origin of a social and psychological state characterized by "submission to the foreign and disdain for one's own." This is the source of the term malinchismo, which has an openly negative connotation, implying surrender of one's national identity in favor of a foreign identity. But La Malinche also represents the beginning of mestizaje, or racial mixing, the biological and cultural union of the Mesoamerican peoples with the Spanish. There is presently a trend among Mexican and Chicano (Mexican-American) writers to attempt to salvage her image, not only with regard to gender, but also to give her a more objective place in history, due to the undeniable personal talents she always displayed.

See alsoCortés, Hernán; Cortés, Martín; Maya, the.


Díaz del Castillo, Bernal. The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico: 1517–1521. Edited by Genaro García; translated with an introduction and notes by A. P. Maudslay; new introduction by Hugh Thomas. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2003.

Martínez, José Luís. Hernán Cortés. México, D. F.: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México y Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2003.

Núñez Becerra, Fernanda. La Malinche: De la historia al mito. México, D.F.: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 2002.

Karttunen, Frances. "Rethinking Malinche." In Indian Women of Early Mexico, edited by Susan Schroeder, Stephanie Wood, and Robert Haskett. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997.

                                          Xavier Noguez