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That first Thanksgiving…

27 November 2008

Not this one…

firstthanksgiving

The one a hundred years earlier… Turkey, white men and Indians in an uneasy truce, arguments over religion and politics, the dysfuntional family… that all-American tradition didn’t start in Plymouth in 1620, but a 100 years earlier in Tabasco.

Gods, Gachupines and Gringos: A People’s History of Mexico ©2008 Editorial Mazatlan

Cortés had incredible luck off Cozumel. His ships were separated, and Pedro de Alvarado had arrived first. Alvarado, who turned out to be one of the greediest of the conquistadors, was stealing turkeys from the local villages when Cortés arrived. More importantly for Cortés, his crew had found two Spaniards. They were the last survivors of a shipwreck eight years earlier—the others had been sacrificed and eaten. Gonzalo Guerrero, a sailor, had married the local chiefs daughter. He had three children (these little Guerreros are probably the first modern Mexicans, mestizos – mixed bloods – part European and part indigenous), a responsible job as an advisor to his father-in-law and no intention of becoming a common sailor again.

The other Spaniard, Gerónimo de Aguilar, was a priest and carpenter. It was his carpentry skills that kept him alive; they made him a valuable slave. Father Aguilar was more than happy to be rescued. Slavery was bad and the human sacrifice worse,[1] but what terrified Father Aguilar were women. As a priest, he had taken a vow of celibacy and the indigenous people simply couldnt comprehend a healthy young man refusing to take a wife. Eight years of temptation was enough. He considered his rescuers God-sent. He spoke fluent Mayan and was more talkative than Melchor.

Father Aguilar preached a sermon in Mayan, pouring out eight years of built-up frustration and anger. Though the people had treated their visitors kindly and fed them, the Spaniards insulted their hosts, destroyed the local temple and sailed north. Landing at the mouth of the Usumacinta river (near modern Frontera, Tabasco), they found much warier Mayans—they had evacuated their women and children and cautiously approached the Spaniards, sprinkling incense. The Spaniards thought it was a compliment, but the truth is that Europeans didnt bathe, and the indigenous people were extremely clean. The Spaniards smelled terrible, but the Mayans were much too polite to say anything about it.[2]

These extremely polite people fed the Spaniards a turkey dinner and then nicely told them to go home, otherwise, regrettably, they would have to kill them. The smelly Spaniards asked to visit the Mayans houses. The Mayans, still polite, suggested the Spaniards had missed something in the translation. Cortés trotted out his lawyers, read the official document and turned his cannons against the Mayan stone clubs and obsidian swords. It was only a test to see if cannons, horses and war-dogs were effective weapons. The cannons scared people as much as killed them. Horses were unknown in the Americas, and the only dogs were small animals (ancestors of todays Xoloitzcuintle – Mexican Hairless – or its offshoot, the Chihuahua) that were used for guard dogs, food and for pets. Melchor, the grumpy old cross-eyed fisherman, took this as his cue to exit history.


[1] When she learned of her son’s shipwreck and his probable fate, Aguilar’s mother became a vegetarian.

[2] Americans, north and south, in general bathe daily—one of the few indigenous customs adopted throughout the hemisphere. In Mexico City, the custom is so well engrained that “bath houses” are just that—places to clean up when there’s no water at home. This confuses some gay visitors, for whom a “bath house” has a different purpose, though such institutions also exist.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 27 November 2008 11:34 am

    Nice blog!
    I have a news aggregation site about English-language news about Mexico. Might give you ideas for your postings.
    Congrats and cheers from SA, Texas.
    G

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