Dona Marina

(La Malinche, Malintzin)


Dona Marina was an American Indian of Aztec/Nahua ancestory who played a critically important role in the Spanish conquest of Mexico. She was thought to be a princess of a Nahuatl (the Aztec language) speaking tribe who was sold to coastal slave-traders in her youth, due to family politics. In 1519 she was presented to Cortez along with 20 other female slaves, as a peace offering. As soon as Cortez determined that she spoke the Aztec language he took a great interest in her. He had among his crew a Spaniard who had been shipwrecked and lived among the Mayans for eight years. Since Marina spoke Mayan as well as Aztec, he now had a way of communicating with most of the tribes within the Aztec empire.

Marina proved to be very intelligent and quickly made herself indispensible to Cortez. She learned the Spanish language very quickly so an intermediary was no longer needed. She earned the respect of all of Cortez's troops and was held in high regard by his captains. In addition to translating she provided Cortez with insight into the Aztec culture, and he came to depend on her advice on many matters. In several instances she overheard conspiracies by natives against the Spaniards and warned them of danger, and in other situations she play-acted in order to encourage natives to disclose additional information. It is doubtful that Cortez could have succeeded in his efforts without her help. In his letters to the King of Spain Cortez credited Marina as providing indispensible service to his expedition, and he considered her a godsend.

Eventually Marina became a consort of Cortez as well as his advisor. She converted to Christianity, and in 1522 she bore Cortez a son. She also accompanied him on an expedition to Honduras in 1524-26, following the conquest of Mexico. She never became his legal wife, however, since he was at the time, married to a Spanish woman who resided in Cuba. Eventually she married a Spanish Captain of Cortez and was granted an estate in Mexico. Cortez acknowledge her son by him and provided for his education. The circumstances and date of her death are unknown.

A great deal of nonsense has been written about whether or not "La Malinche" was a "traitor" to "her people". Since "her people" sold her into slavery, and the slave dealers sold her to the coastal tribes, and the coastal tribes made a "peace-offering" of her to brutish foreigners, the whole notion of being a "traitor" to "her people" is unintelligible.

Key events during the life of Dona Marina:

Born to the chief of a tribe on the northwest border of the Aztec Empire.
Sold as a slave after her father died.
Sold to Mayan slave-traders on the east coast of Mexico.
Given as a peace offering to Cortez, along with 20 other women from Tabasco.
Learns Spanish, converts to Christianity, and becomes a consort, advisor and translator for Cortez.
Communicates with the Aztecs of Tenochtitlan on behalf of the Spaniards.
Gives birth to the son of Cortez.
Accompanies Cortez on his expedition to Honduras.
Marries Juan Jaramillo, a Spaniard.
Died of unknown causes.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Hernando Cortez  in  A Child's History of Spain  by  John Bonner
Stolen March  in  Mexico  by  Margaret Duncan Coxhead
In the Plumed Serpent's Land  in  Hernando Cortes Conqueror of Mexico  by  Frederick A. Ober
From Tabasco to Cempoalla  in  Young Folks' History of Mexico  by  Frederick A. Ober

Image Links

You will deal with me, Malintzin, as you list.'
 in Mexico

Short Biography
Hernando Cortez Conquistador who landed in Mexico with a small army, and allied with local tribes, conquered the Empire of the Aztecs.
Montezuma Ruler of the Aztec empire at the time of the Spanish conquest. Captured by the Spanish and killed during revolt.
Ixtlil of Tezcuco Nephew of Montezuma who made an alliance with Cortez, and ruled as the last king of the Aztec.
Juan Jaramillo Spanish soldier and husband of Dona Marina.
Jeronimo de Aguilar Shipwrecked Spaniard who lived among the Mayans for 8 years. Translated for Cortez.
Bernal Diaz Conquistador who accompanied Cortez on the conquest of Mexico, and wrote an account of the incidents.
Don Martin Cortez Son of Cortez born to Dona Marina.