12. “La Malinche”: The Aztec Princess turned Slave who betrayed her Country to the Spanish.
“La Malinche” remains a controversial figure in her native Mexico, even today. She was born an Aztec princess, the daughter of a King whose lands occupied the region between central Mexico and the Yucatan lowlands. The Princess’s original name was Malinalli or âbunch of grass”. However, while she was still a child, her own family sold her into slavery to the Mayan-speaking Contal people. This cruel act probably occurred because Malinalli’s mother had remarried. However, the transition from a sheltered royal to slave must have had a profound effect on the young girl.
In 1519, Malinalli was one of a group of 20 young women given to the Spanish Conquistador Henan Cortez as a bribe to move on from Contal lands. The girls were initially intended to cook for the men- as well as see to their other needs. Malinalli was allocated to a man named Alonso Hernandez de Puertocarrero and baptized as a Christian after choosing the name, Marina. However, she did not stay with de Puertocarrero for long. For Cortes quickly discovered the former Princess was multilingual. Besides speaking Mayan, she also spoke Nahuatl, the Aztec dialogue and was familiar with the Aztec forms of courtly address essential for successful negotiating.
So Marina began to help Cortes take his conquest into the very heart of Mesoamerica by working as a translator. Because of her court background, she was sent to negotiate with Aztec emissaries and passed their words onto an Aztec-speaking priest for translation into Spanish. However, Marina quickly picked up Spanish herself, and it was at this point the priestly middleman was removed. From that point onwards, Marina became Cortes’s personal translator and accompanied the Spanish leader wherever he went.
Despite having the opportunity to escape, Marina chose to stay with the Spanish. Her loyalty never wavered. She even passed on information and uncovered plots. In return, the Spanish treated her with respect, calling her “Dona Marina” because of her royal background. She became Cortez’s lover and bore him a son, later marrying one of her ex-lover’s lieutenants, Juan de Jaramillo. Accompanied by her husband, Marina was warmly welcomed by the Spanish court. However, to the indigenous tribes, Marina was a traitor. In Mexico, her name formed the term “malinchismo,” used for individuals who betray their own native identity for something new and foreign. However, the reality is, Marina only betrayed her people because they betrayed her first.