Marina [ma'?ina] or Malintzin [ma'lintsin] (c. 1500 - c. 1529), more popularly known as La Malinche [la ma'lint?e], was a Nahua woman from the Mexican Gulf Coast, who played a key role in the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, acting as an interpreter, advisor, and intermediary for the Spanish conquistador, Hernán Cortés. She was one of 20 women slaves given to the Spaniards by the natives of Tabasco in 1519. Later, she gave birth to Cortés's first son, Martín, who is considered one of the first Mestizos (people of mixed European and indigenous American ancestry).
The historical figure of Marina has been intermixed with Aztec legends (such as La Llorona, a ghost woman who weeps for her lost children). Her reputation has been altered over the years according to changing social and political perspectives, especially after the Mexican Revolution, when she was portrayed in dramas, novels, and paintings as an evil or scheming temptress. In Mexico today, La Malinche remains iconically potent. She is understood in various and often conflicting aspects as the embodiment of treachery, the quintessential victim, or simply as symbolic mother of the new Mexican people.
The term malinchista refers to a disloyal compatriot, especially in Mexico.
Because of her controversial symbolization, a statue of La Malinche, Cortés, and their son Martín was removed soon after it was erected in Coyoacan, in the outskirts of Mexico City, in 1982. The statue was intended to be respectful of her trials and to emphasize the mestizo (or mixed-blood) character of the nation. However, student protests erupted: the protesters wanted no monument that presented La Malinche in a positive light, for in their minds she was too closely associated with domination by outsiders and with betrayal.
Malinche is known by many names. She was baptized as Marina, and was referred to as such by the Spaniards, often preceded with honorific doña. The Nahuas called her Malintzin, derived from Malina (Nahuatl rendering of her Spanish name) and the honorific suffix -tzin. According to the historian Camilla Townsend, the vocative suffix -e is sometimes added at the end of the name, giving the form Malintzine, which would be shortened to Malintze, and heard by the Spanish as Malinche.[a] Another possibility is that the Spaniards simply did not hear the "whispered" -n of the name Malintzin.
Her name at birth is unknown. It has been popularly assumed since at least the 19th century that she was originally named "Malinalli"[b] (Nahuatl for "grass"), after the day sign on which she was supposedly born, and that Marina was chosen as her Christian name on account of phonetic similarity, but modern historians have rejected these propositions. The Nahuas associate the day sign Malinalli with bad or even "evil" connotations, and they are known to avoid using such day signs as personal names. Moreover, there would be little reason for the Spaniards to ask the natives what their personal names were before christening them with similar-sounding Spanish names.
Another title that is often assumed to be part of her original name is "Tenepal". This, according to the linguist and historian Frances Karttunen, originated as an annotation made by the Nahua historian Chimalpahin on his copy of Gómara's biography of Cortés, which says that Marina was also known as "Malintzin Tenepal". Tenepal is probably derived from the Nahuatl root tene which means "lip-possessor, one who speaks vigorously" or "one who has a facility with words", and postposition -pal, which means "by means of". Thus, Malintzin Tenepal is most likely intended to be a direct translation of Spanish doña Marina la lengua, with la lengua ("the interpreter", literally "the tongue") being her Spanish sobriquet.
Malinche's birthdate is unknown, but it is estimated to be around 1500, and likely no later than 1505.[c] She was born in an altepetl that was either a part or a tributary of a Mesoamerican state which center was located in the bank of the Coatzacoalcos River to the east of the Aztec Empire.[d] Records disagree about the exact name of the altepetl where she was born into. In three unrelated legal proceedings that occurred not long after her death, various witnesses who claimed to have known her personally, including her own daughter, said that she was born in Olutla. The probanza of her grandson also mentioned Olutla as her birthplace. Her daughter also added that the altepetl of Olutla was related to Tetiquipaque, although the nature of this relationship is unclear. In the Florentine Codex, Malinche's homeland is mentioned as "Teticpac", which could be the singular form of Tetiquipaque. Gómara writes that she came from "Uiluta" (presumably a variant of Olutla), although he departs from other sources by writing that it was in the region of Jalisco. Díaz, on the other hand, gives "Painalla" as her birthplace.
Her family is reported to be of noble background; Gómara writes that her father was related to a local ruler, while Díaz recounts that her parents themselves were rulers. Townsend notes that while Olutla at the time probably had a Popoluca majority, the ruling elites, where Malinche supposedly belonged to, would have been Nahuatl-speaking. Another hint that supports her noble origin is her apparent ability to understand the courtly language of tecpillahtolli ("lordly speech"), a Nahuatl register that is significantly different from the commoner's speech and has to be learned. The fact that she was often referred to as a doña, at the time when it was not commonly used even in Spain, also indicates that she was viewed as a noblewoman, although it is also possible that the honorific was attributed to her because of her important role in the conquest.
Probably between the age of 8 and 12, Malinche was either sold or kidnapped into slavery. Díaz famously wrote that after her father's death, she was given away to merchants by her mother and stepfather so that their own son (Malinche's stepbrother) can succeed as heir. Some scholars, historians and literary critics alike, have cast doubt upon Díaz's account of her origin. Nevertheless, it is likely that some of the people in her community were involved in smuggling her to the slave market. Malinche was taken to Xicalango, a major port city in the region. She was later purchased by a group of Chontal Maya who brought her to the town of Potonchán. It was here that Malinche started to learn the Chontal Maya language, and perhaps also Yucatec Maya.[e] This would later enabled her to communicate with Jerónimo de Aguilar, another Cortés's interpreter who also spoke Yucatec Maya, alongside his native Spanish.
Early in his expedition to Mexico, Cortés was confronted by the Mayas at Potonchán. After suffering a significant loss of lives in the battle that ensued, the Mayas asked for peace, and in the following days, presented the Spaniards with gifts of food and gold, as well as twenty slave women. Malinche was one of the women presented to the Spaniards. She and the other women were baptized and subsequently distributed among Cortés's men, not only as servants, but also to provide sexual services. Malinche was given to Alonso Hernández Puertocarrero, one of Cortés's captains who was also a first cousin to the count of Cortés's hometown Medellín.
Malinche's linguistic gift went undiscovered until the Spaniards first encounter with the Nahuatl-speaking people at San Juan de Ulúa. Moctezuma's emissaries had come to inspect them, but Aguilar found himself unable to understand their words. When it came to realization that Malinche was able to converse with the emissaries, she and Aguilar was set aside by Cortés, who, according to Gómara, promised her "more than liberty" if she would assist him in finding and communicating with Moctezuma. Cortés took Malinche back from Puertocarrero, who was later given another indigenous woman before he was sent back to Spain. Through Aguilar and Malinche, Cortés talked with Moctezuma's emissaries. The emissaries also brought artists to make paintings of Malinche, Cortés, and the rest of the group, as well as their ships and weapons, to be sent as records for Moctezuma. Díaz later said that the Nahuas also addressed Cortés as "Malinche"; they apparently took her as a point of reference for the group.[f]
From then on, Malinche would work together with Aguilar to bridge communication between the Spaniards and the Nahuas; Cortés would speak Spanish with Aguilar, who then translated into Yucatec Maya for Malinche, who in turn translated into Nahuatl, before reversing the process. The translation chain grew even longer when, after the emissaries left, they met the Totonacs, whose language was unintelligible to both Malinche and Aguilar. There, Malinche asked for Nahuatl interpreters. Karttunen remarks that "it is a wonder any communication was accomplished at all", for Cortés's Spanish words had to be translated into Maya, Nahuatl, and Totonac before reaching the locals, whose answers then went back through the same chain. From the meeting with the Totonacs, Cortés learned of those who were hostile to Moctezuma. According to the anthropologist and historian Ross Hassig, this meeting was also a major turning point that "set Cortés's course irrevocably towards conquest". After securing an alliance with the Totonacs and founding the town of Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz, they started the march towards Tenochtitlan.
The first major polity that they encounter on the way to Tenochtitlan was Tlaxcala. Although the Tlaxcalans were initially hostile to the Spaniards and their allies, they later permitted the Spaniards to enter the city. The Tlaxcalans negotiated an alliance with the Spaniards through Malinche and Aguilar. Later Tlaxcalan records of this meeting feature scenes where Malinche appears prominent, bridging the communication between the two sides as the Tlaxcalans presented the Spaniards with gifts of food and noblewomen to cement the alliance. After several days in Tlaxcala, Cortés continued the journey to Tenochtitlan by the way of Cholula, accompanied by a large number of Tlaxcalan soldiers.
The Spaniards were received at Cholula and housed for several days, until, as the Spaniards claimed, the Cholulans stopped giving them food, dug secret pits, built a barricade around the city, and hid a large Aztec army in the outskirt in preparation for an attack against the Spaniards. Somehow, the Spaniards learned of this plot, and, in a preemptive strike, assembled and massacred the Cholulans. Later accounts specifically claimed that the plot was uncovered by Malinche. According to the version provided by Díaz, she was approached by a Cholulan noblewoman who promised her a marriage to the woman's son if she were to switch side. Malinche, pretending to go along with the suggestion, learned from the woman about the plot, and reported all the details to Cortés. This story has often been cited as an example of Malinche's "betrayal" to her people. However, the veracity of the story has been questioned by modern historians such as Hassig and Townsend. It has been suggested that the Tlaxcalans were the real mastermind behind the massacre. Cholula had previously supported Tlaxcala before joining the Aztec Empire one or two years prior, and losing them as an ally was a hard hit for the Tlaxcalans, whose state was now completely encircled by the Aztecs. It is possible that the attack on the Cholulans was in fact a test from the Tlaxcalans for the Spaniards' trustworthiness. In this view, thus, Malinche's "heroic" discovery of the purported plot is only a part of the justification for the massacre.
The combined forces reached Tenochtitlan in early November 1519, and was met by Moctezuma in a causeway leading to the city. Malinche was in the middle of this event, translating the conversation between Cortés and Moctezuma. Gomara writes that Moctezuma was "speaking through Malinche and Aguilar", although other records indicate that Malinche was already translating directly, as she had quickly learned some Spanish herself. Moctezuma's flowery speech delivered through Malinche at the meeting has been claimed by the Spaniards to represent a submission, but this interpretation is not followed by modern historians. The deferential nature of the speech can be explained by Moctezuma's usage of tecpillahtolli, a Nahuatl register known for its indirection and complex set of reverential affixes. Despite Malinche's apparent ability to understand tecpillahtolli, it is possible that some nuances were lost in translation, and the Spanish, deliberately or not, may have misinterpreted Moctezuma's actual words.
Following the fall of Tenochtitlán in late 1521 and the birth of her son Martín Cortés in 1522, Marina stayed in a house Cortés built for her in the town of Coyoacán, eight miles south of Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital city, while it was being rebuilt as Mexico City. Cortés took Marina to quell a rebellion in Honduras in 1524-1526 when she is seen serving again as interpreter (suggestive of a knowledge of Maya dialects beyond Chontal and Yucatán.) While in the mountain town of Orizaba in central Mexico, she married Juan Jaramillo, a Spanish hidalgo. Historians such as Prescott generally lost track of Marina after her journey to Central America. Some contemporary scholars have estimated that she died less than a decade after the conquest of Mexico-Tenochtitlan at some point in 1529. Historian Sir Hugh Thomas in his book "Conquest" reports the probable date of her death as 1551, deduced from letters he discovered in Spain alluding to her as alive in 1550 and deceased after 1551. She was survived by her son Don Martín, who would be raised primarily by his father's family, and a daughter Doña María who would be raised by Jaramillo and his second wife Doña Beatriz de Andrada.
For the conquistadores, having a reliable interpreter was important enough, but there is evidence that Marina's role and influence were larger still. Bernal Díaz del Castillo, a soldier who, as an old man, produced the most comprehensive of the eye-witness accounts, the Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España ("True Story of the Conquest of New Spain"), speaks repeatedly and reverentially of the "great lady" Doña Marina (always using the honorific title Doña). "Without the help of Doña Marina," he writes, "we would not have understood the language of New Spain and Mexico." Rodríguez de Ocaña, another conquistador, relates Cortés' assertion that after God, Marina was the main reason for his success.
The evidence from indigenous sources is even more interesting, both in the commentaries about her role, and in her prominence in the codex drawings made of conquest events. Although to some Marina may be known as a traitor, she was not viewed as such by all the Tlaxcalan. In some depictions they portrayed her as "larger than life", sometimes larger than Cortés, in rich clothing, and an alliance is shown between her and the Tlaxcalan instead of them and the Spaniards. They respected and trusted her and portrayed her in this light generations after the Spanish conquest.
In the Lienzo de Tlaxcala (History of Tlaxcala), for example, not only is Cortés rarely portrayed without Marina poised by his side, but she is shown at times on her own, seemingly directing events as an independent authority. If she had been trained for court life, as in Díaz's account, her relationship to Cortés may have followed the familiar pattern of marriage among native elite classes. The role of the Nahua wife acquired through an alliance would have been to assist her husband achieve his military and diplomatic objectives.
Today's historians give great credit to Marina's diplomatic skills, with some "almost tempted to think of her as the real conqueror of Mexico." In fact, old conquistadors on various occasions would remember that one of her greatest skills had been her ability to convince other Indians of what she herself could see clearly, which was that it was useless in the long run to stand against Spanish metal and Spanish ships. In contrast with earlier parts of Díaz del Castillo's account, after Marina's diplomacy began assisting Cortés, the Spanish were forced into combat on one more occasion.
Had La Malinche not been part of the Conquest of Mexico for her linguistic gift, communication between the Spanish and the Indigenous would have been much harder. La Malinche knew to speak in different registers and tones between certain Indigenous tribes and people. For the Nahua audiences, she spoke rhetorically, formally, and high-handedly. This shift into formality gave the Nahua the impression that she was a noblewoman who knew what she was talking about.
Malinche's image has become a mythical archetype that Hispanic American artists have represented in various forms of art. Her figure permeates historical, cultural, and social dimensions of Hispanic American cultures. In modern times and in several genres, she is compared with the La Llorona (folklore story of the woman weeping for lost children), and the Mexican soldaderas (women who fought beside men during the Mexican Revolution) for their brave actions.
La Malinche's legacy is one of myth mixed with legend, and the opposing opinions of the Mexican people about the legendary woman. Some see her as a founding figure of the Mexican nation. While others, however, continue to find the legends more memorable than the history, seeing her as a traitor, as may be assumed from a legend that she had a twin sister who went North and the pejorative nickname La Chingada associated with her twin.
Feminist interventions into the figure of Malinche began in 1960s. The work of Rosario Castellanos was particularly significant; Chicanas began to refer to her as a "mother" as they adopted her as symbolism for duality and complex identity. Her subsequent poem La Mallinche recast her not as a traitor but as a victim. Mexican feminists defended Malinche as a woman caught between cultures, forced to make complex decisions, who ultimately served as a mother of a new race.
Some historians believe that La Malinche saved her people from the Aztecs, who held a hegemony throughout the territory and demanded tribute from its inhabitants. Some Mexicans also credit her with having brought Christianity to the New World from Europe, and for having influenced Cortés to be more humane than he would otherwise have been. It is argued, however, that without her help, Cortés would not have been successful in conquering the Aztecs as quickly, giving the Aztec people enough time to adapt to new technology and methods of warfare. From that viewpoint, she is seen as one who betrayed the indigenous people by siding with the Spaniards. Recently a number of feminist Latinas have decried such a categorization as scapegoating.
President José López Portillo commissioned a sculpture of Cortés, Doña Marina, and their son Martín, which was placed in front of Cortés's house in the Coyoacan section of Mexico City. Once López Portillo left office, the sculpture was removed to an obscure park in the capital.