Film Review of Conquistadors, Episode 4 All The World is Human: Four Survivors of Blooming Lands, Choppy Waters, Desert Isles, Extended Travel, and Furious Slave-hunters in Sixteenth-Century America
Bad luck can cluster in threes. Being chased out of Florida by natives with prior claims; losing expedition members to extreme terrain and weather; and spending years as brutalized slaves constitute a misfortunate trio. Some survivors of mixed friendly and hostile encounters with strangers recognize human nature’s ups-and-downs and make giant leaps towards respecting “us” and “them” in episode #4 “All the World is Human” to the four-part “Conquistadors” by writer/presenter Michael Wood.
Conquistadors is a 240-minute educational film by writer/presenter Michael Wood; producer Rebecca Dobbs; and director David Wallace. Respective responsibility for cinematography, editing, and music is by Peter Haney, Chris Lysaght, and Howard Davidson. Maya Vision International produced the four-episode series in 2001 for distribution by the Public Broadcasting Service.
Episode #4 begins with an expedition following modern-day Florida’s western coastline. Pánfilo de Narváez (1478-1528) led the expedition. A veteran of the conquests of Jamaica (1509) and of Cuba (1511), he was related to Cuba’s first conqueror-governor, Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar (1465-1524).
Six hundred men in five ships initially accompanied Pánfilo. In April 1528, Pánfilo decided to split the expedition. He had 300 men march from modern-day St. Petersburg to meet his fleet anchored near present-day Tallahassee.
But the fleet despaired of Pánfilo’s survival and departed. Pánfilo directed the men to build rafts for sailing westwards to Mexico. All but two rafts disappeared in strong currents from the Mississippi River’s mouth and during the Gulf of Mexico’s storm-riddled crossing.
Pánfilo’s treasurer, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca (1488?-1559?), called his landing point Malhado (“Misfortune”). The isle probably is modern-day Galveston Island. It was inhabited by nomads from the mainland.
The natives commiserated with Álvar, whom they subsequently enslaved. Álvar developed trading skills, which gave him limited freedom … if he pursued no escape plans. He learned of three other expedition survivors: Alonso del Castillo Maldonado (born 1500?), Andrés Dorantes de Carranza (1500-1550), and Moroccan Berber slave Estevanico (1500-1539). All four met and ran south to the Rio Grande border between modern-day Texas and Mexico.
Scholars traditionally believe that Álvar traveled northwestwards through the modern-day southwestern United States of America. He then followed the Shell Trade Trail to Casas Grandes (“Big Houses”) and further south. But perhaps the route involved the Comanche and Shell Trade Trail portions south of the Rio Grande.
In 1542, Álvar published an account of his experiences. The account was entitled initially La Relación (“The Report”) and subsequently Naufragios (“Shipwrecks”). Three descriptions were critical to suggesting a southerly route for the quartet: black manganese, iron slag, and small pine cones with paper-thin shells.
Episode #4 ends with Álvar’s meeting with Spanish slave-hunters near present-day Culiacán in Sinaloa, northwestern coastal Mexico.
“All the World is Human” impacts powerfully and unforgettably upon viewers because of Michael Wood’s acquaintance with original sources and inclusion of the vociferous support by Bartolomé de las Casas (1484-1566) to respecting natives as humans, an outlook articulated throughout Álvar’s account.
Copyright: Tuesday, July 31, 2012, by Derdriu.