Reséndez and Economics/Trade

In the two chapters that we read for today, Reséndez describes the castaways’ time enslaved by the natives. Throughout these two chapters we learn a lot about Native American society and culture, but also specifically their economy.

I agree that independent and unaffiliated merchants, such as Cabeza de Vaca, were important figures in Native American society, a point that needs emphasizing because many people still think of Native American trade as being between two groups or tribes without a middle man. At the beginning of the Spaniards’ relationship with the natives, they were treated well, but slowly became slaves. (143) However, the native cultures that the Spaniards interacted with were not slaving societies. They didn’t systematically take slaves as the Europeans did but rather “tolerated like stray dogs and permitted to stay as long as they made themselves useful.” (146) Once Cabeza de Vaca left the band on Malhado, he joined the Charrucos, a band at war with several other groups around them. This left them unable to trade with hostile groups, which allowed Cabeza de Vaca to become an independent merchant, a middle man for them. He writes “‘And this occupation served me well because practicing it, I had the freedom to go wherever I wanted, and I was not constrained in any way nor enslaved,” showing how a former slave could become a merchant in the New World and a valued one at that. He was what allowed warring tribes to trade with each other, shifting what people usually think of when they think of native economies. Another way the castaways obtained goods was through practicing their healing, which they thought came from God. They became very famous through the land and natives would beg for their help. They claimed to have never failed at healing someone, and in exchange, the natives would give them bountiful gifts, thus further cementing the respect and power individuals could have inside of a community they didn’t belong to.



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