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Death in El Dorado: The Anthropophagous Jungle in One Account of Lope de Aguirre's Revolt

From: Hispanófila
Volume 160, Septiembre 2010
pp. 43-59 | 10.1353/hsf.2010.0023

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Death in El Dorado:
The Anthropophagous Jungle in One Account of Lope de Aguirre's Revolt
Kimberly Borchard
Randolph-Macon College


1. Zúñiga refers to the river system now known as the Amazon as the Marañón, the name used by the earliest Spanish explorers of the region (Mampel González 3n1). Marañones was the term adopted by the rebellious soldier Lope de Aguirre to refer to the participants in the El Dorado expedition led by Pedro de Ursúa, following Ursúa's death.

2. Emiliano Jos believes that Zúñiga composed the account as a letter to his father, basing this assumption on a substantially torn and illegible note scrawled on the original manuscript and omitted from subsequent editions of the Relación (22-24). However, the note is so incomplete that any definitive interpretation is impossible. Were the document intended as a personal letter, it would be a highly idiosyncratic one. As discussed below, numerous characteristics of the account clearly indicate Zúñiga's exculpatory intent. Furthermore, the author all but excludes himself as a first-person participant in the events narrated, which would be extremely unusual in a family epistolary exchange.

3. Thanks to the existence of an extremely large body of recent work regarding ekphrasis and the verbal rendering of visual images, I do not feel that it is necessary to elaborate any explanation of my designation of Zúñiga's verbal topography as a "map" here. Regarding the tradition of topographical ekphrasis in New World literature, Ricardo Padrón develops an excellent definition and defense of the verbal map within textual discourse (92-136). For a succinct overview of early New World cartography, see Zugasti (9-17).

4. For more on the general problem of authority in New World discourse, see Pagden (51-87); Mignolo; Adorno; Pastor Bodmer; and Gaylord. Regarding the "newness" of New World geography, Stephanie Merrim explains Columbus' seemingly delusional geographical musings in the Relación del tercer viaje as an attempt to avoid heresy by making the unexpected geography of the New World fit into the preexisting conception of the earth (67).

5. I refer exclusively to the tradition of the relación de Indias. In so doing, I propose that the narrative modality of New World chronicles uniquely conflates what Gérard Genette describes as the "homodiegetic [account] with a protagonist-narrator ('hero') and the homodiegetic [account] with a witness-narrator." Genette clarifies the distinction between these two modalities by designating the first case as an "autodiegetic" account, and hypothesizes "that the only choice available to the narrator is between those two extreme roles" (102). Thus, the relación de Indias constitutes a third modality: the autodiegetic account in which the protagonist-narrator also speaks as a witness of the events in which he participates, taking on both of the roles that Genette characterizes as mutually exclusive. I should also point out that my use of Genette's terminology differs from that of Maria E. Mayer, who uses the term "narrador homodiegético" simply to describe a narrator that articulates discourse as a character within her or his own narrative (94).

6. All translations of Zúñiga's text are my own.

7. Anthony Pagden recalls Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo's admonition to his readers "that those who 'have to hear me from so far away should not judge me unless they have seen this land about which I write'" (59). Zúñiga's insistence upon the hostility of the Amazonian jungle is indicative of a similar stance, although his underlying motives were markedly different — and more pressing.

8. Not coincidentally, Acosta also lauds the Tlaxcaltecas for their collaboration with the Spanish during the conquest, thus presenting their civilizing works as the ultimate phase of a providential design to ready the continent for Christian evangelization (322).

9. The phrase tierra de guerra was used in colonial texts to denote lands still defended by their indigenous inhabitants, and therefore dangerous for European intruders. Without devaluing the significance of the conventional use of the phrase, I suggest that its connotations are nuanced and made yet more ominous by the categorically negative experience of the natural...