Reference Entry


Liliana Obregón

in Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, Second Edition

Published in print January 2005 | ISBN: 9780195170559

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Born in Azemmour, Morocco, Estebanico (also known as Estevanico, Esteban, Estevanico the Moor, Black Stephen, and Esteban de Dorantes) may have been captured by Portuguese slave traders in North Africa between 1513 and 1521, and later sold in Europe. In 1528 he accompanied his owner—a Spanish explorer named Andrés de Dorantes—on an expedition led by conquistador Pánfilo de Narváez to settle unknown territory in North America. When they arrived in Florida, Narváez's group of some 300 men encountered many obstacles and were forced to split up in order to survive.The legendary explorer Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca headed the group that included Estebanico. They traveled around the area now known as the Florida Panhandle and the Mississippi River, and eventually wound up shipwrecked on what is now Galveston Island in Texas. Over time, almost all of the expedition's members died from hunger, thirst, exhaustion, or disease, or in clashes with native tribes. In his account of the expedition, Cabeza de Vaca relates that there were only four survivors: himself, Alonso del Castillo Maldonado, Andrés de Dorantes, and Estebanico. The four were captured and enslaved by different tribes, and were only reunited after six years of separation.Estebanico, along with other members of the group, learned some shamanist practices and traditional healing from Cabeza de Vaca. Together, the foursome traveled from Galveston to Mexico City, allegedly performing cures on the Indians they encountered, and earning a reputation as medicine men. Estebanico took charge of communicating with the local people in order to plan which routes to take. As a result of this close contact, he learned several native languages and began adorning himself with traditional amulets, feathers, and necklaces. Word of the group's healing powers spread far and wide. Indians of New Mexico later described them as “four great doctors, one of them black, the other three white, who gave blessings (and) healed the sick.”Around 1536, the group once again came in contact with Spanish colonizers. Some historians believe that when they reached Mexico City, Estebanico was sold to the viceroy, Antonio de Mendoza. Fascinated by Estebanico's stories, Mendoza sent his new slave to act as a guide and translator for Father Marcos de Niza, a Franciscan missionary who headed a new expedition in search of the legendary Seven Golden Cities of Cibola. Because he knew the territory, as well as the languages of several tribes, Estebanico journeyed ahead of de Niza to prepare the way for the Spanish colonizers. When he reached the Zuni warriors, however, they captured and killed him, for reasons that remain a mystery.

Reference Entry.  498 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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