Re -“interpreting” the conquest: European and Amerindian translators and go -betweens in the colonization of the Americas, 1492–1675

Francis Xavier Luca, Florida International University


This dissertation aims to recover the lives and careers of those Amerindians and Europeans who voluntarily or involuntarily took on the role of intercultural interpreters in the contact, conquest, and early colonial period in the Americas between 1492 and 1675. It intends to prove that these so-called “marginal” figures assumed roles that went far beyond those of linguistic and cultural translators, and often had a decisive impact on early Indian-colonial relations. In the course of my research, I consulted hundreds of published sixteenth- and seventeenth-century chronicles, narratives, and memoirs in my search for references to interpreters. I augmented these accounts with information derived from unpublished archival documents, drawn primarily from the Archivo General de Indias, in Seville, Spain. I organized my findings in theme-driven chapters that begin with a consideration of the historiography of that subject. Each chapter is further subdivided into chronologically-arranged historical vignettes that focus on the interpreters who mediated between the Spanish, Portuguese, French, English and Dutch and the various Native American polities and cultures. I found that colonial authorities and Amerindian communities alike recognized the absolute necessity of recruiting competent and loyal interpreters and go-betweens, and that both sides tried to secure their loyal service by means both fair and foul. Although pressured, pushed, and pulled in contrary directions, most interpreters recognized the pivotal position they held in cross-cultural negotiations and rarely remained passive pawns in the contests between the forces of domination and defense. All across the Americas, interpreters used their linguistic and diplomatic skills, and their intimate knowledge of the “other” not simply to facilitate conquest or spearhead the opposition, but to transform themselves from “culture brokers” into “power brokers.” Many of the decisive events that shaped colonial-Indian relations turned on the actions of these culturally-ambiguous individuals, a fact bemoaned and begrudgingly acknowledged by most of the contemporary conquistadors, chroniclers, and colonial founders, and recognized by this author.

Subject Area

Latin American history|American history|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Luca, Francis Xavier, "Re -“interpreting” the conquest: European and Amerindian translators and go -betweens in the colonization of the Americas, 1492–1675" (2004). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3128610.