December 22, 2008

Cabeza de Vaca in Terminator

Recently, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles gave us a reference to the Modoc War. Now it's come up with another Native-themed reference.

In the Dec. 15 episode titled Earthlings Welcome Here, Sarah opens with this portentous monologue:In 1490, the Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca landed on the shores of the new world, seeking power and fortune. He was immediately attacked and captured. Almost all of his traveling companions murdered.

Enslaved, de Vaca chose to embrace his captors' beliefs and learn their ways. He became a healer. Over time, he was freed. And de Vaca attracted his own following. He believed he had the power over life and death. The desert had transformed him.

He was not the first. And he would not be the last.
Comment:  People discussed this opening bit online. For instance, in Re: Terminator-213 "Earthlings Welcome Here"--Discuss/Grade, they noted that Cabeza de Vaca couldn't have come to America in 1490 because Columbus "discovered" it in 1492. They surmised that the writers mixed up his birthdate and his arrival date. Or that Sarah Connor lives in an alternate timeline where Cabeza de Vaca actually did arrive in 1490.

I'm betting it was an unintentional mistake, not an intentional clue. No doubt the writers knew when Columbus sailed the ocean blue but didn't make the connection. At that moment, it meant "a long time ago" to them, not "two years before Columbus."

More boo-boos

The narration includes a few other mistakes.

The unnamed captors were Indians, of course. Given that Cabeza de Vaca adopted their beliefs, it would've been nice to give them credit.

The Indians did not capture the men of the Narváez expedition immediately. Actually, Cabeza de Vaca was shipwrecked on the coast of Texas some six months later with eighty men. That was the beginning of his eight-year trek through the Southwest, which left him with only three companions.

Calling the Indians' actions "murder" is unfair. Soon after the Europeans arrived, Wikipedia tells what happened:[T]he royal officials assembled ashore and performed the highly ritualized formal declaration and authentication of Narváez as royal governor of La Florida. He then read the Requerimiento that explained to any natives listening that their land belonged to Charles V by order of the pope. He also explained that they had the choice of converting to Christianity. If they chose to convert, they would be loved and welcomed with open arms. If they chose not to, war would be made upon them. Pleas and threats by a party of natives the next day were ignored.If that's not a declaration of war, it's close to it. Knowing the Spaniards' genocidal intent, the Indians had a right to fight in self-defense. Letting the self-proclaimed conquerors go unchecked would've been disastrous.

Finally, the explorer's full name was Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca. His full last name was Cabeza de Vaca. Sarah was wrong to call him "de Vaca" ("of a cow"), a fragment of a name.


Overall, this bit is another case of two steps forward, one step back. The first step was mentioning Indians in the first place. Kudos to Terminator's writers for including another Native-themed reference.

The second step forward was crediting the Indians for having values superior to the Europeans'. The step back was implying the Indians were slavers and murderers--i.e., savages--without providing any context. Oh, well...can't win 'em all.

P.S. I sense a trend forming: a groundswell of support for Cabeza de Vaca in the media. Has his time finally arrived?

For more on the subject, see TV Shows Featuring Indians.

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