We did not set out to write biographical narrative as we began research
in the General Archive of the Indies in Seville in the early months of
Our subject was the history of an entire people, the native
inhabitants of the Colca valley of Peru, from the time of the European
conquest in the
as. During the course of research we came across a
bundle of documents relating to first one, then more, legal claims
against one of the settlers of the valley. We found no good information
to complete the intended ethnohistory in these
but we did
become more and more engrossed by the court case that daily unfolded
before our eyes. As we read, we became slowly convinced that the story
of the protagonists deserved a hearing.
The rise of Spain, beginning with the marriage of Ferdinand of
Aragon and Isabella of Castile in
to the death of Philip II in
is stunning. Many important events took place in that span of time, but
perhaps the most significant was the discovery of a new continent in
by Christopher Columbus. The exploration and conquest of that
distant and vast territory, and the hitherto unimaginable quantities of
silver and gold found there, helped support Spain's pretentions to
European hegemony. During the sixteenth century thousands of young
men from all sectors of Iberian society, often born far from the sea-
coast, took to the waters of the Atlantic. With the exception of the
major conquistadores, men such as Cortes, Ponce de Leon, de Soto,
Orellana, the Pizarros-the leaders whose exploits were described
meticulously by contemporary chroniclers-we know precious little of
the less illustrious men and women who settled in the colonies.
Why did so many break roots in Spain, leave their homes, their
mothers and fathers, their sisters and brothers, and risk the voyage to
the unknown lands in the west? The promise of riches was often one of
the reasons, but there were other, more
and at times personal
motives. How did they pay for the passage, who did they associate
with, and how did they establish themselves in the New World? What
of the women, generally ignored in the primary accounts of the events
of discovery and conquest? We know that although many remained in
Spain, there were enough courageous women who ventured to the
Indies in the early expeditions
leave an indelible mark on colonial
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