"Castaways" by Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca is a book about a six-year journey that through the present gulf coast of the United States. It begins with the hope of gaining wealth from the expedition. Narvaez, the leader, tells about the prospects of the journey to other investors who are willing to fund it. The journey passes through several different cultural groupings around the gulf. The author seems to be so much focused on what they go through in the journey since they face hunger, starvation, diseases and attacks from the same people they set out to conquer. However, it is through the same lenses that we get to learn about the cultures of the natives in the gulf. We are able to highlight social, political and economical aspects of the indigenous cultures encountered from this expedition.
The cultures encountered in this expedition engage in farming as a source of food. Throughout the book, we discover evidence of availability of foodstuff like maize among the communities. It is notable that when the troops are divided into the land and the sea forces, the forces on the land walk for two weeks almost starving until they come to a village north of the Withlacoochee River. In the village, the land troops capture the natives and take corn from their fields. It is also evident that when the expeditors reach Timucua village, the chief, who collaborates with them, sends them provisions of maize. When the starving people arrive in the village of Aute, they find it deserted and burnt down. Thus, they harvest maize, beans and squash from the plantations. These scenarios provide evidence that the native cultures depend on farming as source of food.
The communities in this book are organized into villages of houses built together. The villages are able to organize themselves and even defend themselves against common enemies. This aspect of organization is noticeable among other indigenous cultures across the world. In the book, the Apaches village is a direct evidence of such organization. When the Spaniards reach this village, they find forty houses and even guess that it may be the capital of the American gulf. The Apaches stage the most protracted attacks against the Spaniards. They first send two hundred warriors with fiery arrows who attack and burn the houses, where the Europeans live. They are so tactful that in two attacks they lose only two people. This community is credited among the founders of guerilla war tactics. They also attack Europeans in the swamp making their journey a nightmare. The case of the Apaches clearly portrays noticeable organization and self defense among the indigenous cultures.
Trade is an important economic activity among the cultures in the American gulf. These native societies participate majorly in barter trade amongst themselves and also with visitors. When the expedition arrives in Florida, the comptroller is the first to alight and trades glass beads, brass bells and cloth for fish and venison.It is through trade that any community gains what they cannot produce, which makes the exchange a very noticeable aspect in the culture of the native communities.
We also observe that indigenous cultures have a lot of respect for their dead. The author notices this when they encounter a village inland of Florida, where freight boxes are used as coffins for the dead. Given the amount of respect accorded to the dead, there must be rituals that accompanied the burials of the dead. It becomes more notable, when the boxes are opened and gold and food is taken from the boxes.
The native communities in this book have a leadership structure with one leader at the top. Each indigenous community needed a leader to guide them during situations like war and receiving of emissaries who visit their territories. When the Spaniards reach the village of Timucua, they are received by the chief, Dunchanchellin, who is pleased to know that they are going to attack the Apaches, who are their enemies. He goes ahead to give them provisions of maize. The episode clearly evidences existence of notable structure of leadership among the native cultures.
In conclusion, the essay has identified notable aspects of the indigenous cultures that Cabeza de Vaca encounters in his expedition that starts with the quest of gaining wealth and conquering the communities in the gulf coast of the United States. The passion and interest remains alive despite the many challenges the author and other Spaniards experience. Nearly all of them die but their experiences remain to tell the story that is five hundred years old, a story of the notable cultural aspects during the expedition. Lives may have been lost, but the narration of culture lives to date.