The Encounter between Native and European was certainly not one-sided. The Aztecs have also left behind a record of their impressions of the Spanish. Montezuma sent messengers to meet with Cortés, to present him gifts and greetings. Cortés responded with as de las Casas described: by discharging his weapons in an attempt to awe the natives. The messengers reported back to Montezuma their impressions, which had a strong effect upon the great warrior.
As you read, consider the following questions:
1. Compare the impression the Aztecs had with that of the Europeans. What characteristics did each find remarkable about the other? What does this indicate about the cultures of each group?
2. How might Montezuma’s reaction have contributed to the Spanish conquest of the Americas?
3. What do you think was the purpose of the dogs? Why would the Spanish bring dogs with them?
The Messengers’ Report, 1519
[Montezuma] was also terrified to learn how the cannon roared, how its noise resounded, how it caused one to faint and grow deaf. The messengers told him: “A thing like a ball of stone comes out of its entrails: it comes out shooting sparks and raining fire. The smoke that comes out of it has a pestilential odor, like that of rotten mud. This odor penetrates even to the brain and causes the greatest discomfort. If the cannon is aimed against a mountain, the mountain splits and cracks open. If it is aimed against a tree, it shatters the tree into splinters. This is a most unnatural sight, as if the tree had exploded from within.”
The messengers also said: “Their trappings and arms are all made of iron. They dress in iron and wear iron casques [helmets] on their heads. Their swords are iron; their bows are iron; their shields are iron; their spears are iron. Their deer carry them on their backs wherever they wish to go. These deer, our lord, are as tall as the roof of a house.
“The strangers’ bodies are completely covered, so that only their faces can be seen. Their skin is white, as if it were made of lime. They have yellow hair, though some of them have black. Their beards are long and yellow, and their moustaches are also yellow. Their hair is curly, with very fine strands.
“Their dogs are enormous, with flat ears and long, dangling tongues. The color of their eyes is a burning yellow; their eyes flash fire and shoot off sparks. Their bellies are hollow, their flanks long and narrow. They are tireless and very powerful. They bound here and there, panting, with their tongues hanging out. And they are spotted like an ocelot.”
When [Montezuma] heard this report, he was filled with terror. It was as if his heart had fainted, as if it had shriveled. It was as if he were conquered by despair.
Links for further information:
Belize and Ambergri Caye: The Aztec Acount of the Spanish Conquest of Mexico