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Friday, July 29, 2011

Essay on Hernan Cortes - Biography of Hernan Cortes and his Importance in History

Hernando Cortes Pizarro, otherwise known as Hernan Cortes, was born in 1485 in the kingdom of Castile in the city of Medellin.  His parents were Martin Cortes de Monroy and Catalina Pizarro Altamirano who were both in the upper class of society.  Cortes, who was the only son in the family, was rather very sickly as a young boy.  He went to school at the University of Salamanca and studied law.  He was however never happy studying law.  As a result, he soon quit schooling and decided to become a soldier. 

Despite his restlessness as a young man, there was one thing that interested him the most.  That is he dreamed of one day seeing what lies in the New World.  During his time, there were already stories about the discovery of the New World and the riches that await any person who goes there.  These stories about the New World filled him with awe. 

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In 1511, Cortes joined the fleet of Diego Velazquez as they conquered Cuba.  Because of the important role he played in the conquest of Cuba, he was given lands and slaves.  He was eventually rewarded by becoming the alcalde or mayor of Santiago de Cuba.  Despite his accomplishments, Cortes was a very ambitious man.  Dreaming more wealth, more power, more slaves and more adventures, he wanted to sail to Mexico and sought permission from Diego Velasquez to give him the command to lead the expedition to Mexico.  Velasquez, was however very suspicious of the actions and the extreme desire of Cortes.  Fearing that Cortes may later on renounce his authority once he gives him permission and he reaches Mexico, Velasquez denied him the authority.  Cortez was however adamant.  In 1519, he proceeded to Mexico and under his authority were 11 ships, more than 500 soldiers, 100 sailors, 16 horses and artillery. 

Other authors say that there are other persons who were more qualified than Cortez to lead the expedition.  But he was known for his experience and courage among the Spaniards.  Thus, he was able to recruit so much people to join him in search for the New World.  Another reason why Cortes was able to recruit people to join him in his expedition is to the opportunity to grab new lands.  Years before the expedition to Mexico, Spain conquered Cuba.  Some Spaniards who were the first ones to arrive in Cuba were lucky since they were given the best lands.  On the other hand, those who arrived late were also given lands but they were not as good as those given to those who first arrived.  Moreover, some Spaniards who joined Cortes lived in areas which are poor and overpopulated.  For the majority of the Spaniards who joined Cortes they thought that this is a good opportunity for to search for wealth and new land.  Thus, they want to be among the first to reach Mexico

In Mexico, he met Jeronimo de Aguilar, a Franciscan priest who had been shipwrecked since 1511.  With the help of de Aguilar, he began his conquest of Mexico and claimed it in the name of Spain

Contributions to Mexican civilization
Hernan Cortes did not have the best interest of Mexico when he left Spain.  When he left Spain in search for the New World, he only thought about his ambitions of greatness, and his search for more wealth, more gold, more power and more land.  Despite this, however, his conquest of Mexico brought about many important benefits to it.  One of the first major contribution of Hernan Cortes is Mexican civilization is his introduction of sugar. (Monroy et al, 1980)  At present, sugar is the first and most important harvest in Mexico.  Its sugar harvest doubles that of the tomato, corn, carrot and potato.  The Camara Nacional de la Industry Azucarera y Alcoholera or the Sugar and Alcohol National Bureau states that the sugar cane harvest extends on 611 ha and employes 2.5 million people.  In addition, there are 61 sugar cane mills along 12 mexican states which are: Tabasco, San Luis, Oaxaca, Morelos, Nayarit, Michoacan, Sinaloa, Jalisco, Quintana Roo, Campeche, Tamaulipas and Veracruz. (Monroy et al, 1980)  According to Blumenkron (1951), Cortes first introduced sugar cane in the Tuxtlas region in 1521.  He then transferred cultivation of the cane to La Hacienda de Tlaltenango and installed the first known press in Mexico.

Another significant influence of Cortes is his introduction of a wide variety of livestock, the most important of which is the horses which they brought from Spain.  Before their arrival, the native Indians hunted buffalo and game only on foot.  Because they lack the speed and agility of the horses, the native Indians mostly had to rely on their skills, ingenuities and abilities to catch food.  When the Spaniards arrived, that was the first time the native Indians saw horses.  In fact, there are accounts describing the horses used by Cortes as a demon with six feet.  With the introduction of horses, the native Indians had an easier time hunting for buffalo and game.  With their hunting skills, catching food suddenly became easier.  Their diet improved and their lives became a bit easier.  In addition to horses, swine, cattle, sheep and goats were likewise introduced.  Because these cattle reproduced very easily, meat soon became the staple in Mexico.

In view of the Spaniards policy of introducing its flora to the New World, Cortes brought a variety of plants to Mexico.  Among these plants are wheat, rice, barley, and oats. (Ralph Russo 3)  

There was also an exchange of technology between the Spaniards and the Native Americans.  The Spaniards introduced to the Native Americans the use of plow which greatly helped in their farming.  They also brought to Mexico techniques in the use of various traps, axeheads, knives, ice chisels, and muskets which helped in their hunting.  Because of the different techniques the Native Americans learned from the Spaniards, they were able to get more furs and subsequently improve their trading opportunities with the rest of the world.  In addition, they were also able to improve cloth production which made them skilled weavers.  

Cortes can also be credited for introducing to Mexico the use of metals and irons.  In fact, what made it very easy for Cortes and his men to conquer the Native Americans is its use of metals for its weapons and shields.  Canons were also instrumental as the native were so frightened by the mere sound of canons that they submission became their only option.

Without the 600 men that Cortes brought with him in Mexico inter-racial relationships and marriages would not have been possible.  The union between Spaniards and the Native Americans initially separated by lands and oceans resulted in what is known as the mestizos which means a mixture of Spanish and Native American blood.  In fact, Hernan Cortes was the first person to become the father of a Spanish mestizo. (Dale Hoyt Palfrey 3) These inter-racial marriages and unions led to the birth of a new and beautiful race in Mexico.     

The most important contribution of the Cortez is the spread of Christianity to the New World.  Before the arrival of the Spaniards, the Native Americans were pagans.  They worshipped the trees, plants, animals, the skies, the clouds and the earth.  They carried out sacrifices.  With the arrival of the Spaniards, the Native Americans were introduced to Christianity.  While Christianity was introduced in Mexico by Spanish expeditions long before the arrival of Cortes, the extent of his colonization made it possible for Christianity to spread more rapidly than the early conquistadores.  At present, Christianity is the major religion in Mexico comprising about 95% of its population.

If there are benefits, there are however certain disadvantages brought about by the arrival of Cortes in Mexico.  One of these is the diseases which were carried by the members of his expeditions to Mexico.  It is said that the Spaniards brought to Mexico small pox, malaria, typuhs and measles which devastated the Native Americans.  Since they did not have the technology to fight these diseases, a significant percentage of the population died.   It is said that between 50 to 90% of the population of the Native American died because of these diseases.

Some persons set foot on Earth and create so much impact not only to friends and families but even to an entire culture.  Hernan Cortes was one such person.  His tenacity, perseverance, will and determination made him one of the most influential persons in Mexico.  In fact, he may have even changed the course of the entire history because of the ripple effect of his conquest of Mexico

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