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Bornc. 1500
Hawikuh, Nuevo México, New Spain
Other namesEsteban the Moor, Little Stephen, Esteban de Dorantes, Mustafa Azemmouri
OccupationExplorer in present-day Mexico and parts of the southwest United States

Estevanico ("Little Stephen"; modern spelling Estebanico; c. 1500–1539), also known as Esteban de Dorantes or Mustafa Azemmouri (مصطفى الزموري), was the first African to explore North America.

Estevanico first appears as a slave in Portuguese records in Morocco, with him being sold to a Spanish nobleman in about 1521. In 1527 he joined the Spanish Narváez expedition to explore "La Florida", present-day Northern Mexico and Southern United States.

He has been referred to as "the first great African man in America".[1][2] He became a folk hero in the folklore of Spain and legend in New Spain, his exploration and cataloging of the Gulf of Mexico, and what is today modern Florida and Texas, resulted in numerous legends about him.[3][4] During his final exploration and disappearance in New Mexico, and what would become the Southwestern United States, he became mythologized as part of stories involving the Seven Cities of Gold in Santa Fe de Nuevo México.[5][6] In both historical and modern depictions he is shown as a great explorer,[7] physical and moral guide,[8] and conquistador.[9]


Early life[edit]

It is unclear what his background was; some contemporary accounts referred to him as a "Moor", a term originally applied to Berbers. But most contemporary accounts of his day simply referred to him by his personal nicknames Estevanico, Azemmouri, and El Negro (a common Spanish nickname, meaning "the black").

Later translations of the Spanish accounts such as that by Rolena Adorno and Patrick Charles Pautz, translated a descirption of him as, "The fourth is named Estevanico; he is an Arabic-speaking black man, a native of Azamor".[10] Another translation, done by Professors Martin A Favata (University of Tampa) and José B. Fernández (University of Central Florida), translated the last sentence as "The fourth is named Estebanico, he is a black Arab and a native of Azamor"[11]

As a young man, Estevanico was sold into slavery in 1522 in the Portuguese-controlled Moroccan town of Azemmour, on the Atlantic coast. He was sold to a Spanish nobleman, Andrés Dorantes de Carranza. Slavery in Spain was very different, as it did not take part in the Atlantic slave trade, and there were paths to freedom more readily available in the Spanish Empire. It is unclear if Azemmouri was raised Muslim but Spain did not allow non-Catholics to travel to New Spain, so he would have been part of the Catholic Church in order to join the expedition. His Christian name Estevan (is a Spanish form of "Stephen"), implies that he was baptized as a Catholic.

Narváez Expedition[edit]

Reconstructed route of the Narváez-Cabeza de Vaca expedition.

The expedition of some 300 men, led by the newly appointed adelantado (governor) of La Florida, Pánfilo de Narváez,[12] left Cuba in February 1528 intending to go to Isla de las Palmas near present-day Tampico, Mexico, to establish two settlements. Storms and strong winds forced the fleet to the western coast of Florida. The Narváez expedition landed in present-day St. Petersburg, Florida, on the shores of Boca Ciega Bay. Narváez ordered his ships, and 100 men and 10 women to sail north in search of a large harbor that his pilots assured them was nearby. He led another 300 men, with 42 horses, north along the coast, intending to rejoin his ships at the large harbor. There is no large harbor north of Boca Ciega Bay, and Narváez never saw his ships again.

After marching 300 miles north, and having armed confrontations with Native Americans, the survivors built boats to sail westward along the Gulf Coast shoreline hoping to reach Pánuco and the Rio de las Palmas. A storm struck when they were near Galveston Island, Texas. Approximately 80 men survived the storm, being washed ashore at Galveston Island. After 1529, three survivors from one boat, including Estevanico, became enslaved by Coahuiltecan Indians; in 1532, they were reunited with a survivor from a different boat, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca.[13][14] The four spent years enslaved on the Texas barrier islands.[13]

In 1534 the four survivors escaped into the American interior and became medicine men. The four men, Cabeza de Vaca, Andrés Dorantes de Carranza, Alonso del Castillo Maldonado and Estevan, escaped captivity in 1534 and traveled west into present-day Texas Southwestern US, and Northern Mexico. They were the first Europeans and African to enter the American West. Having walked nearly 2,000 miles since their initial landing in Florida, they finally reached a Spanish settlement in Sinaloa. They traveled from there to Mexico City, 1,000 miles to the south. As medicine men they were treated with great respect and offered food, shelter, and gifts, and villages held celebrations in their honor. When they decided they wanted to leave, the host village would guide them to the next village.[15] Sometimes as many as 3,000 people would follow them to the next village.[16] The party traversed the continent as far as western Mexico, into the Sonoran Desert to the region of Sonora in New Spain (present-day Mexico). After finding a small Spanish settlement, the four survivors travelled 1,000 miles to the south to Mexico City, arriving in July 1536.

Cabeza de Vaca published the Relación, a book about their 8-year survival journey, in 1542 and included information about Estevanico. It was reprinted again in 1555. It was the first published book to describe the peoples, wildlife, flora and fauna of inland North America, and the first to describe the American bison. In the Relación, Cabeza de Vaca often referred to Azemmouri as the one who went in advance of the other three survivors, as Estevan had learned some parts of the indigenous language.

Expedition to New Mexico and disappearance[edit]

In Mexico City, the four survivors told stories of wealthy indigenous tribes to the north in the "Seven Cities of Cibola", which created a stir among Spaniards in Mexico.[17] When the three Spaniards declined to lead an expedition to the north, Antonio de Mendoza the Viceroy of New Spain, appointed Estevanico as the guide in expeditions to the North.

In 1539, Estevanico left Mexico City, travelled to Sinaloa, and accompanied Friar Marcos de Niza as the guide in search of the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola, preceding Coronado by a year. Estevanico was chosen by the Viceroy of New Spain in 1539 to serve as the main guide for a return expedition to the Southwest led by Fray Marcos de Niza. He traveled ahead of the main party with a group of Sonoran Indians. He was instructed to communicate by sending back crosses to the main party, with the size of the cross equal to the wealth discovered. One day, a cross arrived that was as tall as a person, causing de Niza to step up his pace to join the scouts.[18] He had apparently reached the village of Hawikuh (in present-day New Mexico). There is no first-person account of what took place at Hawikuh. According to the Marcos de Niza account, they reportedly killed him and a large number of Northern Mexican Indians who had accompanied him. After hearing this, De Niza quickly returned to New Spain.

Marcos de Niza reported in his own Relacíon that Estevanico was killed in the Pueblo of Hawikuh in 1539.[19] The Sonorans that ammopanied him reported Azemmouri's death to Friar Marcos de Niza, who did not see him killed.[20] Estevanico was the first non-Native to visit Pueblo lands.[21][22]

There is no certainty as to the cause or manner of Estevanico's death, and likely never will be. Virtually all stories of his death are based on legend or speculation. Some historians suggest that he was killed because the Zuni did not believe his story that he represented a party of Europeans who were following him. Others speculate that he was killed for demanding turquoise and women.[23] Roberts and Roberts wrote that Estevan who was North African, wore owl feathers and carried a medicine-man's gourd may have been seen by the Zuni as impersonating a medicine man, which they punished by death. Others believe he may have resembled an evil sorcerer who existed in the Zuni religion, the "Chaikwana" kachina."[24] Juan Francisco Maura suggested in 2002 that the Zuni did not kill Estevanico, but rather he and his friends remained among the A:shiwi who probably helped him fake his death so he could regain his freedom.[25] Some folklore legends say that the Kachina figure, Chakwaina, is based on Azemmouri.[26] In any case, legends of his disappearance in the Nuevo México region ultimately led to the backdrop for the Tiguex War.[27]

Representation in other media[edit]

  • The Moor's Account, a 2014 novel by American writer Laila Lalami, is a fictional memoir of Azemmouri. Lalami explains that little is known about his background except for one line in Cabeza de Vaca's chronicle: "The fourth [survivor] is Estevanico, an Arab Negro from Azamor."[28][29]
  • The character Esteban in the anime series, The Mysterious Cities Of Gold. was believed to be loosely based on the story of Estevanico.[7]
  • Professor A.L.I., an educator and rapper, often goes by the alter-ego 'Black Steven', which he says is a nod to Estevanico the Moor.[30]
  • Estavanico, a poem by Jeffrey Yang, was published in Poetry, July/August 2017. It is "narrated" by the Spanish explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca. In 52 free-verse lines, the poem recounts the story of de Vaca's years of exploration in the New World with Azemmouri as a physical and moral guide.[8]
  • Estevanico can appear as a conquistador in Paradox Interactive's Europa Universalis IV via event.[9]
  • Jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd named the first song on his 1970 album Electric Byrd after Azemmouri, using the spelling “Estavanico.”
  • In 1940, Estevanico was honored with one of the 33 dioramas at the American Negro Exposition in Chicago.[31]
  • Time Machine, a 2020 hybrid documentary by Moroccan filmmaker Tarek Bouraque, is set in a past/present/future time where Azemmouri, born in 1502, undertakes a journey to the 21st century.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Parish, Helen Rand (1974). Estebanico. New York: Viking Press. ISBN 067029814X.
  2. ^ Herrick, Dennis (2018). Esteban: The African Slave Who Explored America. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 9780826359827.
  3. ^ LA, Our Weekly (February 15, 2019). "Estevanico: The man, the myth, the legend". Our Weekly. Retrieved September 6, 2022.
  4. ^ "Estevanico". TSHA. July 19, 2016. Retrieved September 6, 2022.
  5. ^ Nomad, New Mexico (December 13, 2018). "Esteban the Moor : New Mexico Nomad". New Mexico Nomad. Retrieved September 6, 2022.
  6. ^ "Mystery confines Estebanico, black explorer of US Southwest". AP NEWS. July 14, 2021. Retrieved September 6, 2022.
  7. ^ a b Zurita, Jeff (May 19, 2019). "Estevan and the Cities of Gold – Jeff Zurita's Notes". Jeff Zurita's Notes. Retrieved September 6, 2022.
  8. ^ a b Yang, Jeffrey (August 2017). "Estevanico". Poetry Foundation. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
  9. ^ a b "Seven Cities events". Europa Universalis 4 Wiki. May 7, 2021. Retrieved September 6, 2022.
  10. ^ Adorno, Rolena, and Patrick Charles Pautz (1999). The Narrative of Cabeza de Vaca. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 080326416X.
  11. ^ Favata, Martin A, and José B. Fernández (1993). The Account: Àlvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca's Relación. Houston, Texas: Arte Publico Press. ISBN 1558850600.
  12. ^ The Complete Encyclopedia of African American History. Canton, MI: Visible Ink Press. 2018. p. 17. ISBN 9781578595365.
  13. ^ a b Donald E. Chipman. "ESTEVANICO". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 30 March 2020. They were later captured and enslaved by Coahuiltecan Indians who lived southwest of the Guadalupe River. In fall 1532 the three men were joined in slavery by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, the sole survivor from a second raft
  14. ^ Cabeza de Vaca, Álvar Núñez (1983). Cabeza de Vaca's Adventures in the Unknown Interior of America. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press. pp. Chapter II.
  15. ^ Reséndez, Andrés (2009). A Land So Strange. New York: Basic Books. p. 190.
  16. ^ Reséndez, Andrés (2009). A Land So Strange. New York: Basic Books.
  17. ^ Chipman, Donald T.; Denise Joseph (1999). Notable Men and Women of Spanish Texas. Austin, Tx: University of Texas Press. p. 17.
  18. ^ Weigle, Marta (2003). The Lore of New Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. pp. 38–39. ISBN 9780826331571.
  19. ^ Niza, Fray Marcos de (1999). Adolph F. Bandelier's The Discovery of New Mexico by the Monk Friar Marcos de Niza in 1539. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press.
  20. ^ George P. Hammond and Agapito Rey, eds. Narratives of the Coronado Expedition. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1940, 77.
  21. ^ Brandon, William (2003). The Rise and Fall of North American Indians. Lanham, MD: Roberts Rinehart Publishers. p. 154. ISBN 9781570984525.
  22. ^ McDonald, Dedra S. (1998). "Intimacy and Empire: Indian-African Interaction in Spanish Colonial New Mexico, 1500-1800". American Indian Quarterly. 22 (1–2): 134–156. JSTOR 1185114.
  23. ^ Chipman, Donald E. (2010). "Estevanico". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 13 Aug 2009.
  24. ^ Roberts, C.A.; Roberts, S. (2006). New Mexico. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico. pp. 24–26.
  25. ^ Maura, Juan Francisco (2002). "Nuevas interpretaciones sobre las aventuras de Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Esteban de Dorantes, y Fray Marcos de Niza". Revista de Estudios Hispánicos. 29 (1–2): 129–154.
  26. ^ Washburn, Wilcomb E. (1996). The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas, Part 1. London: Cambridge University Press. p. 371.
  27. ^ "Coronado's Expedition of the Southwest – Legends of America". Legends of America – Traveling through American history, destinations & legends since 2003. January 1, 1970. Retrieved September 6, 2022.
  28. ^ Laila Lalami, The Moor's Account. New York: Pantheon Books, 2014. ISBN 978-0307911667.
  29. ^ Haselby, Sam (May 20, 2019). "Muslims of early America". Aeon. Retrieved 2020-03-17.
  30. ^ [1], SF Bayview, 20 May 2011 (accessed 21 November 2014)
  31. ^ "American Negro Exposition 1863-1940, July 4 to Sept. 2, 1940, Chicago, IL" (PDF). Living History of Illinois.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)


  • Adorno, Rolena and Partick Charles Pautz. "The Narrative of Cabeza de Vaca". Lincoln and London, University of Nebraska Press, 1999
  • Arrington, Carolyn. Black Explorer in Spanish Texas: Estevanico, Austin, TX: Eakin Press, 1986
  • Goodwin, Robert. Crossing the Continent, 1527–1540, New York: Harper Collins, 2008
  • Herrick, Dennis. Esteban: The African Slave Who Explored America, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2018.
  • Katz, William Loren. The Black West, Garden City, NJ: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1971
  • Logan, Rayford. "Estevanico, Negro Discoverer of the Southwest: A Critical Reexamination", Phylon 1 (1940): 305–314.
  • Maura, Juan Francisco. Burlador de América: Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Parnaseo/Lemir. Valencia: Universidad de Valencia, 2008.
  • Maura, Juan Francisco. “Nuevas interpretaciones sobre las aventuras de Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Esteban de Dorantes, y Fray Marcos de Niza,” Revista de Estudios Hispánicos (PR). 29.1–2 (2002): 129–154.
  • Shepherd, Elizabeth. The Discoveries of Esteban the Black, New York: Dodd, Mead, 1970. pp. 111–4.*

External links[edit]