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The Black

OccupationExplorer in present day Mexico and parts of the southwest United States

Mustafa Azemmouri (c. 1500–1539), better known by his slave name Estevanico ("Little Stephen"), was a North African explorer from Azemmour, Morocco, servant in Spain, who became the first African explorer of North America. He has been referred to as "the first great African man in America".[1][2][3] He is known as Esteban de Dorantes, Estebanico, and Esteban the Moor. He was sold to a Spanish nobleman in Spain in about 1521, and taken in 1527 on the Spanish Narváez expedition to establish a colony in "La Florida", which at the time was composed of present-day Florida, and all unexplored lands to the north and west, including Northern Mexico.


Estevanico is recorded by different names, in the Portuguese, Spanish, Arabic and English languages, in a variety of historic works. Among the most common are Arabic: إستيفانيكو‎; "Mustafa Zemmouri" (مصطفى زموري), "Black Stephen"; "Esteban"; "Esteban the Moor"; "Estevan", "Estebanico", "Stephen the Black", "Stephen the Moor"; "Stephen Dorantes" and "Esteban de Dorantes," after his owner Andres Dorantes;[4] and "Little Stephen". The names "Estevanico" and "Estebanico" are the diminutive of his actual Spanish name of "Esteban"—the diminutive being how Spaniards referred to a child affectionately or to a servant condescendingly.

Early life[edit]

Estevanico was sold into slavery in 1522 in the Portuguese-controlled Amazigh town of Azemmour, on Morocco's Atlantic coast. Some contemporary accounts referred to him as an "Arabized black";[5] or "Moor", a generic term often used for anyone from North Africa.

He was acquired as a servant by a Spanish nobleman, Andrés Dorantes de Carranza. He had undoubtedly been raised as a Muslim, but because Spain did not allow non-Catholics to travel to the New World, most historians[who?] believe that he was required to convert to Roman Catholicism in order to join the expedition. His Christian name, Esteban, suggests that he may have been baptized. Whether he remained secretly a Muslim cannot be known from historical records.

The Narváez Expedition[edit]

The expedition, led by the newly-appointed adelantado (governor) of La Florida, Pánfilo de Narváez, 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, FL on the shores of Boca Ciega Bay. Narváez ordered that his ships and 100 men and 10 women sail north in search of a large harbor that his pilots assured them was nearby. He led 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, they built boats to sail westward along the Gulf Coast shoreline hoping to reach Pánuco and the Rio de las Palmas. A storm struck them 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 Estebanico, became enslaved by Coahuiltecan Indians; in 1532, they were reunited with a survivor from a different boat, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca.[6]

The four men, Cabeza de Vaca, Andrés Dorantes de Carranza, Alonso del Castillo Maldonado and Estevanico, escaped captivity in 1534 and traveled west into Texas and Northern Mexico. They were the first Europeans and the first African to enter the American west. Having walked nearly 2,000 miles since their initial landing in Florida, they reached a Spanish settlement in Sinaloa and then travelled to Mexico City, 1,000 miles to the south.

Little would be known about Estevanico were it not for the fact that Cabeza de Vaca published a book about their 8-year survival journey, the Relación in 1542 and again in 1555. It became the first book ever published describing 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 Estevanico as "the black" and described him as the one who went in advance of the other three survivors, as he was the most able to communicate with the native Indians that they encountered. In the last sentence of the Relación Cabeza de Vaca identifies "the black" who had been on the survival journey. In a translation done by Sterling Professor Rolena Adorn (Yale University) and researcher Charles Patrick Pautz, it is translated as, "The fourth is named Estevanico; he is an Arabic-speaking black man, a native of Azamor".[7] 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"[8]

Three years after his 8 year survival journey from Florida to Mexico City, Estevanico was chosen by the Viceroy of New Spain (Mexico) in 1539 to serve as the main guide for a return expedition to the Southwest led by Fray Marcos de Niza seeking "the Seven Cities of Cibola". Marcos de Niza reported in his own Relacíon that Estevanico was killed in the Zuni city of Hawikuh in 1539.[9] The idea that Estevanico was killed at that time is speculative, as the Indians who reported Estevanico's death to Friar Marcos de Niza did not see him killed but only assumed he had been killed.[10] Estevanico was the first non-Native to visit Pueblo lands.[11][12]

North American explorer[edit]

Reconstructed route of the Narváez-Cabeza de Vaca expedition.

Dorantes took Estevanico as his slave on Pánfilo de Narváez's expedition of 1527 to colonize Florida and the Gulf Coast. They left Cuba in February 1528, intending to establish two settlements in present-day Mexico at the Isla de las Palmas near today's Tampico. The Narváez fleet was forced by strong winds to sail to Florida. They landed in Boca Ciega Bay in April 1528. After failed efforts to locate villages with gold near present-day Tampa Bay and after enduring numerous attacks by Native Americans, Narváez split his forces, hoping to find a better place for settlement at a large bay to the north. He ordered the ships to sail north along the coast, with Narváez and 300 men traveling overland, planning to rejoin the land force with the ships at the large harbor. There is no large harbor north of their landing site, and the ships and the land expedition did not meet again. After traveling 300 miles north to the St. Marks River, Narváez determined they could reach Panuco by sailing westward along the coast. The estimated 250 survivors slaughtered their horses, melted down metals from bridles and stirrups, and made five boats to try to sail along the coast Gulf of Mexico to reach the main Spanish settlement at Pánuco. The boats wrecked off the coast of Texas, and most of men aboard the boats were lost at sea. About 80 surviving men washed ashore, and most were killed or died in the ensuing six years of captivity by native Indians. Eventually only Estevanico, Dorantes, Cabeza de Vaca and Castillo remained alive.[13] The four spent years enslaved on the Texas barrier islands.[6]

In 1534 the four survivors escaped into the American interior and became medicine men. 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.[14] Sometimes as many as 3,000 people would follow them to the next village.[15] 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 traveeled 1,000 miles to the south to Mexico City, arriving in July 1536.

Expedition to New Mexico and Death[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.[16] When the three Spaniards declined to lead an expedition to the north, Estevanico was sold or given to Antonio de Mendoza, the Viceroy of New Spain. He 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 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.[17] Estevanico had apparently reached the A:shiwi village of Hawikuh (in present-day New Mexico). The local natives prefer the spelling Hawikku. (The Spanish later referred to the A:shiwi as Zuñi, and a corruption of that name, Zuni, is still used today). Stories concerning Estevanico's encounters with the A:shiwi are all based on legend. There is no first-person account of exactly what happened at Hawikuh. According to the Marcos de Niza account, the Zuni reportedly killed him and a large number of Northern Mexican Indians that had accompanied him. After hearing this, De Niza quickly returned to New Spain.

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 Estevanico was killed because the Zuni did not believe Estevanico's story that he represented a party of whites that was to follow him. Others speculate that he was killed for demanding turquoise and women.[18] Roberts and Roberts wrote that others suggest that since Estevan, who was black and wore owl feathers and carried a medicine-man's gourd", the Zuni may have determined that he was pretending to be a medicine man, which was punishable by death. Others opine that may have looked like an evil sorcerer that existed in the Zuni religion, the "Chaikwana", usually represented by a black kachina."[19] Juan Francisco Maura suggested in 2002 that the Zunis did not kill Estevanico, and that he and friends among the Indians faked his death so he could gain freedom from slavery.[20] Some folklore legends say that the Kachina figure, Chakwaina, is based on Estevanico.[21]

Representation in other media[edit]

  • Esteban: The African Slave Who Explored America, a 2018 nonfiction biography by Dennis Herrick, tells of Esteban being the first non-Indian to enter Arizona and New Mexico, arriving in 1539. The book challenges centuries of myth and assumptions focused on his slave nickname of Estebanico/Estevanico.
  • The Moor's Account, a 2014 novel by Laila Lalami, is a fictional memoir of Estevanico. Lalami explains that little is known about him except for one line in Cabeza de Vaca's chronicle: "The fourth [survivor] is Estevanico, an Arab Negro from Azamor."[22][23]
  • The character Esteban from the anime series, The Mysterious Cities Of Gold. was believed to be loosely based on the story of Estevanico.[citation needed]
  • 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.[24]
  • Estavanico, a poem by PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry winner Jeffrey Yang, published in Poetry, July/August 2017, 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 Estevanico as a physical and moral guide.[25]
  • Estevanico can appear as a conquistador in Paradox Interactive's Europa Universalis IV via event
  • Jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd named the first song on his 1970 album Electric Byrd after Estevanico, using the spelling “Estavanico.”

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. ^ MacDougald, James (2018). The Pánfilo de Narváez Expedition of 1528: Highlights of the Expedition and Determination of the Landing Place. St. Petersburg: Marsden House. ISBN 978-1-4834-8671-0.
  4. ^ Katz, William Loren (1971). The Black West. Garden City, NJ: Doubleday & Company, Inc.
  5. ^ Robert Goodwin, Crossing the Continent, 1527-1528', Introduction, New York: Harper Collins, 2008
  6. ^ 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
  7. ^ Adorno, Rolena, and Patrick Charles Pautz (1999). The Narrative of Cabeza de Vaca. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 080326416X.
  8. ^ Favata, Martin A, and José B. Fernández (1993). The Account: Àlvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca's Relación. Houston, Texas: Arte Publico Press. ISBN 1558850600.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ George P. Hammond and Agapito Rey, eds. Narratives of the Coronado Expedition. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1940, 77.
  11. ^ Brandon, William (2003). The Rise and Fall of North American Indians. Lanham, MD: Roberts Rinehart Publishers. p. 154. ISBN 9781570984525.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Reséndez, Andrés (2009). A Land So Strange. New York: Basic Books. p. 190.
  15. ^ Reséndez, Andrés (2009). A Land So Strange. New York: Basic Books.
  16. ^ Chipman, Donald T.; Denise Joseph (1999). Notable Men and Women of Spanish Texas. Austin, Tx: University of Texas Press. p. 17.
  17. ^ Weigle, Marta (2003). The Lore of New Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. pp. 38–39. ISBN 9780826331571.
  18. ^ Chipman, Donald E. (2010). "Estevanico". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 13 Aug 2009 [sic]. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  19. ^ Roberts, C.A.; Roberts, S. (2006). New Mexico. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico. pp. 24–26.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ Washburn, Wilcomb E. (1996). The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas, Part 1. London: Cambridge University Press. p. 371.
  22. ^ Laila Lalami, The Moor's Account. New York: Pantheon Books, 2014. ISBN 978-0307911667.
  23. ^ Haselby, Sam (May 20, 2019). "Muslims of early America". Aeon. Retrieved 2020-03-17.
  24. ^ [1], SF Bayview, 20 May 2011 (accessed 21 November 2014)
  25. ^ Yang, Jeffrey (August 2017). "Estevanico". Poetry Foundation. Retrieved 5 September 2017.


  • 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.*
  • Lalami, Laila. The Moor's Account, New York: Pantheon Books, 2014. Fictional memoir of Estevanico's life.
  • Adorno, Rolena and Partick Charles Pautz. "The Narrative of Cabeza de Vaca". Lincoln and London, University of Nebraska Press, 1999
  • MacDougald, James. "The Pánfilo de Narváez Expedition of 1528: Highlights of the Expedition and Determination of the Landing Place". St. Petersburg, FL, Marsden House, 2018.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Reséndez, Andrés (2009). A Land So Strange. New York: Basic Books. p. 190.