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Bornc. 1500
Hawikuh, New Mexico, U.S.
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, was a man from present-day Morocco who became the first North African of Berber origin to explore North America.

Estevanico was taken captive, enslaved and sold to a Spanish nobleman in Spain in about 1521. In 1527 he was taken on the Spanish Narváez expedition to explore "La Florida", which at the time was composed of present-day Florida, and all unexplored lands to the north and west, including Northern Mexico.

He has been referred to as "the first great African man in America".[1][2][3]


Early life[edit]

As a young man, Estevanico was sold into slavery in 1522 in the Portuguese-controlled Moroccan town of Azemmour, on the Atlantic coast. Some contemporary accounts referred to him as a "Moor", a generic term often used for people from North Africa, especially Berber people.

He was sold to a Spanish nobleman, Andrés Dorantes de Carranza. Azemmouri may have 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 (meaning Stephen), suggests that he may have been baptized.

Narváez Expedition[edit]

The expedition of some 300 men, led by the newly appointed adelantado (governor) of La Florida, Pánfilo de Narváez,[4] 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 Azemmouri, became enslaved by Coahuiltecan Indians; in 1532, they were reunited with a survivor from a different boat, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca.[5]

The four men, Cabeza de Vaca, Andrés Dorantes de Carranza, Alonso del Castillo Maldonado and Azemmouri, escaped captivity in 1534 and traveled west into present-day 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 finally reached a Spanish settlement in Sinaloa. They traveled from there to Mexico City, 1,000 miles to the south.

Cabeza de Vaca published the Relación, a book about their 8-year survival journey, in 1542 and included information about Azemmouri. 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 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 by Sterling Professor Rolena Adorn (Yale University) and researcher Charles Patrick Pautz, this sentence is translated as, "The fourth is named Estevanico; he is an Arabic-speaking black man, a native of Azamor".[6] 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"[7]

Three years after his 8-year survival journey from Florida to Mexico City, Azemmouri 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; they were seeking "the Seven Cities of Cibola". Marcos de Niza reported in his own Relacíon that Azemmouri was killed in the Zuni city of Hawikuh in 1539.[8] The Indians who reported Azemmouri's death to Friar Marcos de Niza did not see him killed but only assumed he had been killed.[9] Azemmouri was the first non-Native to visit Pueblo lands.[10][11]

North American explorer[edit]

Reconstructed route of the Narváez-Cabeza de Vaca expedition.

Dorantes took Azemmouri 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 Azemmouri, Dorantes, Cabeza de Vaca and Castillo remained alive.[12] The four spent years enslaved on the Texas barrier islands.[5]

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.[13] Sometimes as many as 3,000 people would follow them to the next village.[14] 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.

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.[15] When the three Spaniards declined to lead an expedition to the north, Azemmouri was sold or given to Antonio de Mendoza, the Viceroy of New Spain. He appointed Azemmouri as the guide in expeditions to the North.

In 1539, Azemmouri 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. Azemmouri 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.[16] Azemmouri 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 variation of that name, Zuni, is still used today). Stories concerning Azemmouri's encounters with the A:shiwi are all based on legend. There is no first-person account of what took place at Hawikuh. According to the Marcos de Niza account, the Zuni reportedly killed Azemmouri and a large number of Northern Mexican Indians who had accompanied him. After hearing this, De Niza quickly returned to New Spain.

There is no certainty as to the cause or manner of Azemmouri's death, and likely never will be. Virtually all stories of his death are based on legend or speculation. Some historians suggest that Azemmouri was killed because the Zuni did not believe Azemmouri's story that he represented a party of Europeans who were following him. Others speculate that he was killed for demanding turquoise and women.[17] 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."[18] Juan Francisco Maura suggested in 2002 that the Zuni did not kill Azemmouri,but rather he and his friends remained among the A:shiwi who probably helped him fake his death so he could regain his freedom.[19] Some folklore legends say that the Kachina figure, Chakwaina, is based on Azemmouri.[20]

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."[21][22]
  • The character Esteban in 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.[23]
  • 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.[24]
  • 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 Azemmouri, using the spelling “Estavanico.”
  • In 1940, Estevanico was honored with one of the 33 dioramas at the American Negro Exposition in Chicago.[25]

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. ^ The Complete Encyclopedia of African American History. Canton, MI: Visible Ink Press. 2018. p. 17. ISBN 9781578595365.
  5. ^ 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
  6. ^ Adorno, Rolena, and Patrick Charles Pautz (1999). The Narrative of Cabeza de Vaca. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 080326416X.
  7. ^ Favata, Martin A, and José B. Fernández (1993). The Account: Àlvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca's Relación. Houston, Texas: Arte Publico Press. ISBN 1558850600.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ George P. Hammond and Agapito Rey, eds. Narratives of the Coronado Expedition. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1940, 77.
  10. ^ Brandon, William (2003). The Rise and Fall of North American Indians. Lanham, MD: Roberts Rinehart Publishers. p. 154. ISBN 9781570984525.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Reséndez, Andrés (2009). A Land So Strange. New York: Basic Books. p. 190.
  14. ^ Reséndez, Andrés (2009). A Land So Strange. New York: Basic Books.
  15. ^ Chipman, Donald T.; Denise Joseph (1999). Notable Men and Women of Spanish Texas. Austin, Tx: University of Texas Press. p. 17.
  16. ^ Weigle, Marta (2003). The Lore of New Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. pp. 38–39. ISBN 9780826331571.
  17. ^ Chipman, Donald E. (2010). "Estevanico". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 13 Aug 2009.
  18. ^ Roberts, C.A.; Roberts, S. (2006). New Mexico. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico. pp. 24–26.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ Washburn, Wilcomb E. (1996). The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas, Part 1. London: Cambridge University Press. p. 371.
  21. ^ Laila Lalami, The Moor's Account. New York: Pantheon Books, 2014. ISBN 978-0307911667.
  22. ^ Haselby, Sam (May 20, 2019). "Muslims of early America". Aeon. Retrieved 2020-03-17.
  23. ^ [1], SF Bayview, 20 May 2011 (accessed 21 November 2014)
  24. ^ Yang, Jeffrey (August 2017). "Estevanico". Poetry Foundation. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
  25. ^ "American Negro Exposition 1863-1940, July 4 to Sept. 2, 1940, Chicago, IL" (PDF). Living History of Illinois.


  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Shepherd, Elizabeth. The Discoveries of Esteban the Black, New York: Dodd, Mead, 1970. pp. 111–4.*

External links[edit]