CHETUMAL, IN SEARCH OF GONZALO GUERRERO, FATHER OF THE FIRST MESTIZO
(In Yucatán, Mexico, a mestizo is a person of mixed Spanish and Mayan parentage.)
Trained as a military combatant he fought to drive the last of the Moors out of the Iberian Peninsula by 1492 ending
eight centuries of Islamic occupation. Then he took up his next position of soldier/sailor on Columbus’s first ocean
crossing expedition aboard the small open carvel vessel, Niña.
This soldier of fortune’s story did not reappear in the annals of history again until 1511. Gonzalo set sail in good
weather from the Gulf of Darien on the Colombian coast of South America north bound with looted treasure and
What happened next is one of the worst nightmare stories that could happen to anyone.
Forty year old Gonzalo was plummeted into the sea aboard a makeshift raft with no food or water, one of eighteen
men and two women to survive the wrath of a hurricane that dismasted his ship and sunk it.
Only eight lived to make landfall, having to resort to cannibalism in order to survive.
Salvation did not happen. The group of eight survivors were apprehended and enslaved by their Mayan Cocom
captors on the Yucatán coast.
Four of these survivors were sacrificed and eaten immediately. The others were caged and fattened for a future
festival of flesh feasting. The fattening gave the remaining four the strength to escape to the Tutul Xiues tribe of
Mayas who were enemies of the Cocom’s.
(An interesting fact of logistic history; in the recorded accounts of the first encounters of these Europeans arrival in Yucatán it was noted
that hammocks were in use by the natives.)
Tutul Xiues made slaves of these surviving Spaniards. Due to extreme hard work and exhaustion only Gonzalo
Guerrero and Geronimo de Aguilar survived.
Geronimo de Aguilar kept his religion and cultural ways but Gonzalo Guerrero took up the Mayan ways and became a
military advisor and trainer teaching the Maya the combat tactics of the Spanish. It has been speculated that this
Spanish combat training gave the Mayan people of the eastern jungle part of the Yucatán peninsula the ability to
drive out the conquistadors. The Mayan of the Quintana Roo region, (eastern jungle) have never been completely
subdued and it wasn’t until Méxican federal forces put down the protracted Caste War in the early 1900’s that this
area became a territorial part of México.
Gonzalo Guerrero left a lasting legacy with his newly adopted countrymen.
Next Gonzalo kills an alligator attacking his master and gains his freedom from slavery. He then engaged in ritual
mutilation and tattooing that included piercing his ears and cheeks. These acts assimilated him into the Mayan way of
Gonzalo next took a Mayan princess named Zazil Ha as his wife and was given the temples of Ichpaatún north of
Chetumal, presently designated on maps as Oxtankah.
Chetumal Bay has been a major route of commerce since the days of the ancient Maya because it linked sea-going
trade routes to rivers incorporating man-made canals. Lamanai is one of the three most prominent Mayan
settlements that remained continuously active through the post-classic period and even after European arrival that is
linked by river/canal to Chetumal Bay.
In 1519 Hernán Cortez arrived at the island of Cozumel and attempted to rescue the two Spanish survivors, Geronimo
de Aquilar and Gonzalo Guerrero from the Maya.
Gonzalo Guerrero replies; “I married a Mayan woman, have three children, am chief and captain, taken their ways
with tattoos, pierced ears and scared face…this is my place.”
Gonzalo’s daughter was rumored to have been sacrificed in the cenote at Chichén Itza to end a locust plague.
He eventually met his fate in battle against the Spanish invaders.
Geronimo de Aguilar went with Cortez and took a job as translator.
After the independence of Mexico, a change took place, Strangely some Mexicans descended from the conquerors
now began to feel a real passion for the Mayan culture. From the Maya one name that symbolizes the struggle in
opposition to colonial imperialist power and a struggle for freedom was Gonzalo Guerrero.
Ultimately Guerrero would go from villain to hero and from traitor to a champion of freedom.
The Mayan ruins and Church at Oxtankah in the jungle north of Chetumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico have been restored
and memorialize this extraordinary man and his wife, Zazil Ha, the parents of the first mestizo. An adjacent lagoon in
the area of the Oxtankah ruins near Bacalar bears his name.
On the prestigious Paseo de Montejo in Mérida a monument now commemorates his memory. Donated to the city of
Mérida by the founder of Akumal, Pablo Bush Romero who was also the president of the Explorers Club of México this
bronze monument sculpted by Raul Ayala is perched atop a stone pedestal at the north end of Paseo de Montejo.
Remarkably this monument to one of the most noteworthy Spaniards to ever venture to the New World,
Gonzalo Guerrero, his wife, Zazil Ha and their three children sits between eight lanes of bustling traffic.
There is no sign of recognition or plaque of explanation and few people if any that pass here are ever
aware of the incredibly fascinating story behind this first Spaniard to integrate into Yucatán.
conquistador war helmet tells much of this epic story.