|Cabeza de Vaca ruggedly surveying the land|
Cabeza de Vaca has always been my favorite travel writer of the Renaissance period for so many different reasons, one of them being that his name translates to "head of the cow," and the other being that in comparison with the other writers of his period, he was perhaps the most respectful of the Natives he spent time traveling among. There is much about Cabeza de Vaca's travel experience that could be related to modern methods of collecting anthropological data.
By immersing himself in the lives of the Natives, Cabeza de Vaca developed legitimate relationships that allowed him to understand and develop a respect for a people foreign to him. During his travels he learned a great deal about the faith systems of the Native American nations he passed through, even acting as a faith healer in some of them. To recognize them by name and to work within their belief system shows an acceptance beyond the "profound intolerance" which dominated the rest of the Renaissance. Compare the writings of Cabeza de Vaca:
"They came, and we tried to quiet them the best we could and save ourselves, giving them beads and bells. Each one of them gave me an arrow in token of friendship"(Cabeza de Vaca 55).
With the ethnocentric criticisms of Montaigne after observing the divination practices of the Native prophets:
"Divination is the gift of God, the abusing whereof should be a punishable imposture"(Montaigne).
During the Renaissance, a "New World" was significant in that it offered a blank canvas in order for the new ideas of the time to flourish without having to find room among the stagnant years of history. It was about land more than it was about the people who unfortunately occupied what was in actuality an "Old World."
Montaigne, Michel de. Of Cannibals. http://www.wwnorton.com/college/english/nael/16century/topic_2/cannibal.htm
Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Alvar. The journey of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca and his companions from Florida to the Pacific, 1528-1536. New York: Allerton Book Co, 1904. Web.