Stella Pope Duarte

Eréndira: symbol of national pride

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In the month in which our thoughts turn to the controversial “discovery” of America by Christopher Columbus, now named el día de la raza in honor of the native peoples who already inhabited the “New World,” we pause to take a close look at courageous people who fought for their homeland, winning battles that would miraculously alter the history of future generations. Such a person was the famous Tarascan woman, Eréndira.

In the years following the conquest of Tenochitlán, in the court of King Tzinzicha, ruler of the Tarasco kingdom, lived a young woman whose name would become synonymous with the word warrior. Her father Timas was one of the king’s most trusted advisors. His daughter, Eréndira, was known for her beauty and for her dedication to her fellow Tarascans living in the state of Michoacán. 

Among Eréndira’s many suitors was a young man named Nanuma. He was saddened by Eréndira’s rejection of his marriage proposal and eventually came to understand that her coldness was rooted in her fierce pride of the Tarascan culture and her determination to preserve it at all costs. “Why do you not think of protecting the kingdom instead of bothering me?” she asked Nanuma one day in exasperation, as her people lay in wait, dreading the advance of enemies led by the Spaniards.

Nanuma, on the other hand, had other thoughts about the preservation of his people. He was in agreement with King Tzinzicha that the invading Spaniards were too well armed and had formed too many strong alliances with enemies of the Tarascans. There was nothing to do but set up peace negotiations with them. At the thought of not fighting the invaders, Eréndira became even more passionate about her beliefs. Sickened by the king’s decision to bend under Spanish rule, she enlisted the support of her father, who also pledged to fight for the homeland.

Eréndira herself forged the flame of national pride at a religious festival in Queréndaro, as she enlisted the king’s daughter in joining her in singing patriotic songs. The young women sang so passionately about Tarascan history, traditions and culture that the king decided to do battle with the invaders.

During one of the battles, Eréndira’s father captured a beautiful white stallion, which he gave to his daughter. The horse played a part in Eréndira’s thirst for justice as she rode through the countryside, a woman enraged at the Tarascan king’s decision to make peace with the Spaniards after all they had suffered. Eventually, Nanuma took his revenge on her, killing her father and mother as he sought to abduct the girl who had rejected him. Now it was Eréndira’s turn to search for Nanuma, and this she did until she found him, and with the help of her powerful horse was able to trample him underfoot.

The history of Eréndira took a surprising turn after the conquest of her people. She went against Fray Martín de Valencia, accusing the Spanish priest of seeking to destroy their gods, only to find that the priest had become a true friend of her people. Because of the sincerity of the priest, she gained enough trust to be baptized a Christian, and it is recorded that through her anointing of the priest’s body at his death, she preserved it for eternity, weaving her own story with that of her people.

Had Christopher Columbus ever met Eréndira, he might have formed a new vision of the people he so willfully sought to conquer. Perhaps the face of this one Tarascan woman would have reminded him that courage is something not easily conquered.

Stella Pope Duarte was born and raised in South Phoenix. She began her award-winning career in 1995 after she had a dream in which her deceased father told her that her destiny was to become a writer. Contact her at stellapopeduarte.com.

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