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Biographies Unit Biographies

Malinche (Doña Marina) 1500–1531
The Woman Who Helped Conquer an Empire

In 1519, a young woman named Malinche (MAH LEEN chay) was captured and taken to a ship. The Spanish soldiers on board planned to conquer present-day Mexico and take American Indian gold back to Spain. Within a short time, Malinche learned Spanish and became friends with Hernán Cortés (er NAN kohr TEHS), the Spanish leader. The Spanish renamed her Doña Marina.

Malinche was a Totonac Indian. The Totonacs were enemies of the ruling Aztecs, whose empire covered much of Mexico. Malinche hoped the Spanish could free the Totonacs from Aztec rule.

Malinche helped Cortés to understand the Aztec language. She knew about Aztec culture and advised Cortés on how to defeat them. As they marched inland, she told him that some Aztecs believed he was a long-lost god. Cortés used this information to trick the Aztec emperor. Malinche also helped convince other American Indian nations to join Cortés. By 1521, the Aztec capital city lay in ruins. The Totonacs were no longer subjects of the Aztec empire, but they did not find freedom under Spanish rule.

Comprehension Check

Why did the Spanish army come to Mexico?

Critical Thinking

Do you think Cortés would have been able to defeat the Aztecs without Malinche's help? Explain.