Cabeza de Vaca as a Master of the Inbetween
Liminality is a state of being in between two places or the ability to move between paces.
In Greek mythology Hermes is seen as the prototypical liminal figure and is therefore given the name the messenger God.
He is able to move between the divine realm of the gods and the mortal world.
We read one example in the Odyssey where he shows Odysseus where to find a plant that would make him immune to Circe.
Cabeza de Vaca possesses these characteristics in the Narrative and they give him a unique power in the story.
Cabeza de Vaca moves into a space of in between as soon as he sets sail from Spain.
First the ocean is literally the place in between the old and new worlds.
The ocean is also the bridge between the known and the unknown, their mission being to cross it and investigate the unknown.
Cabeza de Vaca’s position is to serve as an officer who takes orders from the governor conveys it to the men and insures that the task is performed.
This is also a space of in between and gives a first example of the connection between power and being able to be in a state of in between.
Later on, while Cabeza de Vaca lives among the Indians, he also has a position of power and serves as a go between.
As a merchant between the Indian tribes he is also elevated to a position of power where he is guaranteed immunity in tribal squabbles and food.
Third, by writing the narrative he is communicating between two places the new world, his experiences, and the old world, the King.
Lastly, towards the conclusion of the text the author begins to paint himself almost in the image of Jesus Christ.
He hands out food to the natives mimicking the narrative of the five loaves and five fishes from the New Testament.
He generally paints an image of the natives being his disciples.
Jesus is an ultimate figure of liminality.
He is the bridge between the realm of the human and the realm of divine.
Because of this Jesus possessed a unique power as the Messiah.
I think Cabeza de Vaca towards the end of the narrative begins to see himself not as Jesus but more as a liminal figure.
Further Cabeza de Vaca I think realizes the power of being a liminal figure.
Ultimately the reason that he survives is because he is has the ability to exist in an in-between state.