Estevanico, Mustafa Zemmouri
Born 1500
Azemmour, Morocco
Died 1539
Hawikuh, New Mexico
Nationality Moroccan
Occupation Explorer in Mexico and parts of southwest North America

Estevanico (c. 1500–1539) was one of the first native Africans to reach the present-day continental United States. He is known by many different names, but is commonly known as Esteban de Dorantes, Estebanico, and Esteban the Moor, or Mustafa Zemmouri. Enslaved as a youth by the Portuguese, he was sold to a Spanish nobleman and taken in 1527 on the Spanish Narváez expedition to establish a colony in Florida. He was one of four survivors among 300 men who explored the peninsula. By late 1528 the group had been reduced to 80 men, who survived being washed ashore at Galveston Island after an effort to sail homemade crafts across the Gulf of Mexico.

For eight years, he traveled with Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Andrés Dorantes de Carranza, and Alonso del Castillo Maldonado across northern New Spain (present-day U.S. Southwest and northern Mexico). They finally reached Spanish forces in Mexico City in 1536.

Later Estevanico served as the main guide for a return expedition to the Southwest. Spaniards believe that he was killed in the Zuni city of Hawikuh in 1539. That is speculative, as the two Indians who reported back to Friar Marcos de Niza did not see him killed but only assumed he had been.[1] Estevanico is considered a discoverer of New Mexico.[2]

Early life

Estevanico was sold into slavery in 1522 in the Portuguese-controlled Berber town of Azemmour, on Morocco's Atlantic coast. Some contemporary accounts referred to him as an "Arabized black";[3] or "Moor", a generic term often used for anyone from North Africa. Diego de Guzmán, a contemporary of Estevanico who saw him in Sinaloa in 1536, described his skin as "brown".[4]

He was raised as a Muslim, but because Spain did not allow non-Catholics to travel to the New World, some historians believe he converted to Roman Catholicism to join the expedition. These claims are considered dubious.[5] He was sold to a Spanish nobleman, Andrés Dorantes de Carranza.

North American explorer

Dorantes took Estevanico as his slave on Pánfilo de Narváez's expedition of 1527 to colonize Florida and the Gulf Coast. While many books claim Estevanico was the first black African known to have landed in the present continental United States, Juan Garrido, a free African from Angola, was in Florida as early as 1513 with Ponce de León. After failed efforts to locate villages with gold near present-day Tampa Bay and numerous attacks by Native Americans, the diminishing party slaughtered their horses, melted down metals from bridles and stirrups, and made five boats to try to sail across the Gulf of Mexico to reach the main Spanish settlement. The boats wrecked off the coast of Texas, and 80 surviving men started overland. At times the survivors were enslaved by Native Americans. Eventually only Estevanico, Dorantes, de Vaca and Castillo remained alive.[6] The four spent years enslaved on the Texas barrier islands.

In 1534 they escaped into the American interior and became medicine men. As medicine men they were treated with great respect and offered food, shelter, and gifts, and villages held parties in their honor. When they decided they wanted to leave, the host village would guide them to the next village.[7] Sometimes as many as 3,000 people would follow them to the next village.[8] The party traversed the continent as far as western Mexico, into the Sonoran Desert to the region of Sonora in New Spain (present-day Mexico), where they were found by a slave-hunting group of Spaniards.

In Mexico City, the four survivors told stories of wealthy indigenous tribes to the north, which created a stir among Spaniards in Mexico.[9] When the three Spaniards declined to lead an expedition, Estevanico was sold or given to Antonio de Mendoza, the Viceroy of New Spain. He used Estevanico as a guide in expeditions to the North.

In 1539, Estevanico accompanied Friar Marcos de Niza as a guide in search of the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola, preceding Coronado by a year. Estevanico traveled ahead of the main party with a group of Sonoran Indians. He was instructed to communicate by sending back crosses to the main party, with the size of the cross equal to the wealth discovered. One day, a cross arrived that was as tall as a person, causing de Niza to step up his pace to join the scouts.[10] Estevanico had entered the Zuni village of Hawikuh (in present-day New Mexico). He had sent a gourd. The Zuni reportedly killed him and expelled the Mexican Indians with him from the village.[4] After seeing this, De Niza quickly returned to New Spain.

Some historians suggest the Zuni did not believe Estevanico's story that he represented a party of whites, and that he was killed for demanding turquoise.[4] Roberts and Roberts write that "still others suggest that Estevan, who was black and wore feathers and rattles, may have looked like a wizard to the Zuni."[11] Both theories are speculation.

Juan Francisco Maura suggested in 2002 that the Zunis did not kill Estevanico, and that he and friends among the Indians faked his death so he could gain freedom from slavery.[12] Some folklore legends say that the Kachina figure, Chakwaina, is based on Estevanico.[13]


Estevanico is recorded by different names, in the Portuguese, Spanish, Arabic and English languages, in a variety of historic works. Among the most common are Arabic: إستيفانيكو; "Mustafa Zemmouri" (مصطفى زموري), "Black Stephen"; "Esteban"; "Esteban the Moor"; "Estevan", "Estebanico", "Stephen the Black", "Stephen the Moor"; "Stephen Dorantes" and "Esteban de Dorantes," after his owner Andres Dorantes;[14] and "Little Stephen". The names "Estevanico" and "Estebanico" are the diminutive of his actual Spanish name of "Esteban"—the diminutive being how Spaniards referred to a child affectionately or to a slave condescendingly.

Representation in other media

  • The Moor's Account, a 2014 novel by Laila Lalami, is a fictional memoir of Estevanico. Lalami explains that little is known about him except for one line in Cabeza de Vaca's chronicle: "The fourth [survivor] is Estevanico, an Arab Negro from Azamor."[15]
  • The character Esteban from the anime series, The Mysterious Cities Of Gold. was believed to be loosely based on the story of Estevanico.
  • Professor A.L.I., an educator and rapper, often goes by the alter-ego Black Steven, which he says is a nod to Estevanico the Moor.[16]
  • Estavanico, a poem by PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry winner Jeffrey Yang, published in Poetry, July/August 2017, narrated by the Spanish explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca. In 52 free verse lines, the poem recounts the story of de Vaca's years of exploration in the New World with Estevanico as a physical and moral guide.[17]

See also


  1. George P. Hammond and Agapito Rey, eds. Narratives of the Coronado Expedition. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1940, 77.
  2. Brandon, William (2003). The Rise and Fall of North American Indians. Lanham, MD: Roberts Rinehart Publishers. p. 154.
  3. Robert Goodwin, Crossing the Continent, 1527–1540, Introduction, New York: Harper Collins, 2008
  4. 1 2 3 Donald E. Chipman, "Estevanico", Handbook of Texas Online, accessed 13 Aug 2009
  5. Horwitz, Tony (2009). A Voyage Long and Strange: On Vikings, Conquistadors, Lost Colonists, and Other Adventurers in Early America the Trail of. New York: MacMillan. p. 131.
  6. Cabeza de Vaca, Álvar Núñez (1983). Cabeza de Vaca's Adventures in the Unknown Interior of America. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press. pp. Chapter II.
  7. Reséndez, Andrés (2009). A Land So Strange. New York: Basic Books. p. 190.
  8. Reséndez, Andrés (2009). A Land So Strange. New York: Basic Books.
  9. Chipman, Donald T.; Denise Joseph (1999). Notable Men and Women of Spanish Texas. Austin, Tx: University of Texas Press. p. 17.
  10. Weigle, Marta (2003). The Lore of New Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. pp. 38–39.
  11. Roberts, C.A.; Roberts, S. (2006). New Mexico. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico. pp. 24–26.
  12. Maura, Juan Francisco (2002). "Nuevas interpretaciones sobre las aventuras de Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Esteban de Dorantes, y Fray Marcos de Niza". Revista de Estudios Hispánicos. 29 (1–2): 129–154.
  13. Washburn, Wilcomb E. (1996). The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas, Part 1. London: Cambridge University Press. p. 371.
  14. Katz, William Loren (1971). The Black West. Garden City, NJ: Doubleday & Company, Inc.
  15. Laila Lalami, The Moor's Account. New York: Pantheon Books, 2014. ISBN 978-0307911667.
  16. , SF Bayview, 20 May 2011 (accessed 21 November 2014)
  17. Yang, Jeffrey (August 2017). "Estevanico". Poetry Foundation. Retrieved 5 September 2017.


  • Arrington, Carolyn. Black Explorer in Spanish Texas: Estevanico, Austin, TX: Eakin Press, 1986
  • Goodwin, Robert. Crossing the Continent, 1527–1540, New York: Harper Collins, 2008
  • Katz, William Loren. The Black West, Garden City, NJ: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1971
  • Logan, Rayford. "Estevanico, Negro Discoverer of the Southwest: A Critical Reexamination", Phylon 1 (1940): 305–314.
  • Maura, Juan Francisco. Burlador de América: Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Parnaseo/Lemir. Valencia: Universidad de Valencia, 2008.
  • Maura, Juan Francisco. “Nuevas interpretaciones sobre las aventuras de Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Esteban de Dorantes, y Fray Marcos de Niza,” Revista de Estudios Hispánicos (PR). 29.1–2 (2002): 129–154.
  • Shepherd, Elizabeth. The Discoveries of Esteban the Black, New York: Dodd, Mead, 1970. pp. 111–4.*
  • Lalami, Laila. The Moor's Account, New York: Pantheon Books, 2014. Fictional memoir of Estevanico's life.


  1. Reséndez, Andrés (2009). A Land So Strange. New York: Basic Books. p. 190.
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