I realized recently that I have never posted anything about this fascinating figure who hails from AZEMMOUR, where our riad, Dar Zitoun, is located. Not only that, but the story of Estebanico/Al Zemmouri’s extraordinary achievements reach the shores of the Gulf of California. His name is inscribed at the Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego (CA) as one of the earliest explorers of the American southwest. Better yet, how could it be that this man, a Berber from Azemmour, was killed by a Zuni arrow just outside the pueblo of Hawikuh?
Bronze bust by sculptor John Houser/The Twelve Travellers
I talk briefly about our local hero in a chapter of Mint Tea and Minarets, but my husband and I wrote an in-depth story several years ago for Saudi Aramco World magazine (a magazine on Muslim culture, free for the asking.) The nine year odyssey of this extraordinary Berber, a forced convert to Christianity, and that of his fellow “travellers”, three Spanish conquistadores who walked from Florida to the Sea of Cortez, is what makes La Relacion by Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, one of Al Zemmouri’s companions, a book difficult to put down.
In early 2002, my husband and I retraced Al Zemmouri’s steps by taking a trip to Hawikuh, near the Zuni pueblo in northwestern New Mexico. Our hero’s exploits will soon be immortalized in El Paso (TX) with a bronze sculpture by sculptor John Houser who has been commissioned by the city to create larger than life renditions of the twelve most notable explorers of the American Southwest.
Our story appears here:
Vol. 53, #2
Saudi Aramco World : Esteban of Azemmour and His New World …
Esteban of Azemmour and His New World Adventures
“From famine-stricken Morocco under Portuguese military occupation, a young Muslim man was sold into Spanish slavery, given the name Esteban and taken with his master on a disastrous expedition to the New World. With a handful of others, he survived for years, was enslaved again by local Indians, won fame and respect as a healer, learned six languages, escaped, guided …”
So begins our story:
“In the spring of the year 1539, a tall black man lay mortally wounded by Zuni arrows in the village of Hawikuh, in what is today northwestern New Mexico. If he prayed in his last breaths, he surely addressed God
as “Allah.” How did a Muslim come to visit—and die in— New Mexico in the early 16th century? I had never come across such a figure during my university history studies
in the United States, nor had I read of him in French history books at the lycée in Casablanca, Morocco, where I grew up. I heard of him only quite recently, by accident. . .
. . .whom we know today thanks to the lengthy, detailed memoir of conquistador Cabeza de Vaca, which carries the title La relación y comentarios del governador Alvar nuñez cabeça de vaca, de lo acaescido en las dos jornadas que hizo a las Indias (The Account and Commentaries of Governor Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, of What Occurred on the Two Journeys That He Made to the Indies).
Al-Zemmouri’s town derives its name from a Berber word for “wild olive tree.”
The story of this Zemmouri inspired us so much that we wrote a screenplay . . .
THE MAN FROM MOROCCO
WGA Registration Number: 1507267
Any producer interested in reading the screenplay, please get in touch! Hope springs eternal!