La India Catalina and the Spanish Conquest

India Catalina (c. 1495 – c. 1529), was an indigenous woman (almost certainly Calamari, and Calamari also being the indigenous name of Cartagena, meaning crab) from the Colombian Atlantic coast, who accompanied Pedro de Heredia and played a role in the Spanish conquest of Colombia, acting as interpreter and intermediary. In Colombia today, India Catalina remains as an icon of the extermination of the Pre-columbian inhabitants. Her life has plenty of similarities with the Mexican La Malinche.

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Catalina was abducted in 1509 by Spanish conqueror Diego de Nicuesa in an indigenous settlement known as Zamba o Galerazamba, where she was the daughter of the local chief. She was sent to Santo Domingo, where she learned the Spanish language and adopted the Catholic religion. As a requirement of Pedro de Heredia, she served as an interpreter to the Native Americans and after that she married Alonso Montañez, Pedro de Heredia’s nephew.

The events of the Spanish conquest in the area of modern Cartagena ended with the complete annihilation of the Calamari people.

The name of Catalina Indian, appeared in a letter sent for Pedro de Heredia to King Carlos V in 1533. No one could tell what her real name was because he began calling her ‘Catalina’ from 1509 when the expeditionary Diego de Nicuesa kidnapped and took her to Santo Domingo where was educated as Spanish. As of that moment she would dress Spanish dresses only but was still considered a slave.

When they returned to Cartagena twenty years after, she was not the same. She was the one who did the first contact with Corinche Indian after her arrival with Heredia, on the 14th January of 1533. She was the translator of the Heredia in the pacification of the much Indians towns as turbacos that he eliminated in combat to Juan de La Cosa many years ago.

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