Who was Malinche? (Malinalli) / Dona Marina / La Malinche) What did she look like? How did she act?
She was most definitely an Amerindian Nahuatl (what we call Aztec) girl. She was probably born on May 12, 1502. If in fact her given name was Malinalli, that name signified her birth day on the Aztec calendar, hence May 12, 1502, which would have made her 16 years old when she met Cortes in March 1519.
As for her appearance and manner, we know certainly she was a native so some of the outlandish images of her floating around are just plain wrong. Like the natives of that region she probably had dark skin and high cheekbones. The best description we have comes from a man who knew her personally and the only man to write about her in his own memoir:
The Memoirs of the Conquistador Bernal Diaz – A True and Full Account of the Discovery and Conquest of Mexico and New Spain by Bernal Diaz del Castillo
Bernal Diaz writes:
“… and was certainly not to be compared to the twenty females with which they presented us, among whom one was a very fine woman, who subsequently became a convert to Christianity, and was named Doña Marina.”
“… the women were baptized, and she of whom I have already spoken was named Doña Marina. This was a lady of distinction, the daughter of a powerful cazique and a princess who had subjects of her own, which, indeed, you might see from her appearance.“
“… Doña Marina, who was the prettiest, the most active and lively of the number, was given to Puertocarrero, who was a stout cavalier and cousin to the earl of Medellin. When he subsequently left for Spain, Cortes took Marina unto himself… “
So according to a man that knew her and fought along side her, Malinalli-Malinche was ‘a very fine woman, a lady of distinction, and the prettiest, the most active and lively one…’
Sounds like Diaz was a bit smitten with Malinche! But Hernando Cortes himself took her for his mistress so we can only assume Malinche must have been attractive and certainly not afraid of expressing her will and opinion.
Diaz goes on to talk about her bravery and intelligence:
‘Neither must I omit to mention the fine manly spirit which Doña Marina, though one of the daughters of the country, showedupon every occasion. We heard nothing the whole day long but of being butchered and devoured by the inhabitants; she had with her own eyes beheld how we had been completely surrounded by our enemies in the recent battles; how we were all wounded and suffering from disease; yet she never appeared disheartened; but, on the contrary, displayed a courage much beyond that of her sex.’
‘While they were thus making sure of victory, Cortes made every effort to discover their plans, and commissioned Doña Marina to present the two papas, he had first spoken to, with additional chalchihuis stones, and acquaint them that Malinche was very desirous of having a second interview with them. Doña Marina was quite an adept in such matters…’