La Cautiva Marcelina is an indita (“little Indian song”) a category of ballad that developed through the interactions among indigenous and Spanish people in the Rio Grande region of New Mexico (Loeffler et al. 1999:25).  Inditas are often first-person accounts of an event and they generally involve indigenous characters (Loeffler et al. 1999:25).  They date primarily to New Mexico’s territorial period (1846-1912) and give a striking view of the times and blending of cultures.  Marcelina has watched as her family is killed by raiders. In the song she describes being taken away and as she passes each spot along the trail, she recalls the devastation she has just left.  She cries that they have killed her father, they have killed her brothers, they have killed Delgadito (her husband?) and they have killed her children.  With each chorus she says, “This is why I no longer want to live in this world; from my beloved country they are taking me away.”  

Raiding and captive taking were common in the New Mexico colony from the earliest arrival of the Spanish.  Both Spanish and the various indigenous people who occupied the region were raided and they were raiders.  During the 18th and early 19th centuries, some of the most powerful attackers were the Comanche, a Plains group who frequently raided Spanish and Pueblo villages.  It is not far-fetched to imagine that Marcelina was taken by the Comanche.  In fact, even in fairly recent times the song was often sung during performances of “Los Comanches” a nativity play common in the Hispanic villages and Indian Pueblos of New Mexico.  In the play, raiders enter the village leading a young girl tied by rope around her wrist.  She is La Cautiva (the captive).  They are searching for the Christ child and eventually they find and seize him, but in the conflict, La Cautiva is taken by the villagers (Brooks 2002:1-3).  Captive-taking was practiced by the indigenous people of the Southwest long before the Spanish arrived (as it was in most parts of the world where raiding or warfare were common).  The Spanish brought their own understanding of this practice and the blending of cultures that resulted.  In Spain, over a period of 700 years, they had battled with the Moors for control of the Iberian Peninsula, taking captives and creating an ethnically mixed population.  The blending of indigenous and Spanish cultures that took place in New Mexico through captive-taking would have been a familiar process to the Spanish (Brooks 2002).  La Cautiva Marcelina is a musical expression of this process.       

Contributed by Catherine Cameron. This contribution CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

*An astute listener points out a typo: in every case, the chorus should read “that’s why I no longer want to live in this world.”

Discussion Questions

  1. As you listen to this song, what images come to mind?  Where might the events be taking place?  Where might Marcelina’s home be?
  2. What can you say about the events leading up to Marcelina’s captivity based on the words of the song?  Does the song seem evocative of common captive experiences?

Related Primary Sources

Related Secondary Sources

  • Barr, Juliana. Peace Came in the Form of a Woman:  Indians and Spaniards in the Texas Borderlands. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.
  • Brooks, James. Captives and Cousins: Slavery, Kinship and Community in the Southwest Borderlands. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.
  • Snyder, Christina. Slavery in Indian Country.  The Changing Face of Captivity in Early America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010.


Captives, Captive Narrative, Music, Kidnapping, Raiding, Women