Morocco, Andalusia and the New World: Rewriting, Counternarrative, and Resistance in Laila Lalami’s The Moor’s Account

By Ahmed Idrissi Alami
Submitted to Session P4839 (Transnational Andalus, 2017 Annual Meeting
While there is a persistent emphasis on the fall of Granada as the ending point of the golden age of the shared cultural and historical legacy between Morocco and Spain, the ramifications of the eight hundred years ‘coexistence or convivencia have continued to inform and shape cultural production by writers and artists from both sides of the straits.

In The Moor’s Account, published in 2014, Laila Lalami, a Moroccan-American writer, engages with this topic via a rewriting of a failed Spanish campaign in Florida and the South West of the US known as the Navaez’ expedition. She rewrites it from the perspective of Estebanico, a Moroccan slave from the city of Azemmour, known then as Mazagin, who participated in the expedition but never had his views incorporated in the Joint report that Núñez Cabeza de Vaca submitted to the Spanish Crown. Although purportedly regarded as counter factual narrative, I argue in this paper that the Moor’s Account engages with this specific event, right after the expulsion of the last Moors from Granada, in order to contest the veracity of the Castilian history-writing practice. By invoking a variety of rhetorical motifs and narrative strategies, this narrative not only subverts the Spanish version of the expedition but also valorizes and validates the contribution of Moors and Africans to Native American history and culture.
In this paper, I specifically explore the writer’s strategic inclusion in this rewriting of the interaction between Iberia and Morocco of Andalusian episodes that reframe the narrative within a revisionist and a postcolonial cultural-historical trajectory. Lalami’s narrative in this regard seeks to recover the lost or repressed histories and reveal the mechanisms of subjugation and control that inform Spanish cultural hegemonic discourse towards indigenous peoples in the new world. Similarly, I examine how this text interrogates the Spanish original text of Narváez expedition known as La Relación (Report), also known as Naufragios (Shipwrecked), which is Cabeza da Vaca’s official account of his travels, prepared for the Spanish crown and first published in Zamora, Spain, in 1542.