No figure is more prominent in the origin of California than that of Queen Calafia, who was conceived within the pages of Spanish writer Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo‘s 1510 novel, Las sergas de Esplandián (The Adventures of Esplandián). Calafia is originally depicted as the queen of an island ruled by Amazon warriors: California, or “The Domain of Calafia.” She is said to have led her women warriors, along with an army of trained griffins, into battle in an effort to destroy all men. She is eventually coerced into joining forces with Muslims in retaking Constantinople from the Christians during the Crusades. Her griffins, however, are simply happy to be let loose on a throng of males, and begin shredding both Christians and Muslims alike. Oops. Following a duel with the King, Calafia and her allies are taken prisoner, and she eventually converts to Christianity. Boo.
Decades later, explorer Hernán Cortés and his party discovered what they assumed to be a massive island off the Pacific coast of North America. Rumors spread that it was populated by Amazons (how do these stories get started?) and it seemed only natural to name this new discovery California. Of course, California is not actually an island — or at least won’t be until the Big One — but Calafia lingered in the imagination as a symbol of a land unspoiled by European intervention.
Today Calafia is often referenced by artists in murals and paintings. She even has her own mural at Disneyland! No big-budget musical with singing animals yet, but who knows what the future holds? She is often described as the Spirit of California.
One imagines she would not be pleased by the transformation of her homeland at the hands of Europeans and Americans. And that’s in addition to the local Ohlone tribe’s male-only secret society in service of the supernatural spirit, Kuksu. But that’s for another post.
Research is fun!