Black, Muslim warrior queen of a tribe of griffin-riding Amazons – and the honest-to-god namesake of California.
Calafia’s sudden crumble at the end of the story is, sadly, in keeping with the long tradition of Amazon myths. Although Calafia has a peculiar mix of the Granadan conquest and the legend of El Dorado, fundamentally her tale is the same as Penthesilea or Hippolyta, with Esplandian taking the place of Achilles or Hercules. California also occupies the “just over that hill somewhere” location of the Greek amazons’ Themyscira – which many historians consider to reference the Scythians, that catch-all grouping of cultures that included figures like Tomyris and Tirgatao.
Funnily enough, the tales of Esplandia were remixed almost immediately after publication. In the hyper-Christian environment of the Inquisition (see the entries of Gracia Mendes Nasi and Sayyida al-Hurra for more on that), some considered the magical elements of Esplandian borderline heretical. The hero’s mentor, after all, was shape-changing witch named Urganda. And so other authors wrote unofficial sequels that rewrote key story points. Given the long history of rewriting the story to fit the cultural milieu of the time – Esplandian was a folk hero, like King Arthur, for at least a century before this story – perhaps it’s time someone rewrote the story of Calafia from her point of view.
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Calafia is seen here landing in Constantinople (Hagia Sophia in the background — minarets fully constructed, as this was after the depiction in Theodora‘s entry).
They were described as wearing armor of gold and jewels, with golden harnesses for their griffins – but Calafia, in her first parlay with Esplandian, showed up in a dress. Her outfit here is a mix of warrior themes and formal wear: it’s got a lot of sharp edges. As it was described in the book, it was 6.5 meters long, but I shortened it.
As the mythical land of California was supposedly rich in gold, her outfit is all-gold-everything.
The griffins they rode were described having only one eye, like a mirror, widely flared nostrils, short and snub nosed, with almost no snout, two tusks each two hands long, yellow with royal purple spots. They were larger than a dromedary, with cloven hooves like an ox, and each ear was as big as a shield.
Her women wore half-skulls of fish heads to protect the front of their bodies, and used wooden spears called azagaya or assegai – popular with the Tuareg (of Tin Hinan fame).