Ferdinand Magellan Philippines History


by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard


For years I believed what many people probably still say today, and that is that the Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, sailing for Spain, discovered the Philippines. Magellan was the first person to circumnavigate the world, I used to say. Only as a grown woman did I stop to think that Magellan had not "discovered" the Philippines; people had lived in the archipelago for centuries before his three ships showed up - the "Trinidad," the "Victoria," and the "Concepcion" - to irrevocably change the lives of the people born there.

It also took a while before I realized that Magellan was not the first to go around the world. The first European given this credit is Juan Sebastian del Cano, one of Magellan’s crewmen who ironically had participated in an aborted mutiny against the iron-fisted Magellan, but who later led the battered "Victoria" back to Seville from where they had departed. Del Cano and seventeen others, a ragtag group, marched barefoot to the churches of Santa Maria de la Victoria and Santa Maria Antiqua to thank God that they, out of 265 men, had suvived the tortuous three-year journey.

Even longer did it take me to understand that the first documented person to circumnavigate the world was Magellan’s Malay slave. "What an amazing moment, one of the most remarkable in the history of mankind!" wrote Stefan Zweig, author of Conqueror of the Seas, a biography of Magellan. "For the first time since our planet had begun to spin upon its axis and to circle in its orbit, a living man, himself circling that planet, had got back to his homeland. No matter that he was an underling, a slave, for his significance lies in his fate and not in his personality. He is known to us only by his slave-name Enrique; but we know, likewise, that he was torn from his home upon the island of Sumatra, was bought by Magellan in Malacca, was taken by his master to India, to Africa, and to Lisbon; travelled thence to Brazil and to Patagonia; and first of all the population of the world, traversing the oceans, circling the globe, he returned to the region where men spoke a familiar tongue. Having made acquaintance on the way with hundreds of peoples and tribes and races, each of which had a different way of communicating thought, he had got back to his own folk, whom he could understand and who could understand him."

Most historical documents have assigned Enrique a background role, often summing him up as a footnote. However, if one reads between the lines one can see that Enrique was a major player in the events that took place between 1519 to 1521 in Spain, the high seas and the archipelago later called Las Islas Filipinas. My interest in Enrique lays in the fact that he spoke the same language as the people of Samar and Cebu, which in my eyes makes him my kababayan. I was, after all, born in Cebu, the land of the pintados (tattooed), a major turning point for Magellan and his crew.

Let me backtrack here and start from the beginning.

Ferdinand Magellan, also known by his Portuguese name of Fernao de Magalhaes e Sousa, was born about 1480 in Northern Portugal. At the time, the Portuguese were eager to corner the spice market. They sought a seaward route to the East Indies to transport the coveted spices from the east to Portugal. They were also engaged in an expansionist program whereby they captured trading posts along the African coasts all the way to the Far East. Magellan served in several East Indies expeditions - wars, one may more accurately say.

Several important events happened during those military forays: Magellan received several wounds, one in particular was a lance-thrust to his left knee so that he walked with a limp; second, Magellan struck a close friendship with Fernando Serrao, who later deserted the Portuguese navy to live in Ternate as captain-general of the local king. In exchange for his services as military advisor, the King of Ternate gave Serrao his own house with slaves. Serrao acquired a native wife and had children, and overall he lived an idyllic life, prompting the Zweig to comment, "Down to the day of his death, nine years later, the refugee from Western civilization never quitted the Sunda Islands, being not perhaps the most heroic, but probably the wisest and the happiest of the conquistadors and capitanos of the Great Age of Portugal."

After seven years in the East Indies, Magellan served in Africa where he and another officer had the important job of looking after the horses and cattle taken from the Moors. An incident occurred where a dozen sheep vanished and Magellan and his companion were accused of secretly reselling the sheep back to the Moors or allowing the enemy to steal the sheep. Magellan packed off the Portugal to clear his name. His encounter with the king regarding this matter and a subsequent meeting regarding his proposal to go Westward to reach the Indies were disagreeable ones. Magellan finally asked King Manuel permission to serve another country. In an act that had deep repercussions, the king did not object. After a year of quietly gathering navigational information in Lisbon, Magellan with Enrique in tow, left for Seville. There he quickly married Beatriz Barboza, who as daughter of the alcalde of the Seville arsenal and Knight of the Order of Santiago, provided Magellan the necessary connections to make his dream a reality.

Magellan’s idea was to sail west to reach the Indies, a vision inspired by his friend Serrao’s enthusiasm for his adopted home: "I have found here a new world, richer and greater than that of Vasco da Gama." Serrao’s letters gave precise geographical and statistical information about the Sunda Islands, which triggered in Magellan the thought that perhaps it was closer to go westward, instead of eastward, from Portugal to reach these same islands. It was this proposal that he parlayed to the Spaniards; and Magellan being the thorough person that he was had even astonished the Privy Council, a group of four councillors of the King of Spain, by presenting Enrique, a woman from Sumatra, and a pair of "Orientals," the sight of whom made the fabled Spice Islands that much closer acccessible to the Spaniards.

The Spaniards financed the journey, not out of love for this Portuguese navigator whom many perceived as a traitor to his own country, but out of love for money. So expensive were spices in Europe that peppercorn was worth its weight in silver and was sold corn by corn. The way politics were at that time, Portugal owned the East, and Spain owned the West. If Spain could find a backdoor to the East via the West, well, they would have followed the rules and still get their spices. Magellan’s proposal was accepted but to check the Portuguese navigator, four high-ranking Spaniards were assigned captains of four of the five ships.

On August 10, 1519, the flagship "Trinidad" along with the "San Antonio," "Victoria," "Santiago," and "Concepcion" sailed down the Guadalquivir Canal and on to the Atlantic. Members of the crew included Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese, Greek, Catalan, German; and two Malays (one of them Enrique). With a few exceptions, the crew was a rough, uneducated bunch, who basically had little to lose. "Weeks and weeks had passed before they had been gathered from the alleys and the taverns. They arrived in rags, dirty and undisciplined," wrote Zweig.

Surprisingly, one of the passengers was an Italian nobleman, Antonio Pigafetta, around 28 years of age, whose wanderlust compelled him to join the expedition. Most of what we know about that historic trip came from Pigafetta who was like a camera recording what transpired, in his famous journals.

One of the more monumental events that occurred was the mutiny led by the Spanish captains. Early in the trip, Magellan had been warned that the Spanish leaders would mutiny if they did not get their way. At Port San Julian, off the coast of South America, they staged their rebellion and demanded to turn back. Magellan dealt with the matter swiftly and surely. Pigafetta summed up the event in a few lines:

"We remained about five months in the port of Saint Julian. And as soon as we had entered the port, the captains of the other four vessels treacherously wanted to kill the Captain General. And they were Juan de Caragena, the treasurer Luis de Mendoza, Antonio de Coca, and Gaspar de Quesadea. The treachery having been discovered, the Treasurer was killed (by dagger blows) and quartered. Gaspar de Quesada was beheaded and quartered. Juan de Cartagena was left behind in Patagonia with a priest."

Very slowly, very painfully, the journey continued. They lost one ship, another abandoned them, and down to three ships, they traversed the "paso" - the Strait of Magellan - on to the huge body of water they called Pacific because of its unrelenting tranquility. Pigafetta reported: "We sailed out from this strait into the Pacific Sea on the 28th of November in the year 1520, and we were three months and twenty days without eating anything (i.e., fresh food), and we ate biscuit, and when there was no more of that we ate the crumbs which were full of maggots and smelled strongly of mouse urine. We drank yellow water, altready several days putrid. And we ate some of the hides that were on the largest shroud to keep it from breaking and that were very much toughened by the sun, rain and winds. And we softened them in the sea for four or five days, and they we put them in a pot over the fire and ate them and also much sawdust. A mouse would bring half a ducat or a ducat. The gums of some of the men swelled over their upper and lower teeth, so that they could not eat and so they died. And nineteen men died from that sickness..."

They came upon two barren islands, which offered them nothing and which they called the Unfortunate Islands; but they had better luck on March 6, when they found a lush island, which they called Ladrones (Guam) because the natives stole their things. It had never occurred to Magellan that they too were guilty of stealing, that the very notion of splitting the world into two - one-half for Portugal, the other half for Spain, that they were "ladrones" all the same; and so with vengeance, Magellan and 40 men taught the natives a bitter lesson. They burned a village of 40 or 50 houses and killed people. "When our men hit some of them with arrows that passed through their flanks from one side to the other, they pulled out the arrows so that they could look at them; and when they had pulled them out they wondered greatly and so they died," - from Pigafetta again.

March 16, 1521, was the day they hit Samar, which was populated with friendly people. Refreshed and delighted at the "reasonable" natives, they proceeded to explore the surrounding islands, which Magellan named the Archipelago of San Lazarus, but which was later renamed the Philippines.

And now we come to the part of the story where Enrique plays an important role. Despite his lowly position, Enrique was probably the man closest to Magellan. Acquired by Magellan when he was only 16 or 17, Enrique had spent over a decade as Magellan’s companion. When Magellan was one of the conquerors of Malacca in 1511, there was Enrique; when he was disgraced in Africa, there was Enrique; when he returned to Lisbon and was so poor he had to endure a lot of redtape to increase his pension by a few marvedis, there was Enrique; when he went to Seville to play the necessary game to get his expedition financed, there was Enrique; and when he finally sailed westward to waters and lands unknown, there was Enrique.

The slave/master relationship must have diminished in time, so that Magellan, before leaving Seville, wrote in his last will and testament: "I declare and ordain that from the day of my death thenceforward for ever, my captured slave Enrique, mulatto, native of the city of Malacca, of the age of twenty-six years more or less, shall be free and manumitted, and quit, exempt, and relieved of every obligation of slavery and subjection, that he may act as he desires and thinks fit; and I desire that of my estate there may be given to the said Enrique the sum of ten thousand maravedis in money for his support; and this manumission I grant because he is a Christian and that he may pray to God for my soul."

On March 28, by Pigafetta’s reckoning, the explorers came to an island where Enriquez could understand the people’s language and be understood as well. "They saw a fire on the island," Pigafetta recorded, "and they saw a small boat, and eight men in it, which approached the Captain’s ship, and a slave from Samatra, which is called Traporbane, being in the Captain’s ship, spoke, and they understood at once, and quickly came to the port of the ship, and did not want to board her."

This was a landmark moment not only to him but also to Magellan who must have realized how close he was to reaching the Spice Islands and who understood the historic significance of his journey.

History books give little information about Enriquez, but he had probably been yanked away from his village by slave traders when he was young. For centuries, slave traiders sailing in their prahus raided coastal villages and kidnapped people, some of them mere babies. They were sold in slave markets in the same way Enriquez was sold in Malacca. As Magellan’s slave, he travelled far from his own people to places where the weather, people, and foods were alien to him. How strange he must have felt when Europeans looked at him as if he were an exotic or a freak. How cold he must felt when the clammy Iberian winters came. How surprised to note that Europeans rarely bathed unlike his own people who bathed daily in rivers and in the sea. How lonely he must felt when he found no one of his own kind to talk to.

When they crossed the Pacific, and even before they reached the Ladrones, he must have sensed a shift in humidity, a change in weather, signalling that they were entering the tropics; memories of his past must have drifted back to him. When he saw the people of Guam, his pulse must have quickened at the sight of their brown faces; and in Samar when at last he met people with whom he could converse with, his happiness must have been boundless.

They were "handsome people," wrote Pigafetta about the people in Samar. "They go about naked and painted (tattooed), they wear a piece of tree-cloth over their shameful parts. The women are clothed from the waist down, with black hair reaching the ground. Their ears are pierced and full of gold. All day long these people chew a fruit that they call areca, and it is like a pear...And when they have chewed it well, they spit it out, and it makes their mouths red."

Using Enrique as interpreter, Magellan inquired where the best place was to stock-up on food and supplies. The local kings named three places, one of them (and the largest) Cebu.

Magellan and his crew went there. "On the seventh day of April at midday, we entered the port of Zubu (Cebu), passing by many villages, and seeing many houses on tree trunks, and we approached the city. And the Captain ordered to ships to approach, and to lower their sails and arrange themselves in battle formation and to fire all their guns. Wherefore these people were greatly frightened."

Pigafetta recorded the events that led to Magellan’s death as follows:

Instead of stocking up on their necessities and leaving for the Moluccas, Magellan and his crew tarried in Cebu where Magellan befriended the king. They exchanged gifts; they had a blood pact. The King of Cebu, called Rajah Humabon, even gave the Spaniards a place in the square to bury their dead. The Spanish crew traded their goods in Cebu’s market. Magellan talked of Christianity and insisted that the people burn their idols "made of wood, hollowed out behind...with bare arms and the feet turned up with bare legs, and a large face, with four teeth as large as boar tusks and ... painted all over."

The king, queen, and many of their subjects were baptized. The queen, by the way, received a statue of the Child Jesus, which Magellan did not perceive as an idol. This same statue exists and is revered as the Santo Nino de Cebu.

Despite the seeming acquience of the people from Cebu, a village from nearby Mactan Island refused to obey Magellan; and the Spaniards burned down that village and set up a cross there.

Shortly after, Zula, the chief of Mactan, sent one of his sons to Magellan to ask for one boatload of men to help him fight Lapulapu who refused to obey the king of Spain.

Magellan sent three boats with 60 men; and he himself would fight to teach these natives a lesson. Even though Rajah Humabon was there with 20 or 30 boats, Magellan told him to stay put and watch how Spaniards fought. The Portuguese veteran of many wars was counting on European cannons, muskets and crossbows overpowering the natives with their charred bamboo and charred pointed stakes. They had done this many times before, go ashore, burn the village, kill people, and get back on their ships; they had done it effectively at the Ladrones. There was one matter that Magellan had missed, a question of logistics. He had not figured on when low tide or high tide was in this particular island. Specifically, he was unaware that the shallow coral reefs of Mactan extended far during low tide and boats could not navigate these extremely shallow waters. The coral reefs were as good a barrier as a moat, or a high wall or cliff. Magellan discovered this fact too late, when he and his men leaped into the shallow water and had to wade a long distance so that their boats were so far away. The shooting of the muskets and crossbows from the boats were totally ineffective, a fact that Lapulapu and his 1,500 men quickly noted and which made them shout louder and hurl their weapons at Magellan.

Hoping to frighten the natives, Magellan ordered some men to burn their houses. But this only infuriated the natives further. "And so great a number came upon us that they pierced the right leg of the Captain with a poisoned arrow, wherefore he ordered that they gradually retreat, and they would follow them, and six or eight remained with the Captain. These people aimed only at their legs because they were not covered with armor. And they had so many spears, darts and stones that Magellan’s soldiers could not withstand them, and the artillery of the fleet was so far away that it could not help them. And our men withdrew to the shore, fighting all the while, even up to their knees in water, and the natives recovered their own spears four or five times in order to throw them at us. They recognized the Captain and so many assailed him that twice they knocked his sallet from his head. And he, like a good knight, continued to stand firm with a few others, and they fought thus for more than an hour and refused to retreat. An Indian threw his bamboo spear into his face and he immediately killed him with his own spear and it remained in the Indian’s body. And the Captain tried to draw his sword and was able to draw it only half way, because he had been wounded in the arm with a spear. When our men saw this they turned their back and made their way to the ships, still pursued with lances and darts until they were out of sight, and they killed their native guide," lamented the Italian who hero-worshipped Magellan.

Eight Europeans died with Magellan; four Christian Indians died from friendly fire from the Spanish ships; fifteen of Lapulapu’s men died.

What follows intrigues me and makes me wonder if the native chiefs had conspired to get rid of the European invaders, especially after hearing stories from a Moorish merchant about the horrors the Portuguese had committed in the conquer of Calicut, India, and Malacca. Enrique, one of those who had participated in the Mactan battle, had been wounded. He lay bedridden, nursing his wounds and mourning Magellan’s death, when along came Duarte Barbosa, Magellan’s brother-in-law, to command Enrique to get up and interpret for him. Barbosa, in a vile mood because of the recent disaster, told Enrique that although Magellan was dead, this did not mean he was a freeman, and that when they returned to Spain, he would have to serve Magellan’s widow Beatriz. Barbosa threatened to whip Enrique if he did go ashore as he commanded. Barbosa’s ill temper would cost him his life. Enrique, who must have known of Magellan’s last will and testament, hid his anger. Mustering whatever dignity he could, he rose and acted as if he did not mind Barbosa’s words, and then he went ashore and told Rajah Humabon that the Spaniards were planning to leave soon, but that he ought to take the Spanish ships and merchandise.

Humabon, who had been recorded by Pigafetta all along as Magellan’s ally, sent word to the Spaniards that he had ready the jewels for the King of Spain, and he invited them to eat with him. Twenty-nine crewmen walked straight into the trap, Barbosa among them. At an appointed time, Humabon ordered his men to attack the Europeans. The remaining crew, learning what was happening, prepared to sail away. It was a disgraceful hasty departure. Just as they had abandoned Magellan’s body in Mactan, they abandoned their fellow crewmen on Cebu. One of them, Jaoa Serrao, had managed to flee to the beach, where he begged his companions to ransom him, a plea that was ignored. Ony Enrique survived the massacre; and Pigafetta made note Enrique’s "treachery."

The story continued: they had to burn one more ship, "Concepcion," and they took a circuitous route to the Indies, stocked up on spices, and surprisingly the solitary ship "Victoria" that made it back to Seville on September 8, 1521, still made money from its spice cargo.

But what happened in Cebu and Mactan? Something more happened than was apparent to Pigafetta. My premise is that, the chieftains of Cebu and Mactan did not want to the Spaniards there. Magellan had arrived shooting bombards and swinging his weight; he had refused to pay the customary tribute to Humabon; he had forced the people to get rid of their old religion; his men had raped local women; all in all they had conducted themselves in a barbaric way and, playing the diplomat, Humabon had gritted his teeth, hoping they would leave soon for the Moluccas or wherever their destination was. Seeing that they were hanging around and had even burned a village in Mactan, and warned by the Moorish merchant of Portuguese barbarity, Humabon and other chiefs had pulled their forces together and duped Magellan and his men into that coral reef trap. One thousand five hundred men waited for Magellan and his men - this large number was a result of an amalgam of armies from the various chiefs, not one chief’s army.

How surprising that Humabon, supposedly an ally of Magellan, had not warned the Portuguese about the tides and coral reefs; how surprising the massacre the day after Magellan’s death; how interesting the display of hatred for the religion forced on them by the Portuguese: "Our men see from the ships that the beautiful cross which they had hoisted on a tree was hurled to the ground, and kicked to pieces by the savages with great fury," reported Maximilian of Transylvania, who recorded another historical account of the famous journey.

As far as Enrique was concerned, I suspect he may have sensed that Humabon had not been a true friend to Magellan. He may have warned Magellan, but Portuguese arrogance may have gotten the better of the navigator who may have said, wait and see how he, Magellan, would bend the will of Humabon and his people. Perhaps Enrique may even have believed that Humabon had been bullied into compliance; but when his master was slain on the shores of Mactan, Enrique understood it all. After the battle, he assessed the situation, which was: Magellan and the whole lot of them had been tricked by the local people; but Enrique also knew that the Spanish crew had not been nice, that they had kidnapped and killed people, raped women; and he knew that if he continued on that journey, he would be probably die from the incompetence of the new captain, and if he did make it back to Seville, what faced him was a life of slavery for Beatriz. Cold dreary winters; cold harsh words; Barbosa had already given him a sample with his screaming and threatening to beat him. No thank you, must have been Enrique’s conclusion. And so he left the "Trinidad" and went ashore and threw his lot on the people who were more kin to him that those he had just left behind, and he made his deal with Humabon.

Was it treachery? Or was it a matter of survival? Was it nationalism? It all depends what your point of view is in terms of assessing the actions of those peoples in Cebu and Mactan and Enriquez. As one descended from those "Pintados" I look at the events of 1521 as early resistance to foreign domination. It was not petty tribal warfare that killed Magellan and drove the Spaniards away, but a concerted military effort by people who did not wish to be subjugated.

Of course another question enters my mind: why have historians always referred to Magellan’s death as a result of his involvement in tribal warfare? Was it very difficult for Pigafetta and other Western historians to consider that Magellan had been outwitted by the peoples of Cebu and Mactan, that in fact the people there had not wanted Spanish presence from the very start? Was it too humiliating to say that what occurred was a real battle, a war, the local people versus the Spaniards, and that in this battle, the Spaniards lost? Or was it a political manuever to say that the people welcomed them and Catholicism so that they could more easily finance future expeditions to the Philippines?

I leave it up to the readers to reflect and answer these questions


Copyright 2002 by Cecilia M. Brainard. All Rights Reseved


Writer’s bio: Cecilia Manguerra Brainard is the author and editor of ten books, including the Journey of 100 Years, and the best selling Contemporary Fiction by Filipinos in America and Philippine Woman in America. Her internationally-acclaimed novel, When the Rainbow Goddess Wept has been recently reprinted in paperback by University of Michigan Press. Her second novel, Magdalena, will be released in 2002. Please visit her website at www.ceciliabrainard.com

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