Poor Magellan! (1)

Published March 21, 2019, 12:11 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



Gemma Cruz Araneta
Gemma Cruz Araneta

Poor Magellan! All the honor, royal awards, international recognition he received were posthumous. He did not live to see the day when he would be named the first circumnavigator of the globe, a feat that proved once and for all that planet Earth is round, not flat.  It is instructive to note that during the voyage to the Spice Islands of the Armada de Maluco, the fleet he so intrepidly led, Magellan and his navigators recorded the time difference between hemispheres, never before observed.

He was a native of Portugal and with his best friend Francisco Serrao, he joined the fleet of Alfonso de Albuquerque to the Moluccas in 1512. The peripatetic Magellan became familiar with the network of Portuguese outposts that spread beyond the Malay Peninsula to the Indian Ocean. He must have bought his servant during that time and named him Enrique, after Infante Henrique, the Portuguese prince called “The Navigator.” You can only imagine how devastated Magellan must have felt when the King of Portugal ignored his maritime projects, so he offered his services, all his knowledge and experience to the King of Spain.  Magellan’s proposed voyage was a drastic swerve from the usual maritime routes. To avoid the Portuguese, he planned to reach the Spice Islands by sailing towards the west.  The Spaniards must have thought he was insane, but King Charles V was impressed by his audacity.

Frankly, I was never a Magellan fan and have never given him much thought until I recently heard some historian friends, among them Prof. Michael Xiao Briones Chua, talking about the Quincentennial of the Circumnavigation of the World, in 2021. Needless to say, Magellan will be the nexus of all academic conferences, debates, and studies.  I am sure Spain will take the lead, or  will Portugal reclaim her son, now that he is famous?  The Quincentennial is expected be a hatchery of new perspectives and interpretations based on primary documents, diaries, and letters, official records that have never been brought to light. Because Magellan’s dreams were dashed upon the shores of Mactan, you can be sure that the Philippines will be the cynosure of studious eyes.

It is never too early to prepare for an earth-shaking event, I am now deeply engrossed in Magellan studies, starting with the engaging book of Dr. Danilo Madrid Gerona, Ferdinand Magellan, The Armada de Maluco and the European Discovery of the Philippines. Of course Dr. Gerona knows that there was no Philippines yet when Magellan came. The group of islands he discovered for Europe had no unifying name. It is a descriptive and convenient subtitle. I began with the author’s introduction but curiosity pushed me to skip pages and chapters, a bad habit I admit.  I skipped to “Duarte Barbosa and the European Knowledge of the Philippines” and “The Disgruntled Sailor” of Chapter 1 and jumped to Chapter 9,”The Cebu of Rajah Humabon” and continued with Chapters 10 “Mactan and Lapu-Lapu” and 11 “Magellan’s Shadow.” I promise to go back to Chapter 1 .

The unobtrusive Pigafetta described their arrival in Cebu as spectacular with ships flying banners and firing artillery, which only frightened the natives. Dr. Gerona said that Magellan had, in effect, disobeyed the instructions of Charles V, which was to refrain from ceremonies that would cause undue alarm. He also sent Rabello (his illegitimate son) as emissary, accompanied by Enrique. The young man boasted that their king is the mightiest in the world, so he demanded that Humabon pay tribute. Apparently, there was a multi-lingual Moro merchant present who cautioned Humabon about these white men who had to be treated diplomatically lest they wreak the same havoc and destruction as they did in Calicut and Malaca. The Moro mistook them for Portuguese, according to Dr. Gerona. That was probably when Humabon got the bright idea of allying himself with the Spaniards in order to defeat his enemies.


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