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Saturday, November 29, 2014


Epoch voyage
At dawn of Tuesday, September 20, 1519 Magellan in his flagship ‘Trinidad’ set from San Lucar, Spain for the epoch voyage. The four sister ships were ‘San Antonio’, ‘Concepcion’, ‘Victoria’ and ‘Santiago’. The crew numbered 267 men consisting of many nationalities including Malays, Moors, and other natives. Antonio Pigafetta, an Italian knight was the historian of the expedition. 

A Malay from Traprobana (Sumatra?) given a Christian name by Magellan, Enrique became the interpreter-slave and foster-son of Magellan. In case of Magellan’s untimely death, Enrique was left a will that he would be a free man with an inheritance of 10,000 maravedis.

The five ships sailed westwards and reached the coast of Brazil. When the captains of three of Magellan’s ships mutinied they were quelled and the leaders executed. One of the ships later deserted and returned to Spain. Just to the year after setting sail Magellan crossed the straits around Patagonia which now bears his name. With four ships left in the flotilla they sailed across the Pacific and after much deprivations landed at Guam on March 6, 1521.

It was a very historic event when on March 17, 1521 Magellan made landfall in the Philippines at an uninhabited islet of Homonhon, south of Samar. They exchanged gifts with food brought by several natives who came in a boat from a neighbouring island. When they sailed to Limasawa, another island south of Leyte, Enrique was made to good use to communicate in Malay with Rajah Kolambu, king of the island-kingdom. A blood compact (kasikasi) was sealed.

Magellan was over-zealous in trying to convert the natives to Christianity. Under the guise of friendship and a show of force bedazzled the natives. Out of fear and bewilderment on the part of Rajah Kolambu , along with his brother Rajah Siagu and subjects of the former, they kissed the cross of the Spaniards. That was on 31 March, 1521.

On Sunday, April 7, 1521 Magellan reached the port of Cebu. Rajah Humabon ruled Cebu with eight chieftains and 2,000 lancers. By the week’s end about 800 Cebuans had converted including the Rajah who was given a new name, Carlos. Their pagan idols were burnt.

Defiant Lapu-Lapu
Lapu-Lapu, the chieftain of Mactan, an islet near Cebu refused to obey Magellan’s order to recognize Rajah Humabon as the king of all the chieftains in the region. On April 27, Magellan invaded Mactan with 60 Spaniards in three vessels and 1,000 Cebuan allies in praus. Magellan dispatched an ultimatum to Lapu-Lapu to which came the reply “I submit to no king and pay no tribute to any power. If our enemy have lances, we have also lances of bamboo and stakes hardened in fire”.

The reefs and shallow water prevented the boats to land. Magellan boasted and wanted to show the natives how Europeans fight. He picked 49 of his men, leaving 11 to guard the boats and waded to the shore. Magellan’s men fired the first shots from their arquebuses. The Mactans having waiting patiently for the attack now threw their weapons consisting of spears, arrows, flaming stakes, and arrows upon the invaders.

Magellan ordered his men to burn the Mactans’ houses. This enraged the natives further and attacked the enemies with full fury. Hard-pressed on all sides, Magellan ordered a retreat to the boats. They were in heavy armour and could not move fast in the shallow water. To cover his men, Magellan bravely stood ground and fought the Mactans.

Death of Magellan
‘A poisoned arrow wounded him in the right leg; twice his helmet was knocked off his head; and a bamboo spear struck him in the face. He tried to draw his sword from its scabbard; but he could not do it, for another spear had wounded his right arm. One of the Mactans slashed him on the leg, causing him to fall with face downward. And immediately other Mactan warriors pounced upon him and killed him with their spears and bolos.’

Pigafetta survived the fight with a swollen wound in the face. Eight other Spaniards were killed but many were wounded. Enrique was wounded slightly. Of the Mactans fifteen were killed. Lapu-Lapu became a Filipino hero as the Malay chieftan who repulsed Magellan’s invasion.

The Cebuans on seeing that the Spaniards were not invincible killed many of them. The survivors managed to sail away in three of the ships but one was later burned because of lack of men. The two remaining ships used captured natives to guide them to Borneo. They landed at Brunei and was welcomed by Sultan Siripada.

Returning to Spain
The two remaining ships, Victoria and Trinidad using forced guides managed to reach Moluccas. Sultan Almanzor, ruler of Tidore welcomed the Spaniards and gave them food. The ships were repaired and replenished. It was decided that Victoria under the command of Sebastian del Cano, and laden with a cargo of spices and a crew of 60 men – 47 Europeans and 13 Malays to return to Spain via the Cape of Good Hope. While the Trinidad set sail through the Pacific to Panama.

On Saturday, September 6, 1522, the Victoria, with tattered riggings and 18 haggard survivors, entered the port of San Lucar de Barrameda of Spain from where it started two weeks less than three years ago. 

Notwithstanding his great navigational achievement, Magellan was disgraced in Spain for his alleged cruelty and disloyalty, and in Portugal he was announced as a traitor. 

Enrique became a free man and the first Malay to sail round the world in 1522!

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