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The Magellan Expedition and Elcano’s Circumnavigation: 500 Years

Antonio Pigafetta, a Florentine navigator who went with Magellan on the first voyage around the world, wrote, upon his passage through our southern lands of America, a strictly accurate account that nonetheless resembles a venture into fantasy. In it he recorded that he had seen hogs with navels on their haunches, clawless birds whose hens laid eggs on the backs of their mates, and others still, resembling tongueless pelicans, with beaks like spoons. He wrote of having seen a misbegotten creature with the head and ears of a mule, a camel’s body, the legs of a deer and the whinny of a horse. He described how the first native encountered in Patagonia was confronted with a mirror, whereupon that impassioned giant lost his senses to the terror of his own image. –Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel Laureate Lecture

Thus did Gabriel Garcia Marquez begin his 1982 Nobel Lecture. A Filipino looking at this lecture by the Father of Magical Realism might then turn to our very own Father of Tropical Baroque, Nick Joaquin, who, in a lecture of his own, delivered at the University of San Carlos in Cebu on April 21, 1979 put forward this argument:

I know that the current approved fashion is to assert that our 400 years as a Western colony was merely an irrelevant interlude: not our history but an interruption of it; and that our true history is our development into a free nation of Asian culture. In this view, Lapu-Lapu is important as the first in a long line of heroes to resist the culture of the West; and our colonial history must be read as one long resistance movement, a movement that continued Lapu-Lapu’s heroic refusal to submit to the invading culture.

That refusal was, of course, a definite reaction; but I think we tend to think that to react is always to go against: to resist or to reject. But to accept is also a reaction. To modify what is accepted is also a reaction. To change and be changed is also a reaction. Our folk Catholicism is as much a reaction to Christianity as, say, the novels of Rizal.

Our resistance to Western culture is part of our history, of course, but only one part. The other half is our acceptance of that culture, the way we adapted it to our own uses, the way we modified it and were modified by it.

When we say yes to something we are reacting as definitely to it as when we say no. In fact, when it comes to culture, reaction is often both a yes and a no at one and the same time. This is obvious in today’s Pinoy rock, which is our reaction to Western pop music. We say yes to that music by accepting its beat; but at the same time we say no to it by filipinizing that beat, by recreating rock into a “sariling atin.”

Who of us would say now that the carabao-with-plow is not Philippine? Yet that entity, the carabao-and-plow, was a colonial creation, being our version of Western agriculture as it was in the 16th century. When we accepted the plow and the idea of a draft animal, weren’t we making history? Or are we to say that this development in our agriculture is not part of our history because “true” Philippine history must always mean the rejection, not the acceptance, of the invading culture? Yet the Filipino, if he is anything at all, is the product of the plow, not to mention the wheel, the road and bridge, the Roman alphabet, the printing press, the guitar, and all the other tools that invaded us in the 16th and 17th centuries.

That is why I say that the Filipino is the result of a reaction to Western culture. And that is also why I can not say that the Filipino is the result of a reaction to Asian culture. And why not? Because there was little or no Asian culture for us to react to. Because, throughout our prehistory, Asia is conspicuous by its absence. In fact, all those centuries before 1521 should not have been a prehistory for us but a fully enlightened history, if Asia had been generous enough to make us a part of its history, of its culture, of itself. But, to repeat, Asia, before 1521, was conspicuous by its absence in Philippine culture. –Nick Joaquin, “Lapu-Lapu and Humabon: The Filipino As Twins.” Paper read at the Symposium on Lapulapu, held at the University of San Carlos on April 21, 1979, under the auspices of the Cebuano Studies Center, the History Department of USC and the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development (Region VII).

The scholar Theodore J. Cachey Jr. has pointed out that Pigafetta’s account, a re-writing of the diary he kept during the voyage of Magellan which was completed by Elcano, is a Renaissance document, a contemporary of sorts, of Machiavelli, for example; indeed, it’s a particular type, the kind produced in the courts of rulers under whose patronage authors produced works deemed noteworthy. It also belongs to the genre of fantastical travel writing of those centuries; and it was widely read. Filipinos today might be surprised, for example, that Shakespeare refers to it, in one of his plays (The Tempest). So the first encounters between those who would be, one day, Filipinos, and those who created the conditions that created the conditions to create the rise of the Filipino, was well known much earlier than modern-day Filipinos perhaps realize.

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A brilliant visualization from GeoGarage Blog

But a recent scholarly article reminds us of another writer:

However, two crucial figures on the trip would provide lasting testimony for humanity. These were the chroniclers Antonio Pigafetta, who recorded the details of the journey in his Report on the First Voyage Around the World, and Francisco Albo, the pilot who departed on the Trinidad and returned on the Victoria, having recorded all of the data on geographic coordinates, climatological data, and the characteristics and riches of the lands discovered in his Log Book of the Voyage of Fernando de Magallanes — in Search of the Strait, from the Cape of St. Augustin.D Varona Aramburu, M Pérez-Escolar, G Sánchez Muñoz (2019): “Framing theory and proto- journalism: A study of the attributes associated with the character of Magellan in the diaries of Pigafetta and Francisco Albo”. Revista Latina de Comunicación Social, 74, pp. 734 to 747.

Francisco Albo, in contrast to Pigafetta, produced a document, as the article above puts it, “contains precise and meticulous details that situate the journey precisely in space and time, but which is more concise and with scant narrative.” Again, from the article above comes this comparison with Pigafetta’s work:

As a vision of the trip, it presents notable differences from Pigafetta’s tale. Albo was a pilot who began the journey on the Trinidad, the head ship commanded by Magellan, and he finished it—logically—aboard Elcano’s Victoria. His text is not a narration of the trip in the style of the Italian chronicler, but rather, it is more of a log book, a navigation diary. However, among the records regarding the position of the ship and the different vicissitudes of the journey, Albo provides facts that have to do with the behaviour of the explorers, their activities and attitudes, and, of course, Magellan’s actions.p. 741

There are, in truth, four usually-cited accounts of the Magellan expedition: two are diaries (Pigafetta and Albo); one was a route guide by an anonymous “Genoese pilot,” and the fourth, an account by Maximilianus Transylvanus. Fr. Peter G.H. Schreurs, MSC in 2000 pointed out other, lesser-known documents: a deposition by Martin de Ayamonte, testimony by Ginés de Mafra, and Fernão Oliveira’s account from an “Unknown Mariner.”

Both the worlds of the ancestors of today’s Filipinos and the Europe and Europeans of the Age of Exploration are both superficially familiar and specifically unknown to most Filipinos. The map above from GeoGarage Blog is brilliant because it helps us visualize how Magellan’s expedition groped its way from Europe to Southeast Asia and back again; if you’ve played war or strategy games that have the “fog of war” feature, the manner in which the unfamiliar is revealed by stumbling around will be familiar to you. Reduce this in scale and scope and you might capture, somehow, the vistas accorded to the inhabitants of these places, too.

There have been and will be, academic and other conferences to mark the three-year commemoration of the Magellan-Elcano Expedition; the official site V Centenario 1ᵃ Vuelta Al Mundo lists the various commemorative activities, while we recommend these three sites:

First, Google Arts & Culture, Magellan’s Expedition and Elcano’s First Circumnavigation of the Globe. This features an interactive map.

Second, the award-winning site with articles and maps, RutaElcano. In particular, The First Trip Around the World.

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From RutaElcano Site: a conventional representation of the Magellan expedition and Elcano’s circumnavigation. Compare it with the first image above, which provides a contrasting way of representing the journeys.

Third, especially nice for children, is The Journey Around the World in 200 Messages. It’s lots of fun! A very imaginative and creative introduction to geography.

For Filipinos, the period of commemoration begins in mid-March, 2021, and peaks in April, 2021 though events will continue until October, later in the year. Aside from events in Cebu and other places, the eyes of Filipinos will turn to Rome, where Pope Francis will celebrate a Mass to commemorate the fifth century of Catholicism in the country (in Cebu, the Pope has proclaimed a special Jubilee Year). In relation to this, in recent years, decades of disagreements over which place gets to claim the distinction of being the site of the First Mass has, for now, been resolved.

The Philippine Diary Project joins all three efforts –the overall global commemoration, the one of the Philippine government, and the commemoration of 500 Years of Catholicism in the Philippines— with this page and the Pigafetta journal entries‘ as well as the Albo logbook entries’ inclusion in the project.

From the National Historical Commission of the Philippines comes this informative chart, and the interesting setting up of thirty-four historical markers to be unveiled.

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Chronology of the Voyage

Click Here To Learn More About Antonio Pigafetta. Click here to read Pigafetta’s Journal of Magellan’s Expedition. Click Here To Learn More About Francisco Albo. Click here to read Albo’s Logbook of Magellan’s Expedition.

We highly recommend three videos by Filipino historian : Part 1 and Part 2 of his series on Pigafetta and a very interesting discussion of his research into Lapulapu.

This timeline has four sources:

  1. The book The First Voyage Around the World 1519-1522: An Account of Magellan’s Voyage, edited by Theodore J. Cachey Jr., contains a chronology; this has been adapted here, in Red Text.

2. As part of the Quincentennial commemoration of the voyage, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines decided to make the Philippine national contribution consist of the identification, and marking, of Thirty-Four Sites Marking the Philippine Route of the Magellan-Elcano Expedition. The information compiled by the NCHP is included in the Choronology, in Blue Text. The markers, however, are in Italic Blue Text.

3. RutaElcano: The First Trip Around the World, an award-winning site, further broke down the Magellan-Elcano expedition and this is added below in Green Text.

4. Fr. Miguel A. Bernad in “Butuan or Limasawa? The Site of the First Mass in the Philippines: A Reexamination of the Evidence” provided a useful summary of Albo’s logbook, with reference to current place-names; his summary is included in Black Bold Text.n

It. isinteresting. tocompare and contrast what each of the sources decided to highlight.

The Journal entries of Antonio Pigafetta and the Logbook entries of Francisco Albo are linked to after the corresponding dates.

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6 March 1521: 1. Pigafetta 2. Albo

The fleet sights the Islas de Ladrones or Las Islas de Velas Latinas, identified as Guam and Rota of the Marianas.

9 March 1521: Albo

The fleet departs from the Marianas on a course west by south.

8- Island of Thieves (Guam)- Island of Homonhon (Philippines)
Departure on March 9, 1521- Arrival on March 16, 1521. 7-day journey.

16 March 1521: 1. Pigafetta 2. Albo

The fleet sights the mountains of Samar in the Philippines and anchors at the island of Suluan at latitude 11° N.

From Guam, the expedition proceeds to Samar (in today’s Guiuan Peninsula) (1) but anchors off Suluan Island (2)
(now under Eastern Samar).

(1) Samar quincentennial historical marker, Calicoan, Guiuan, Eastern Samar

(2) Suluan quincentennial historical marker, Suluan Is., Guiuan, Eastern Samar

1. On the 16th of March (1521) as they sailed in a westerly course
from the Ladrones, they saw land towards the northwest; but owing to many shallow places they did not approach it. They found later that its name was Yunagan.

2. They went instead that same day southwards to another small island named Suluan, and there they anchored. There they saw some canoes but these fled at the Spaniards’s approach. This island was at 9 and two-thirds degrees North latitude.

17 March 1521:

Lands in Homonhon Island (now under Guiuan)(3);and the sick are brought ashore. The crewmen hydrate with water from the natural springs and consume a wild boar—this, after four months of starvation and dehydration at sea.

18 March 1521: 1. Pigafetta 2. Albo

Europeans make their first contact with Filipinos on Homonhon Island.

Our ancestors from Suluan discover in Homonhon the helpless crew. Magellan embraces the local chief and requests food and drinks. The local chief provides him with what they have at that moment.

(3) Homonhon quincentennial historical marker, Homonhon Is., Guiuan, E. Samar

3. Departing from those two islands, they sailed westward to an uninhabited island of “Gada” where they took in a supply of wood and water. The sea around that island was free from shallows. (Albo does not give the latitude of this island, but from Pigafetta’s testimony, this seems to be the “Acquada” or Homonhon, at 10 degrees North latitude.)

22 March 1521: Pigafetta

Our ancestors return to Homonhon with more food and drink.

25 March 1521: Pigafetta

Pigafetta falls overboard and is nearly drowned.

The expedition leaves Homonhon and sails across the waters of Hinunangan (Southern Leyte) (4) and of Gibusong Island (Loreto, Dinagat Islands) (5).

(4) Hinunangan quincentennial historical marker, Hinunangan, Southern Leyte

(5) Gibusong quincentennial historical marker, Magsaysay, Gibusong Is., Loreto, Dinagat Island

27 March 1521: Notices a fire in an island identified as Mazaua (now Limasawa, Southern Leyte) (6).

(6) Limasawa quincentennial historical marker, Government Compound, Limasawa, Southern Leyte

9- Island of Homonhon, Philippines- Island of Mazava, Philippines
Departure on March 25, 1521- Arrival on March 28, 1521. 3-day journey.

4. From that island they sailed westwards towards a large island named Seilani which was inhabited and was known to have gold. (Seilani — or, as Pigafetta calls it, “Ceylon” — was the island of Leyte…)

28 March 1521: 1. Pigafetta 2. Albo

The fleet anchors off Limasawa (Pigafetta’s Mazaua) at the southern entrance to Suriago Strait; Magellan and his men are well received there by the natives and good relations are established with Rajah Colambu.

Colambu, the rajah of Mazaua, welcomes the expedition. He happens to know Malay, the mother tongue of Enrique, servant of Magellan.

5. Sailing southwards along the coast of that large island of Seilani, they turned southwest to a small island called “Mazava’. That island is also at a latitude of 9 and two-thirds degrees North.

29 March 1521: Pigafetta

Siaui, the rajah of Butuan, meets Magellan. Colambu and Magellan enter into a blood compact.

31 March 1521: 1. Pigafetta 2. Albo

Magellan has Easter mass celebrated on Limasawa Island.

Colambu permits a Christian mass to celebrate Christ’s resurrection.

6. The people of that island of Mazava were very good. There the Spaniards planted a cross upon a mountain-top, and from there they were shown three islands to the west and southwest, where they were told there was much gold. “They showed us how the gold was gathered, which came in small pieces like peas and lentils.”

4 April 1521 Pigafetta:

Accompanied by Colambu, the expedition leaves for Cebu and heads to Leyte Island (7): reaches the waters of Canigao (now in Matalom, Leyte) (8).

(7) Leyte quincentennial historical marker, Combado, Maasin City

(8) Canigao quincentennial historical marker, Canigao Island, Matalom Leyte

10- Island of Mazava, Philippines- Cebu, Philippines
Departure on April 4, 1521- Arrival on April 7, 1521. 3-day journey.

7. From Mazava they sailed northwards again towards Seilani.
They followed the coast of Seilani in a northwesterly direction,
ascending up to 10 degrees of latitude where they saw three small islands.

8. From there they sailed westwards some ten leagues, and there they saw three islets, where they dropped anchor for the night. In the morning they sailed southwest some 12 leagues, down to a latitude of 10 and one-third degree. There they entered a channel between two islands, one of which was called “Matan” and the other “Subu “.

5 April 1521:

Sights the terrain of Baybay (Leyte) (9). spends a night in Gatighan (approximately Himokilan, Hindang, Leyte) (10), feasts on a kabog (a megabat), and marvels at the fauna of the place.

(9) Baybay quincentennial historical marker, Baybay City, Leyte

(10) Gatighan quincentennial historical marker, Himokilan Island, Hindang, Leyte

6 April 1521: Albo

The fleet departs Limasawa.

Colambu joins Magellan in the Trinidad in the waters of Pozon (Ponson, now under Pilar, Cebu) (11), Poro (now a Cebu town) (12), and Ticobon (now San Francisco, Cebu) (13).

(11) Ponson quincentennial historical marker, Pilar Cebu

(12) Poro quincentennial historical marker, Poro, Cebu

(13) Ticobon quincentennial historical marker, San Francisco, Cebu

7 April 1521: 1. Pigafetta 2. Albo

The fleet enters the port of Cebu, where, following negotiations, merchandise is exchanged for provisions, and good relations are established.

The expedition reaches Cebu (14). Colambu introduces Magellan to Humabon, the rajah of Cebu. Humabon does not permit Magellan to trade pending Magellan’s payment of tribute.

(14) Cebu quincentennial historical marker, Plaza Sugbu, Cebu City

9. They sailed down that channel and then turned westward and
anchored at the town (la villa) of Subu where they stayed many days and obtained provisions and entered into a peace-pact with the local king.

10. The town of Subu was on an east-west direction with the islands of Suluan and Mazava. But between Mazava and Subu, there were so many shallows that the boats could not go westward directly but had to go (as they did) in a round-about way.”

8 April 1521: Pigafetta

Humabon and his council meet with Magellan’s emissaries. The latter agree to comply with the rajah’s conditions.

9 April 1521: Pigafetta

Humabon’s heir confers with Magellan and is convinced of the merits of the Christian virtues. Later on, Magellan promises military protection and proclaims Humabon sovereign in the region.

10 April 1521 Pigafetta

Humabon allows Magellan to bury two of his men who recently died; Fr. Pedro de Valderrama, the expedition’s chaplain, consecrates and erects a wooden cross on the gravesite.

12 April 1521: Pigafetta

13 Aoril 1521: Pigafetta

A makeshift platform is readied at the consecrated site for the rite of baptism.

14 April 1521: Pigafetta

The Sultan Humabon is baptized (and renamed Don Carlos) by the flagship’s chaplain with all pomp and circumstance. Rajah Colambu is also baptized and named Don Juan after the Infante.

Fr. Valderrama baptizes many inhabitants.

15-25 April 1521: Pigafetta

Magellan cures a sick elder, which leads to the burning of native idols.

Juana, wife of Humabon, is charmed by the image of the Santo Niño, which Magellan later presents to her as a gift.

26 April 1521: Pigafetta

Humabon receives a report that Lapulapu, a ruler of Mactan, refuses to recognize the King of Spain.

27 April 1521: Pigafetta

Magellan and sixty of his men in three longboats attack Rajah Lapu Lapu and his forces on Mactan. They are driven back to the ships and Magellan is killed.

Magellan proceeds to Mactan (15). A battle ensues, with Lapulapu emerging victorious. Magellan is killed.

(15) Mactan, Lapulapu and Magellan Quincentennial historical markers, Liberty Shrine, Mactan, Cebu

29 April 1521:

Lapulapu convinces Humabon to kill Magellan’s remaining members. Enrique hoodwinks Humabon into letting him escape from the expedition.

1 May 1521: 1. Pigafetta 2. Albo

Massacre of Europeans in the island of Cebu, including Duarte Barbosa and twenty-five shipmates. At this time, the Concepción is abandoned. Only about 110 men still survive. João Carvalho was elected captain-general.

Humabon’s men kill a number of the expedition’s members at a banquet. The rest of the expedition immediately leave Cebu and reach Bohol waters (16).

(16) Bohol quincentennial historical marker, Punta Cruz, Maribojoc, Bohol

11- Cebu, Philippines- Bohol Island- Ponglao- Mindanao- Kagayan Island- Palawan Island- Brunei
Departure on May 1, 1521- Arrival on July 9, 1521

2 May 1521: Pigafetta

Off Bohol, Juan Carvalho becomes the new captain-general of the expedition aboard the Trinidad and orders the burning of the Concepcion. Gonzalo Gomez de Espinosa is promoted captain of the Victoria.

May 1521:

The remaining ships pass by Panilongon (approximately Negros) (17). Days later, they reach Kipit (Labason, Zamboanga del Norte) (18). Calanao, the rajah of Kipit, receives the expedition and enters into a blood pact with Carvalho. The crewmen hear about Luzon here. From Kipit, they proceed to Cagayan (now Mapun Island, Tawi-Tawi)(19). The battle-ready inhabitants welcome them.

(17) Panilongon quincentennial historical marker, Dumaguete City

(18) Kipit quincentennial historical marker, Brgy. Kipit, Labason, Zamboanga del Norte

(19) Cagayan quincentennial historical marker, Mapun, Tawi-Tawi

May-June 1521: 1. Pigafetta 2. Albo

The expedition further heads northward and reaches Palawan (approximately Aborlan town) (20), but the locals drive them away.

(20) Palawan quincentennial historical marker, Sitio Marikit, Brgy. San Juan, Aborlan, Palawan

June 1521:

Transfers to Dyguasam (Saocao or Tegozzao, now Sitio Tagusao, Barong-Barong, Brookes’ Point, Palawan) (21). The crewmen enjoy the warm welcome of the people and meet Bastiam, a Christian trader and a native of the Maluku who knows Portuguese. An unnamed ruler of Palawan enters into a pact of brotherhood with Carvalho.

(21) Tagusao quincentennial historical marker, Sitio Tagusao, Barong-Barong, Brooke’s Point, Palawan

21 June 1521: 1. Pigafetta 2. Albo

Victoria and Trinidad depart Palawan. They arrived at Brunei on the north-eastern coast of Borneo on 9 July.

The ships are left with no translator and astronomer guiding them as they leave the shores of Palawan and Bolava
(Balabac, Palawan) (22) and sail for Brunei.

(22) Balabac quincentennial historical marker, Balabac, Palawan

9 July 1521: Pigafetta

15 July 1521: Pigafetta

16 July 1521: Pigafetta

29 July 1521: 1. Pigafetta 2. Albo

The Europeans attack a group of junks off Brunei, capturing four and killing several others.

Off the shores of Brunei, the expedition encounters a large armada of the prince of Luzon, who happens to be the Brunei sultan’s admiral. Captured, the prince of Luzon bribes Carvalho for his freedom; the expedition deposes Carvalho and places him behind bars. Espinosa is then named the new captain-general of the expedition, while Juan Sebastian Elcano assumes his former position as the captain of the Victoria. Later accounts identify the prince of Luzon as Rajah Matanda of Manila.

12- Brunei- Jolo Island- Kagayan Island- septentrional Celebes Islands – Tidore, Moluccas Islands
Departure on July 29, 1521- Arrival on November 8, 1521

15 August 1521 Pigafetta:

Victoria and Trinidad call at Cimbonbon (Banguey) on the south side of Balabac Strait, where they remain forty-two days repairing the ships and gathering provisions.

September 1521:

Carvalho is degraded to his former rank of flag pilot; Gómez de Espinosa is elected captain-general and captain of the Trinidad; Juan Sebastián de Elcano is elected captain of Victoria.

27 September 1521 Pigafetta:

The voyage is resumed and a junk carrying the governor of Palawan is sacked and the governor held for ransom.

30 September 1521:

While searching desperately for food along the cape of Palawan (now Buliluyan, Bataraza, Palawan) (23), the expedition encounters and abducts Tuan Mahamud, Muslim ruler of Palawan.

(23) Dulo ng Palawan quincentennial historical marker, Buliluyan, Bataraza, Palawan

1 October 1521:

Tuan Mahamud seals a bond of friendship with Espinosa.

7 October 1521:

Tuan Mahamud furnishes the expedition with four hundred measures of rice, twenty goats, twenty pigs, and one hundred and fifty chickens. Tuan Mahamud retrieves his daggers and guns, and receives items from Espinosa.

October 1521 Pigafetta:

The expedition passes by Sulu (24) and Taghima (Basilan) (25). Its crewmen marvel at the 47 Ib. pearl in Sulu; head toward the waters of Cauit (now Cawit, Zamboanga City) (26) , Subanin (approximately in Zamboanga City, a noted Subanen territory) (27) and Monoripa (now Manalipa Island, Zamboanga City, where they found boathouses) (28). Off these waters, they trade two large knives from Palawan for 17 libras of cinnamon; decide not to anchor so as to take advantage of the favorable wind going southeast. They sight the Maguindanao Sultanate whose capital is described as “a large city” (now Cotabato City) (29) and plan to look for a pilot to help them reach the Maluku. They engage in a sea encounter off Maguindanao and capture a large Malay ship with relatives of the sultan of Maguindanao aboard. A brother of the Maguindanao sultan offers his services to the expedition as pilot. The expedition then reaches Benaian, a cape in Mindanao (approximately Kamanga, Maasim, Sarangani)(30), whose inhabitants are described by Pigafetta as “shaggy men” and “exceedingly great fighters and archers.”

(24) Sulu quincentennial historical marker, Jolo, Sulu

(25) Basilan quincentennial historical marker, Fuego-Fuego Beach, Brgy. Tabi-awan, Isabela City, Basilan

(26) Cawit quincentennial historical marker, Cawit, Zamboanga City

(27) Subanin quincentennial historical marker, Zamboaga City

(28) Manalipa quincentennial historical marker, Manalipa Island, Zamboanga City

(29)Moro Gulf quincentennial historical marker, Pagadian City

(30) Benaian quincentennial historical marker, Kamanga, Maasim, Sarangani

26 October 1521 Pigafetta:

The two ships experience storms in the Celebes Sea.

The expedition experiences a “most furious storm” off Biraham Batolach Island (actually Sarangani Cape in Batulaki, Glan, Sarangani) (31).

(31) Batulaki quincentennial historical marker, Brgy. Batulaki, Glan, Sarangani Province

27 October 1521: 1. Pigafetta 2. Albo

Heads toward Candighar (Balut Island, Sarangani Municipality, Davao Occidental) (32) and lands in Sarangani Island (now under Sarangani Municipality) (33); takes two pilots who help them reach the Maluku, their ultimate objective.

(32) Candighar quincentennial historical marker, Municipal Grounds, Balut Islands

(33) Sarangani quincentennial historical marker, Brgy. Camalig, Sarangani Island, Sarangani, Municipality, Davao Occidental

28 October 1521:

Leaves the Philippine territory (34) for the Maluku.

(34) Maguindanao quincentennial historical marker, Old Cotabato City Hall

6 November 1521: Pigafetta

Victoria and Trinidad arrive at the Moluccas.

Here ends ou timeline.

It would be fitting to introduce here a recent children’s book gives a contemporary summation of it all:

As the years passed, people came to realize how daring Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage had been. This fierce little man had changed what they knew about the world. A new age of exploration began, with voyales all over the Pacific Ocean. Maps were redrawn and globes came into use. The great civilizations of Europe, Asia, and the Pacific were brought closer.

Ferdinand had started it all. Tofay, Ferdinand Magellan is famous for being a great seaman, a brilliant navigator, and a bold explorer. He was also a murderer and an intolerant man. His religious beliefs had to be everyone else’s beliefs. But his actions were typical of his time. Ferdinand Magellan sailed thousands of miles only to die without purpose on a strange beach.–Sydette Kramer, Who Was Ferdinand Magellan?

However, for its depth, and intriguing possibilites, an extensive exctract from a journal article will make for very interesting reading. The author , after going through existing accounts with a fine-toothed comb and deciding there really aren’t any true eyewitness accounts to detail Magellans fate, he proceeds on a fascinating exploration of what is and is’t known about the Visayas, the inhabitants of Mactan and their ways and the encounter resulting in Magellan’s death, and arrives at some startling possibilities that challenge conventional wisdom:

Having argued that there is no clear evidence to indicate that any Europeans witnessed Magellan’s end from close proximity, I will now examine his fate from a local perspective. Unfortunately, despite legends and modern dramatic portrayals of hand-to-hand combat (asdang) and a duel (bulu) between Magellan and Lapulapu there is no evidence that these took place. Lapulapu remains an intriguing figure, the subject of uncorroborated heroic legends, folk tales and myths but sadly, not of written records, in the absence of which there is only silence from Lapulapu’s camp. However, I will still endeavour to present a local perspective on the Mactan battle.

In the sixteenth century the capturing and ransoming of prisoners —particularly valuable enemy leaders — were important and normal objectives of warfare in the Visayas. Sometimes captives were sacrificed to the local gods and spirits with which the islands were believed to teem. Therefore, it is possible that a wounded Magellan was not killed but captured by Lapulapu’s warriors for sacrificial purposes. If this proposition is incorrect, it is difficult to see why the warriors took so long to kill Magellan particularly when, heavily outnumbered, he was facing them alone after the withdrawal of all his men. Instead, Lapulapu’s warriors waited until he was defenceless (he had lost his lance and was unable to draw his sword because of an arm wound, according to Pigafetta) and then they rushed him and wounded him from behind. They were certainly not cowards as various accounts refer to the determined ferocity of their attacks, so a possible explanation was that they saw an opportunity to capture the powerful leader of their enemies and took it because Magellan was more valuable to Lapulapu alive rather then dead. Unlike Magellan, Lapulapu seems to have made thorough preparations for the battle even though, according to a legend, he knew from a prophecy from his late father that he would beat Magellan. His warriors attacked in formation at least initially and were well equipped with large numbers of weapons with which they were able to keep up a withering bombardment of Magellan and his men. On the Mactan beach, according to Pigafetta, the Visayans were “covered by their shields. And thus defending themselves they fired at us so many arrows, and lances of bamboo tipped with iron, and pointed sticks hardened by fire, and stones that we could hardly defend ourselves” (Skelton 1969: 87). After being hit in the right leg by a poisoned arrow, Magellan ordered a slow withdrawal and Pigafetta wrote: “thus for the great number of lances and stones that they threw against us we could not resist” (Skelton 1969: 88). Most of Magellan’s men fled in the face of this: furious onslaught but his decision to fight on with a handful of others and then alone, would have improved the Visayan warriors’ chances of capturing Magellan alive. One of the ways of doing this would be by the infliction of an incapacitating wound — such as a thrust in the back of the leg. It is possible that Lapulapu delivered this thrust (probably with a kampilan or perhaps a large kris and not with a javelin or scimitar as European translators thought) although there is no evidence to indicate the warrior was Lapulapu, as the name of the individual who struck the blow is unknown. Whether or not Lapulapu felled Magellan, he could have included Magellan’s capture in his battle plans because according to Sebastian del Cano, the Mactan chieftain “was greatly esteemed as a fine man in the arts of war” (Fernandez de Ovieda y Valdes 1552). It seems Lapulapu had prepared well for
the conflict and he could have had, as an objective, the seizure of the leader of his enemies.

With reference to Lapulapu wishing to capture Magellan (and perhaps some of his men), there is also the matter of the poisons with which the Visayans coated their weapons. According to William Henry Scott, weapons such as the kris and the kampilan were “coated with poison before going into battle” (Scott 1994: 148). Arrows and spears could be similarly treated. Some of these poisons were deadly and could kill or incapacitate within a short time. For example, bulit was a snake venom poison. Other herbal poisons were so dangerous that even a small scratch from a weapon could kill a man. Obto or Ubto (“high noon’) was so named because the life expectancy for a wounded opponent would not exceed half a day. There is no reason to assume that Lapulapu and his Visayan warriors were unfamiliar with such poisons and yet Magellan and Pigafetta were both able to remain in action after being wounded by poisoned weapons. Furthermore, many of the survivors of the landing party were also wounded. Of the forty-eight men — not including Magellan — involved in the Mactan Island landing, six, seven or eight were killed, according to different accounts, and many of the survivors were wounded. Assuming that at least some of these wounded men were struck by poisoned weapons, they were still able to escape. As for Magellan, according to Pigafetta the Captain-General was wounded in the right leg by a potsoned arrow while on the beach at Mactan Island. Yet Magellan was still able to continue fighting until he was finally struck down after withdrawing through the shallows where, by which time, Pigafetta records, he had fought for more than an hour, despite his leg wound from the poisoned arrow. Pigafetta wrote that he himself was unable to go ashore in Sugbu on 1 May 1521 because of a swelling caused by a face wound from a poisoned arrow, suffered five days earlier during the Mactan action. Presumably this facial wound did not impair Pigafetta’s observation of the Mactan battle on 27 April. Clearly then, poisons but not deadly poisons were applied to some or all of the weapons used by the Visayan warriors so they may have been seeking to weaken and incapacitate some of their European foes with a view to overwhelming and capturing them as slaves and sacrifices.

If Magellan was captured still alive and wounded, why then did not Lapulapu ransom him? Pigafetta tells us that after the battle:

the Christian king (with our consent) sent to tell those of Mattan that if they would give us the bodies of the captain and the other dead men, we would give them as much merchandise as they desired. And they answered that they would not give up such a man, as we supposed, and that they would not give him up for the greatest riches in the world, but they intended to keep him as a perpetual memorial (Skelton 1969: 89).

“They would not give up the body of such a man, as we supposed” — did that mean that Lapulapu understood that the Europeans supposed Magellan was dead when in fact he was alive? It is unlikely that the Visayans would have risked ransoming as determined a foe as Magellan for fear that he would initiate another attack on them. However, they might have sacrificed him to their spirits as was their custom with some captured enemies, thereby rendering him a perpetual memorial in terms of their own culture. A leader of the obvious status, spirit and bravery of Magellan would have been a very powerful offering to placate and please the deities who had given the victory to Lapulapu and his warriors. Another reason for sacrificing Magellan would have been as an act of revenge because of his earlier destruction of the settlement of Bullaia and his subsequent attack on the Mattan settlement, an act of aggression that resulted in local loss of life, the burning of buildings and perhaps the cutting down of coconut palms. According to William Henry Scott, “retaliation for injuries was not only a matter of revenge but a preventive measure to discourage repetition of the offence. Failure to take revenge not only suggested a timidity which invited further enemy action, but ran the risk of supernatural punishment by the spirits of unavenged relatives” (Scott 1994: 153). As a form of trophy of the victory at Mactan Island, a captured Magellan could thus have been sacrificed for reasons of revenge and to placate the wrath of the spirits. In this way, Magellan would have been more valuable to Lapulapu as a sacrificial captive than as a corpse. –Richard J. Field, “Revisiting Magellan’s Voyage to the Philippines.”Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society, Vol. 34, No. 4 (December 2006), pp. 313-337

But most fitting would be to close where we began: with the words of Nick Joaquin, back in 1979:

And here we are confronted by paradox.

As nationalists, we hail Lapu-Lapu as the First Filipino, although he was also the first to resist the idea of nation. Because he defended our pristine liberties, he is certainly a Filipino; but he was himself not a “nationalist,” to use that word in a literal sense. He was, we have to say, not fighting for the Philippines; he was fighting for his native land of Mactan, or for a section of Mactan. Lapu-Lapu was a tribalist. And he rose to oppose an event that marked the beginning of the end of tribalism among us.

Though we have turned many events in our history into red-letter days on our calendar, there is, I think, one event that should be a great date for us but isn’t. That day is April 15, the day the chronicles refer to as “ten or twelve days before the Battle of Mactan.”

Around mid-April of 1521, Magellan made an epochal move: he proclaimed the unification of all the kingdoms on Cebu island into a single state, with Rajah Humabon as head of state. That act was the first step towards our becoming a nation, towards our becoming the Philippines. Which is why I say that the idea of a Philippine nation was started in the time of Lapu-Lapu. For the first time we, who were divided into numerous tribes, were fused into a single entity. That entity would dissolve almost as soon as it had been formed, but the idea had been implanted. We did not have to be a thousand different tribes: we could be one people.

How necessary this idea was can be seen just from the example of Mactan. Though Mactan is a microscopic isle, it was then divided into at least two kingdoms: the kingdom of Lapu-Lapu, and the kingdom of Rajah Zula, the chief who complained about Lapu-Lapu. If such a small isle as Mactan could be a house divided, we can imagine how much more split up the larger island of Cebu would be. And it was the unification of Cebu and Mactan that Lapu Lapu refused to accept.

There began the ambivalence in the character of the Filipino.–Nick Joaquin, “Lapu-Lapu and Humabon: The Filipino As Twins.” Paper read at the Symposium on Lapulapu, held at the University of San Carlos on April 21, 1979, under the auspices of the Cebuano Studies Center, the History Department of USC and the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development (Region VII).

As for Pigafetta, of whom the scholar C.R. Boxer wrote back in 1971 that he was “an exceptionally accurate and intelligent observer,” a closing summation might best come from Humberto E. Robles:

What should be underlined, however, is that historical necessity – the unrelenting search for evidence, causes. processes and explanations – has largely restricted the interpretation of Pigafetta’s narrative to those aspects that confirm his ‘esatfezza scientifica’ and substantiate the reliability and authenticity of his report. The rest is discarded as myth or, at best, glossed derogatorily as an exaggeration.” Thus, hardly any effort has been devoted to discern the sense of form that guides the narrative, nor to assess the marvellous encounter between a reasonably well-educated Renaissance mind, such as Pigafetta’s, with an unknown and unfamiliar reality. Very little has been written on how he makes use of language and metaphor to make the unfamiliar familiar. “Metaphors are crucially necessary when a culture or social group encounters phenomena that either elude or run afoul of normal expectations or quotidian experiences.”–Humberto E. Robles, “The First Voyage Around the World: From Pigafetta to García Márquez.” History of European Ideas, Vol 6, No 4. pp. 385-404, 1985.

And a postscript on Fernão de Magalhães, Fernando de Magallanes, Ferdinand Magellan. In a review of a version of Pigafetta, David A. Boruchoff concluded that “This first circumnavigation of the globe epitomized the contention between Portugal (Magellan’s homeland, which spurned his plan) and Spain (which accepted) for dominion of the East Indies, and the difficulty of determining where lands such as the Moluccas lay in relation to the ideal Line of Demarcation established by the Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494.”

The historian Danny Gerona answered this question as follows:

Q. What happened to the body of Ferdinand Magellan? Was he killed by the chief or by the soldiers?
A. One of the earliest Augustinians assigned in Cebu who interviewed the old residents of that island, Fray Rodrigo Aganduru Moriz, claimed that the great navigator was decapitated in accordance with the martial custom of the natives where the victor took a trophy, which was a part of his body, commonly the head, and placed it on the tip of a lance. The natives regarded the body of Magellan as their dangin, which, according to Fray Alonso de Mentrida’s sixteenth century Diccionario de la Lengua Bisaya, was “a trophy of their enemy killed or captured in war ( blason, trofeo de enemigo, muerto o cautivo en guerra, la persona asi muerta o cautiva). In a society which put premium on prestige and prowess not only as social virtues but also equated with mystical qualities, the body of Magellan constituted as the most valuable war booty. It was suggested that, based on the prevailing custom of the pre-conquest Visayan, Magellan was indeed decapitated, as they did to those they conquered, “which was their great desire,” wrote a 17th century Augustinian friar.

An intriguing passage from an article by Richard J. Field in 2006, bears reflection on the man and his motivations:

Had Magellan not perished at Mactan Island but had returned to Spain having achieved the main objectives of the 1519 expedition (namely having confirmed the location of at least some parts of Asia as Spanish territory with reference to the Treaty of Tordesillas – particularly the Spice Islands – and having yielded a substantial profit in the form of a cargo of spices and made Christian converts), these successes would have provided the rationale for a further voyage or voyages. Regarding the objectives of a future expedition to the Philippines, it may be speculated that in addition to further exploration, trade and missionary activity, Magellan could also have proposed to the Spanish king the territorial occupation and settlement of Cebu as the hub of these activities. The islands that he had “discovered” forCharles V in the archipelago would have given Magellan the opportunity to stake his claim to two of them, rich in wealth and opportunities for himself, with Cebu as one of these. Protection for his interests could have been provided by a Spanish military presence and a network of alliances with local rulers, such as Rajahs Humabon of Cebu and Colambu from Mindanao with both of whom he was already kasi-kasi – a blood brother. If Cebu was selected byMagellan for his own and or Spain’s ambitions, what was his view of the significance of Mactan Island? Was this the second island chosen by Magellan? Given its small size, lack of trading facilities, absence of mineral wealth and infertility it is unlikely that he would have wanted it for himself However, the immediate proximity of Mactan Island clearly posed a challenge to the position Magellan had established on Cebu – particularly in the trading port of Cebu, and to his ally, Rajah Humabon. Therefore, Magellan probably viewed Lapulapu’s resistance on Mactan Island as a challenge that must be resolved in order to achieve his own plans forCebu and possibly to set a decisive military precedent to deter other chiefs elsewhere who might have considered opposing him and Spain for territorial, political, religious or economic reasons.

It is interestingto speculate that had he survived, where would Magellan have looked for his second island – perhaps Mindanao? Incentives already existed there for exploration because he had been informed of the existence of much gold on this island and he was the blood brother ofRajah Colambu of Butuan.–Richard J. Field, “Revisiting Magellan’s Voyage to the Philippines.” Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society, Vol. 34, No. 4 (December 2006), pp. 313-337

Another item is on the name Magellan gave to the ocean he crossed: the Pacific. Surprisingly, the name didn’t stick for a long time, as this journal article explores. Interestingly, the period of (in)decision over the naming of this vast Ocean is bookended by the deaths of two explorers, Magellan and Cook:

Based on contemporary maps and globes that he might have seen, Magellan may have believed that he would cross this sea and arrive in the Indies in a matter of days, or perhaps a few weeks. On this score, he was wrong. But by sailing to the northwest for the next three months, reaching first the Marianas Islands and then later the Philippines, where he was killed, Magellan proved conclusively that Jehovah and the ancient Greeks were right. The seas had been gathered together unto one place, and ocean encircled the land masses of the world. 

As a navigational achievement, Magellan’s voyage rivaled that of Columbus, and he, perhaps more than Columbus, deserved the title of Admiral of the Ocean Sea. But the name he gave to the peaceful waters off the western coast of Chile did not yet become the name for the basin of the Eastern Ocean. For more than two centuries, mapmakers and navigators would continue to make the South Sea the common label for the waters west of the Americas and east of Asia. There are several reasons for this. First of all, Magellan’s name was not so apt; often the waters west of the straits were anything but peaceful. Francis Fletcher, who accompanied Francis Drake on his global circumnavigation in the 1570s, thought that “Mare furiosum” would have been a better name than “Mare pacificum.”

Another explanation lies in the fact that it took more than two centuries for explorers to chart the limits of the Pacific, and until that time, South Sea remained a plausible and useful description. For Europeans to reach these waters, ships had to sail to the south for a tremendous distance. For the Spanish fleets that maintained a dominant presence in this region through the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, most of the maritime traffic connected the southern reaches of their empire, the Viceroyalty of Peru, to the central and northern regions of the Spanish Main and Mexico. Beyond this north-south Spanish axis, the rest of the coastal territories of the Pacific basin remained almost completely unconnected by any regular traffic. 

The sole exception to this rule was the annual voyage of one or two Manila galleons that struggled back and forth across the South Sea from Acapulco to the Philippines. The Manila galleons carried Peruvian and Mexican silver to the markets of Asia, and the spices and silks of the Indies back to New Spain, a journey lasting six months in each direction. But in the quarter millennium (1565-1815) that they traversed the Pacific, the crews of the Manila galleons never came upon the Hawaiian Islands, never charted the islands and coasts of the unknown Pacific reaches. Their solitary journeys created a fragile trading channel between East Asia and South America, an oceanic equivalent of the Silk Road, but they did not create a Pacific World that could readily be described, much less named. 

The discontinuity of the Pacific was maintained in part by the indifference of Asians to their far-eastern waters. Japan, perhaps the most quintessentially Pacific of the world’s modern nations, largely withdrew from international affairs during the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1868), and even before that time, its overseas connections were directed almost exclusively to the westward. Although heavily dependent on the surrounding waters for sustenance, the Japanese, unlike other island or coastal nations (Britain, the Netherlands, Portugal), were not great long-distance seafarers. The currents that swirled around the home islands tended to push wayward Japanese sailing ships into treacherous waters and then out into the open ocean, never to return. Early modern Japanese maps divided that ocean into the small eastern sea, the familiar waters that they fished and that linked them to the Asian continent, and the large eastern sea, a frightening, boundless, and uncharted maritime region with no people and no points of interest. Similarly, China, the Middle Kingdom of the Asian world, took a strong trading and imperial interest in southeast Asia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, where it encountered the tiny outpost of Spanish traders in Manila. But the Chinese played no active role in world exploration after the great fleets led by Admiral Cheng Ho in the early fifteenth century sailed west to the African coast of the Indian Ocean, but not east beyond Japan.

Finally, although Magellan’s global circumnavigation had proven that the world’s waters were one, he had not disproven the long treasured geographical theory of a great southern continent, a landmass that would be the symmetrical parallel of the Eurasia-Africa ecumene. So long as Australia remained unexplored and the southern limits of the oceans remained unknown, belief in the existence of a Terra Australis held firm. Most of the naming of the waters throughout history involved the extension of the names of land regions onto the seas. So if there was a large and as yet uncharted continent at earth’s southern extremity, then it made sense to call the waters around it the “Southern Ocean” or the “South Seas.” Maps of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries therefore often restricted names such as the “Indian Ocean” to the waters relatively near India, and called the waters between southern Africa and Indonesia the “Southern Ocean,” out of respect for this theory.

European exploration party after another ventured out through the Straits of Magellan in the eighteenth century, they thought of the waters they sailed into as the South Seas. In 1740, British naval officer George Anson led a four-year expedition to sail around the world. In the official account of the voyage, probably ghost-written by Anson’s chaplain, Richard Walter, the South Seas were the primary destination. “Within the limits of the southern Ocean,” Walter expected to find the “celebrated tranquility of the Pacifick Ocean” just to the west of the straits where Magellan had found them, “but these were delusions which only served to render our disappointment more terrible.” A generation later, in 1767, Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, formerly an aide-de-camp to Montcalm in Quebec, commanded a major French exploratory party on a two-year mission through the Straits of Magellan and on to circumnavigate the globe, accompanied by Charles-Nicolas-Othon d’Orange, the Prince of Nassau. In their journals and accounts of the voyage, Bougainville and Nassau referred to the waters beyond the straits as “the South Sea.” Even as late as 1815, when Otto von Kotzebue led a Russian naval expedition on a voyage of discovery looking for a “north-east passage,” they thought of their destination as the South Sea. And as a literary convention, the name lasted well into the nineteenth century; Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, and Robert Louis Stevenson all used “South Seas” rather than “Pacific” in the titles of their works. 

The direction that Enlightenment geography was taking made it increasingly unlikely that “Pacific” would overtake “South Sea” as a common name for this ocean. Beginning in the 1690s and continuing through much of the eighteenth century, many European geographers took to naming the waters not by the vast ocean basins familiar to us today, but rather by what the modern geographer Martin W. Lewis calls the “ocean-arc” concept. In this scheme, oceans are thought of as the waters that wrap around the edges of integrated landmasses, rather than as the empty seas between continents. For example, the Ethiopian Ocean in this model wraps around southern Africa, and therefore includes parts of what we would call the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. In similar fashion, a 1719 French atlas described the Mer Magellanique as a single sea that encircles the entire southern tip of South America. The value of this ocean-arc concept lay in the fact that these arcs often corresponded to actual maritime pathways of human activity. If this theoretical trend had continued to prevail, there might never have been a reason to construct an oceanic basin to which the label “Pacific” would plausibly apply.

What challenged this model were the remarkable voyages in the 1770s of Captain James Cook, remarkable as much for what Cook failed to discover as for what he found. Part of Cook’s purpose in making his three voyages to the South Seas was to prove, once and for all, whether the great southern landmass about which geographers had speculated for millennia actually existed. Although Cook erred in thinking that the Antarctic he explored was all ice and no landmass, his explorations around Australia and New Zealand and his circumnavigation of Antarctica proved that Australia was not the northern edge of a great southern continent. There was no such landmass and therefore no obvious need to name a great southern ocean after it. 

In his third and final voyage, Cook explored the northern reaches of the Pacific, searching for the fabled Northwest Passage that would easily link Europe with the Far East. Before that time, Spanish explorers had been inching their way up the west coast of North America, and Russians had been slowly moving east and south from Alaska, but without linking the basin together as a connected and integrated whole. Cook’s careful mapping changed all that. He did not find a Northwest Passage, but he did chart the northern reaches of the Pacific before his untimely and much debated demise at the hands of Hawaiian islanders in 1779.

Over the course of Cook’s three voyages, something seems to have changed about European perceptions of the Pacific, or at least about what westerners were willing to call it. Cook himself, in his report to the secretary of the Admiralty after his first voyage, hoped that “this Voyage will be found as Compleat as any before made to the South Seas.” Similarly, Sydney Parkinson, who accompanied Joseph Banks as a “draughtsman” aboard the Endeavor on Cook’s first voyage, published a journal that he called A Voyage to the South Seas. But when Connecticut native John Ledyard sailed on board the Discovery for Cook’s last and fatal voyage in 1776, he called his account A Journal of Captain Cook’s Last Voyage to the Pacific Ocean. –Mark Peterson, Naming the Pacific: How Magellan’s Relief Came to Stick, And What It Stuck To, Commonplace, The Journal of American Life.

If you visit our Homepage you will see the other diaries and journals from subsequent expeditions to explore and colonize the philippines: specifically, the Logbook of Rodrigo de Espinosa, Logbook of Estéban Rodriguez, Logbook of Pierre Plin, the Logbook of Jaime Martinez and Diego Martin, all from the armada of Miguel Lopez de Legaspi in 1564-65. We will also have the Relation of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi.