Ferdinand Magellan - Frederick Ober

"Converting" the Natives


The island in which Magellan met the two kings, and where he first planted the cross, is called Mazana  by Pigafetta, but is now known as Limasaua, and lies off the southern end of Leyte. It is scarcely more than ten miles square in area, but, small as it is, proved sufficiently attractive to the voyage-weary sailors to detain them for the space of a week. "It lies in latitude of nine and two-thirds degrees towards the arctic pole," says the chevalier, "and in longitude one hundred and sixty-two degrees from the line of demarcation." That "line of demarcation," of course, is the one set down by the treaty of Tordesillas, in 1494, separating the Spanish and Portuguese halves of the world. Magellan was exceedingly anxious to prove that the Moluccas lay on the Spanish side of the line, and likewise the Philippines—as these islands were afterwards called."

Inquiring for larger and richer islands, at which he might carry on a profitable trade, the captain-general was told that one of the wealthiest of these was Zubu (now Zebu, Sebu, or Cebu), and that there he might obtain the gold and spices he desired, in exchange for his stock of goods in the ships. When he asked for pilots to Zebu, he was told that none was to be had for love or for money, but that if he would wait till the kings had harvested their rice crops one or both of them would go with him gladly. So Magellan not only waited two days, but sent men to aid the farmer kings in gathering their crops. But the kings were so hospitable to the laborers that all, including themselves, were overcome, it is said, by the liquor they drank, and a further delay ensued. A final departure was made on the fourth day of April, and, while some uncertainty exists as to the points previously touched at by Magellan, all doubts are removed from the time the royal pilots took the helms, as they steered a straight course for the island of Zebu.

Many wonders were seen on the way, the observer whose narrative we are following tells us, among the most astonishing being the "flying-foxes," or frugiverous bats, "as large as eagles," the flesh of which, he says, tasted like chicken. Besides turtle-doves and parrots, which were in swarms on certain islands, he mentions those wonderful birds, the megapodes, or "mound birds," which lay their large eggs in a mound of decaying vegetation, by the heat of which they are hatched. The voyage must have been a leisurely one to have enabled the observer to note these objects by the way; but the port of Zebu was reached on April 7th and entered with flying colors.

Let what then occurred be related by one who was present. "On approaching the city," he says, "the captain-general ordered the ships to fling out their banners. The sails were lowered, as if for battle, and all the artillery was discharged—an action which caused great fear to those people. The captain-general then sent a foster-son of his as ambassador to the King of Sebu, with the interpreter. When they reached the city they found a vast crowd of people gathered about the king and trembling in fear from the noise of the lombards. The interpreter informed them that it was our custom, when entering a strange port, to discharge all our cannon, not only as a sign of peace and friendship, but in honor of the king. They were then reassured, but the king remarked that this was a strange custom, and then asked what it was our captain wanted. The interpreter replied that his master was the greatest captain in the world, and was going to the Moluccas by a new route he had discovered; but that he had digressed on the way, in order to visit the King of Cebu, because of the good report received from the King of Mazana.

"The king told him he was come in good time, but that it was the custom for all strange ships that entered his ports to pay him tribute, and that it was but four days since a junk which had come from Siam, laden with slaves and gold, had done so. In proof of this statement he pointed to the merchant in charge of the junk, who was present at the time.

"The interpreter told the king that since his master was the captain of so great a monarch, he did not pay tribute to any seignior in the world, but on the contrary exacted tribute from others. If the king wished for peace, he would have peace; but if war instead, then war it should be!

"Thereupon the Moro merchant said to his majesty, 'Cata Raia chita'—that is to say: 'Look well, sire; for these men are the same as those who have conquered Calicut, Malacca, and all Greater India. If they are treated well, they will give good treatment in return; but if evil, then evil treatment, and worse, as they have done to Calicut and Malacca.'

"Understanding all this, the interpreter said to the king that his master's king was more powerful even than the King of Portugal—that he was the ruler over Spain, and emperor of other countries, and that if he did not care to be his friend, next time would be sent so many men that they would destroy him. This answer being translated to the king, he answered that he would deliberate with his council. Then he had refreshments served, of many dishes, contained in porcelain platters, besides several jars of wine; and after our men had partaken, they returned and told us everything."

The upshot of long negotiations which ensued was that the King of Cebu sent Magellan a drop of blood from his right arm, with the request that he do the same for him, in token of blood-brothership. This was done, and thus amicable relations were at once established. The nephew of the king, a prince of pleasing manners and countenance, was despatched to treat with the captain-general on board his ship. He was received with great honors, and seated beside Magellan in a red velvet chair, while his companions, the Governor of Cebu, the constable, and eight chiefs, reclined on mats spread upon the deck.

Asked if they were empowered to make peace, they answered they were. Then the captain-general, who was ever seeking opportunities to further the cause of religion, made an impassioned speech upon the delights of peace, and declared himself an apostle of the Prince of Peace, whose humble servant even was his great and mighty king. He told them of God, who made the sky, the earth, the sea, and "all that in them is." He informed them that all people living were descended from Adam and Eve, our first parents, and what seemed very strange and new to them—that every one has an immortal spirit. The good are to be rewarded, he said, and the bad condemned to the pit of fire everlasting.

These simple children of nature seemed greatly impressed by Magellan's eloquence, and by the arguments he advanced in proof that his religion was the "only true one," and that they should promptly embrace it for the good of their souls. They requested him to allow at least two of his company to remain among them, in order to teach them the true faith; but Magellan replied that he could not do so then, though he had with him a priest of the most high God who, if they would consent to become Christians, would baptize them in His name. They answered that they would first speak to their king, and that then, doubtless, they would all become Christians, "at which words we all wept for joy," says the chevalier.

"The captain-general told them that they should not become Christians from fear, or to please us, merely, but of their own free wills; and that he would not cause any displeasure to those who wished to live according to their own law; but that the Christians would be better regarded and treated than the others! Then all cried out, with one voice, that they were not becoming Christians through fear, or to please us, but of their own free will. Then the captain-general told them that if they became Christians he would leave with them a suit of armor—for so his king had commanded him to do; and he further assured them that if they became Christians the devil would no longer appear to them, except in the last moment at their death.

"They said that they could not answer the beautiful words he had spoken, but that they placed themselves in his hands, and that he should consider them as his most faithful servants. Then our captain embraced them, weeping, and clasping one of the prince's hands, and one of the King of Mazana's, between his own, he said to them that, by his faith in God and to his sovereign, the emperor, and by the habit of Santiago, which he wore, he promised to give them perpetual peace with the King of Spain."

Refreshments were served, and presents exchanged, the prince offering Magellan a few baskets of rice, some swine, fowls, and goats, with apologies for the meanness of the gift. The captain-general replied that the essence of the gift was the spirit that prompted it, and then gave the prince a red cap, a web of linen, some strings of beads, and an elegant drinking-cup of gilded glass, besides minor presents to his followers. To the King of Cebu he sent, by the hand of the prince, a gorgeous robe of silk, "made in Turkish style "—that is, long and flowing; a fine red cap, or fez, two of the gilded drinking-cups, and a great many strings of beads, in a beautiful silver dish.

When the much-vaunted "king" was finally discovered to Magellan he was found to be a short and squatty individual, exceedingly corpulent, and with face and body hideously tattooed. He was seated on a palm-mat spread upon the ground, and his costume was so scant as scarcely to merit mention, consisting of a silk kerchief round his head, a breech-clout, and a necklace of precious stones. In his ears were rings of gold set with valuable gems. He was eating turtle eggs from porcelain dishes, and drinking palm-wine from an earthen jar by means of small hollow reeds, like straws. He looked up from his repast as the strangers entered the pavilion in which he sat, glanced at the gifts, kissed them, and then ordered eggs and wine for his guests. Not a word would he listen to until they had finished the repast, when he wiped his lips, clapped his hands for a servant to remove the empty jars and dishes, and announced himself as ready for business.

He listened attentively to what his nephew said about the white man's religion, and assented to his proposition to embrace it. Then he clapped his hands again, and four young girls appeared, who danced gracefully before the king and his guests, while playing upon sweet-toned Chinese gongs. After this recreation had been indulged in, his majesty declared he must sup, and invited the party to remain; but finally accepted their excuses and allowed them to return to the ship. There they found that two of the sailors had died, and again seeking audience of the king, secured his permission to consecrate a certain space in the centre of the town as a cemetery, and inter their comrades therein.

The funeral ceremonies were made as elaborate as possible, and the king, who was duly impressed, promised to become a Christian on the following Sunday. When the holy day arrived a platform was erected in the consecrated square, decorated with palm-leaves and silken hangings, and here Magellan and the King of Cebu met by appointment. The captain-general came ashore with an escort of forty musketeers, two of whom only were in complete armor, and when he landed on Cebu soil all the cannon of the fleet were fired in salute. The king and Magellan embraced, then went together to the platform in the square, where they seated themselves in two chairs, one lined with red velvet for the captain-general, and the other in violet for his majesty. The fat and jolly little king felt rather ill at ease, seated in state as he was, upon a platform surrounded by foreign soldiers; but he tried to take the situation seriously, and listened as attentively as he could, while Magellan discoursed upon the advantages of adopting his religion and allying with his sovereign.

He answered, through the interpreter, that he very much desired to become a Christian, but there were some chiefs under him who objected. They were very bad men, he said, and, what was more to the point, they were so strong that he feared he could not bring them to reason.

"Send for them," commanded Magellan, "and I will reason with them." They were sent for, and came, though reluctantly, when the captain-general told them that unless they promised allegiance to their king and to his king he would have them killed. He threatened to enforce compliance with fire and with sword, and they, though sullenly, consented to his proposition.

Magellan thus made himself an ally of the King of Cebu, whom he took under his protection, and this act was soon to cost him his life. He could not foresee, however, the terrible consequences of this misstep, though his reason should have warned him against mingling in the strifes of these people. He could not understand them, for they were entirely new to him, and they had had their feuds and petty wars for generations. Neither could he estimate their strength nor their valor, both which were great, and were to prove more than he could prevail against, with all his ships and soldiers. One of the native chiefs, afterwards repenting of his adherence, was proceeded against by Magellan, whose soldiers first plundered his village and then burned it to the ground, leaving behind a cross, the duplicate of one which was erected in the consecrated square of the capital.

The king was adjured to worship the cross which Magellan caused to be planted in the square, and he promised. He was told that he must also burn all his idols, of which he had a great number, most hideous to behold. Some were of wood, some of clay. Those made of wood were hollowed out in the back, and had large faces with two tusks on each side the mouth, like the wild boar, which they were evidently intended to represent. In fact, these people annually consecrated their swine in a strange ceremony performed by two old women, says Pigafetta. As this ceremony illustrates the barbarous nature of the Cebuites, we have no hesitation in quoting it entire.

They first went around the city beating gongs, and carrying two standards made of palm bark. When they had assembled a crowd in the great square, they spread cloths upon the ground and made obeisance to the sun. The hog to be killed and consecrated was bound and placed upon the cloths. Then one of the old women blew a trumpet of bamboo, which she carried; the other bound upon her head a pair of horns, in imitation of those the devil is supposed to wear, and, dancing and blowing her trumpet, called out to the sun. After dancing and trumpeting about the doomed animal for half an hour they were presented with a cup of wine, from which one of them sprinkled the hog in the region of his heart. Then a lance was handed her, which, after much brandishing, was suddenly thrust through the beast from one side to the other, inflicting a mortal wound.

Dipping the tips of their trumpets in the blood that flowed forth in a stream, the old hags went around the circle of by-standers, marking each one on the forehead; then, by means of fire, the hair was removed from the skin, the carcass was cut up, and all the females present invited to partake.

The king's idols were very dear to him, and he could hardly make up his mind to their destruction; but finally he said that one of his nephews was sick unto death, and if he offended his gods, he certainly would die. Magellan told him to burn his idols, believe in Christ, have the sick man baptized, and he would soon recover. If he did not, they could take his head, which he offered as a pledge. A procession was formed from the great square to the house of the afflicted man, where he was found in such a serious condition as to be able neither to speak nor move. He and all his family were baptized, including his two wives and ten daughters, and then, when asked by Magellan how he felt, he replied that, by the grace of the Christian's God, he felt very well indeed!

This miracle—for thus it was considered—was the means of overcoming all the scruples of his majesty, who then consented to be baptized, and repeated after Magellan that he would ever prove faithful to his majesty the King of Spain, swearing thereto before an image of the Virgin Mary, and in the presence of his followers. His queen, also, was baptized, and called Juana, after the mother of Charles I., while the king received the baptismal name of Don Carlos, after the emperor himself. His nephew, the prince, was called Don Fernando; the King of Mazana, John; and the Moro from Siam, who seems to have been converted from Mohammedanism, Christopher. In all, more than eight hundred people were "converted" to Christianity and were baptized, in a single morning, after which the ships discharged their lombards, the musketeers their arquebuses, and the king and the captain-general embraced each other like brothers.