Ferdinand Magellan - Frederick Ober

Discovery of the Philippines


On a morning of the first week in March, 1521, the starving crews were cheered by the emerald crown of a mountain peering above the horizon. It rose higher and higher, and as the clouds about its shoulders dissolved there stood revealed one of the most beautiful objects in the world, a tropical island in mid-ocean. This island-mountain was clothed from summit to base in the most luxuriant vegetation: whole forests, wreathed in vines spangled with starry blossoms; feathery bamboos climbing the acclivities, and ranks of cocoa-palms encircling all, with their golden crowns gleaming above snow-white coral strands.

The vessels were headed for this island, when another appeared, of lesser magnitude but apparently more accessible, and nearer. To this latter the bows were promptly pointed, and as it was approached scores of native canoes, or proas, came careering out from shore. Each proa was filled with naked brown men, smooth of skin, pleasant as to countenance, shapely as to form, and tall of stature. They approached, jabbering and gesticulating, holding up stalks of bananas set with yellow fruit, and clusters of cocoanuts filled with refreshing drink. These products of their gardens were quickly disposed of to the famishing sailors, who fell-to greedily upon the fruits and nuts, while their visitors roamed at will about the ships. They seemed so frank and inoffensive that Magellan interposed no objection to their familiarity, and watched their capers with amused interest while speculating upon their peculiarities.

As Magellan was leaning over the rail of the flag-ship, looking down into the canoes swarming around her, he was approached by one of his officers, who said: "Pardon me, your excellency, but those rascals have stolen our small-boat, which was fastened astern. And they are also taking everything on board which they can get into their. hands!" Magellan was on the qui-vive  in a moment. "Clear the ship!" he shouted. "Send a party at once to intercept those scoundrels." Seeing that it was impossible to overtake them, however, as they moved in the water with incredible rapidity, he gave orders for the ship to stand "off and on" during the night, and in the morning sent a punitive party of sixty men to burn their village and secure the boat they had stolen.

He was thoroughly enraged, having been so basely deceived, and determined to give these treacherous people a lesson. The village was burned, some of the natives killed, and the boat recovered, the expedition returning to the fleet with a large quantity of provisions, which were extremely acceptable. The islanders seemed to be unacquainted with defensive weapons, such as bows and arrows, for when any of them were struck by darts, or crossbow-shafts, which usually went entirely through the body, they would draw the missiles out and look at them with astonishment before they expired. These acts excited the compassion of the explorers; but when the natives rallied and pursued them in their canoes, to the number of a hundred or more, they did not hesitate to discharge their cannon among them. Their proas were so swift that one of them cut out another small-boat as it was being towed astern a ship, passing between the two with great dexterity, though the vessel was sailing at full speed.

From the number of these proas, all carrying small, triangular sails, Magellan, at first sight of them coming out from the shore, named these new lands the "Islands of the Lateen Sails"; but when the thievish proclivities of the natives were disclosed he called them the Ladrones, or Robber Islands. The name has clung to them ever since, for, like most of his appellations, it was peculiarly applicable. The island at which Magellan first arrived was that known now as Guam, or Guahan, and belongs to the United States, having been ceded to this government by Spain in 1898.

The incensed natives of Guam were loath to allow the fleet to leave their waters without some token of their displeasure, and pursued it in their canoes for a long distance, casting stones at the ships, uttering cries of defiance, and making hideous grimaces. "The chief amusement of these people," wrote Pigafetta, "is to plough the seas in those small boats of theirs, which are sharp-pointed, bow and stern alike, and carry sails made of palm-leaves sewn together, lateen shape. They are very fast, and in shape and speed resemble dolphins which leap in the water from wave to wave. At the side opposite the sail, they have a large log of wood, pointed at the top, with poles laid across it and resting on the water, in order that the boats may sail more safely." These affairs were the curious outriggers, invented and used by the islanders of the South Pacific, who had lived so long isolated that "they thought there were no other people in the world but themselves."

During the two-days' stay at Guam, the crews had been greatly refreshed, for not only was the long-continued strain of watching relieved, but the fresh fruits and vegetables put an end to the scurvy which had afflicted them so severely. Some of the sea-men, however, were too far gone to recover, and on the morning the fleet left Guam (which was the 9th of March), the only Englishman in the expedition died of the disease. He was a gunner, and known on board as "Master Andrew of Bristol." Some sick remained yet, and when, a week later, the outlying islands of what is known to-day as the Philippines were reached, anchors were dropped in the first promising harbor, for the purpose of recreating the invalids. The island was without inhabitants, though as attractive as an oasis of palm-trees in a desert, and here Magellan pitched his tents in peace, and set up a temporary hospital for the sick. A pig was killed which had been obtained at Guam, fresh fruits were set before the invalids, and the captain-general himself gave them cocoa-milk and pure spring-water to drink, with his own hands. He was unwearied in his attentions, and soon the sick recovered sufficiently to be taken back to the ships again, when the fleet proceeded to other islands.

While encamped on the sands of the uninhabited island, Magellan was approached by nine men in a proa, which they ran upon the beach without hesitation, at a point quite near the tents. After regarding the Europeans for a while in silence, these natives took several fish, which they had just caught, out of their canoe, and laid them at Magellan's feet. In return for this acceptable gift, he ordered some caps of colored cloth, looking-glasses, and cascabels brought out and given them. These were so highly appreciated that the natives again went to the canoe and brought forth a big bunch of bananas, a sack of cocoa-nuts, and an immense jar of palm-wine, all of which were presented to Magellan, with many signs of friendship and good-will.

When these "Filipinos" took their departure a short while after, they promised to return with fruits from their groves and gardens, and a week later were back as agreed. They brought with them not only cocoa-nuts, oranges, bananas, and jars of wine, but some of the native jungle-fowl, domesticated from wild birds taken in the forest. They exhibited "great signs of pleasure at seeing us," says Pigafetta, "and we purchased all those articles from them." Their chief, an old man with a tattooed face, gold rings in his ears, gold armlets and bracelets, was almost entirely naked, like his followers, except that he wore a cotton kerchief embroidered with silk.

All these people were dark-complexioned, corpulent, and glistening from frequent applications of cocoa-nut oil. Their hair was jet black and fell to their waists, while their wild appearance was increased by their custom of carrying daggers, knives, spears, javelins, and shields which were ornamented with gold. They had come from the islands of Samar and Suluan, which they importuned Magellan to visit; but he had passed them on the way and did not care to retrace his steps. Instead, he proceeded easterly to the island of Mazaba, where a surprise awaited him, for he found that some of the people spoke a language understood by his servant, or slave, who was a Malay from Malacca. Enrique, or Henry, was the name by which he was known to the Spaniards, though he was formerly called Traprobana. But, though a boat-load of natives came within speaking distance of the flag-ship, and though Enrique conversed with them freely, they would not board the vessel. Wishing to establish friendly relations with them, Magellan sent out a red cap and other things on a floating plank, and was pleased to observe that they picked them up with signs of satisfaction.

They probably took the gifts to their chief, or king, for a few hours later he came out in a large boat, or balanghai, which was full of armed men and furnished with an awning, under which he reclined upon a pile of mats. He at first refused to go on board the ship, as he was very suspicious of these strangers who had come to his island uninvited, though they assured him that they came as friends and not as enemies. Presents were exchanged by means of floating planks, and amicable relations established which led to a second visit by the king, who, when he entered the flag-ship, embraced Magellan cordially and begged his acceptance of a bar of gold and a basket of ginger. The captain-general is said to have refused the gold—to the great disgust of his crew, who had never before sailed with a commander so free from the sin of covetousness. But he accepted three porcelain jars filled with rice, and several large fish, as fresh food was a necessity. In return he gave the king a robe of red-and-yellow cloth, a Turkish fez, and to his men some mirrors and knives. These presents impressed his majesty so favorably that he expressed a desire to be casi casi  with Magellan, or, in other words, to perform the ceremony of blood-brotherhood, and it was done. Each one let the other taste a few drops of his blood, and thenceforth they were "brothers," according to the Malay custom.

Desirous of impressing the half-naked king with his power and attainments, Magellan showed him his stock of arms and ammunition, his collection of weapons, artillery, armor, etc. He had some of the cannon discharged, at the sound of which the king was greatly terrified, and two of his attendants leaped overboard. "Then the captain-general had a man encased in armor, and placed him in the midst of three others armed simply with swords and daggers, who struck him on all parts of the body without harming him. At this sight the king was rendered almost speechless, and when the captain-general told him that one of those armed men was worth a hundred of his own [the king's] without defensive armor, he answered that was a fact. The captain-general said that he had two hundred men who were armed in that manner, and he showed the king his cuirasses, swords, bucklers, etc., and had a review conducted for him. Then he led him to the deck of the ship that is located above, at the stern, and had his sea-charts and compass brought. By means of them he explained how he had found the strait, in order to voyage thither, and how many moons he had been without seeing land, whereat the king was greatly astonished. Lastly, he told the king that he would like, if it were pleasing to him, to send two of his men with him so that he might show them some of his things. The king replied that he was agreeable, and I, Antonio Pigafetta, went with him in company with another.

"When we reached the shore, the king raised his hands towards the sky and then turned to us, so that we did the same, as did all the others. The king then took me by the hand, one of his chiefs took my companion, and thus they led us under a bamboo covering, where there was an immense balanghai, resembling a fusta. There we sat down upon the stern of that great boat, constantly conversing by signs, and the king's men stood about us in a circle, armed with swords, daggers, spears, and bucklers.

"The king shortly had a dish of pork and a large jar of wine brought in, and at every mouthful we drank a cup of the wine. The king's cup was always covered, and no one drank of it save himself. Before he took the cup to drink he raised his clasped hands towards the sky, and then towards me. When he was about to drink, he extended the fist of his left hand towards me (so that at first I thought he was about to strike me), and then drank. I did the same, and so far as possible went through the same performance. I learned that they always make those signs when they drink together."

These peculiar customs remind one of similar ceremonies used by the Aztecs and Mayas of Mexico when, about the same time, they were first visited by the Spaniards. After the meal was over, Pigafetta employed himself in writing down as many words of his host's language as he could obtain; but not much time was allowed him, for soon the supper-hour arrived and the feasting was resumed. Two large dishes were brought in, one full of boiled rice, and the other of pork with its gravy. "We ate with the same signs and ceremonies as before, after which we went to the king's 'palace,' which was built like a hay-loft, set up high from the ground on great posts, and was thatched with banana and palm leaves. To reach the banquet-hall it was necessary to ascend by means of ladders, and once there the king made us sit down, on a bamboo mat, with our feet drawn up like tailors.

"After a long delay, a platter of broiled fish was brought in, also green ginger and wine. The king's eldest son, who was the prince, sat down near us, and then two platters of fish and rice were brought, so that we might also eat with him. We were already full to repletion, and my companion became intoxicated as the result of so much drinking. The torches now burned low, with flickering light, and the king made us a sign that he was going to sleep. He left the prince with us, and we slept with him on a bamboo mat with pillows made of leaves.

"With the dawn of day came the king, who took me by the hand and led me to the place where we had supper, in order to partake of refreshments before the boat came for us. As we departed the king kissed our hands, and we kissed his, in token of the mutual joy we felt. One of his brothers, the king of another island [Mindanao], and three men went with us, whom our captain-general kept to dine aboard the flag-ship."

This king informed Magellan that in his island gold, in nuggets the size of eggs and walnuts, was very abundant; that his plate was all of gold, and the adornments of his palace were chiefly of the precious metal. He had, indeed, something to show in proof of his boasting, for the haft and scabbard of the dagger he wore at his side were of gold, and in his ears were massive golden earrings. "He likewise had three spots of gold on every tooth in his head, and his teeth appeared as if bound with gold. He was perfumed with storax and benzoin; tawney he was, and tattooed all over his body."

"According to their custom he was grandly decked out, and the finest-looking man we had seen among these people. His hair was raven black and hung to his shoulders. On his head he wore a covering of silk, and around his waist a cotton cloth which covered his legs down to his knees." His name and title combined Pigafetta gives as Raia [Rajah] Siaui, and his brother was the Raia Colambu. He had been hunting in the latter's island, as was his custom when desirous of meeting his brother, and was then returning to his own districts, which were Butuan and Calagan, in northeastern Mindanao.

The dress, customs, and ornaments of the people met by Magellan in the Philippines were similar to those in vogue to-day, and the Malays had the same disgusting habit of chewing the betel-nut, as have their successors in the islands. As the following Sunday was Easter, and also the anniversary of the mutiny which he had suppressed in the harbor of San Julian, Magellan resolved to celebrate the double event in a manner to impress the king and all his people. He sent his chaplain ashore, with Enrique, the interpreter, to inform the king of his intention to perform a religious ceremonial, but not to dine with him, or visit.

The king at once consented to the landing of the soldiers, fifty of whom, without armor, but carrying their muskets and side-arms. paraded on the beach in front of the palace. Before they reached the shore six cannon had been fired "as a sign of peace," and the two native kings embraced Magellan ardently. With a king on either side, he marched his men to a place selected for the ceremonies, and before they commenced sprinkled his royal companions with musk water, at which they were well pleased. They even kissed the cross, when it was elevated, and with' clasped hands fell on their knees and worshipped this, the first, Christian symbol they had ever seen.

They did this probably from deference to their guests, and not because of any real sentiment of religion, for when asked by Magellan whether they were Moros (Mahometans) or heathens, they made answer that they worshipped nothing, but that they raised their clasped hands and faces to the sky, and called their god by the name of Abba. "Thereat the captain-general was very glad, and, seeing that, the first king raised his hands to the sky and said that he wished it were possible for him to make the strangers see his love for him."

Magellan replied that he did not doubt his love, and to prove it he was going to ask of him a great favor. He desired permission to set up the cross they had brought on the summit of a hill overlooking the harbor, where it should be not only a sign of possession taken in the name of his dread sovereign, but as a token of amity between them. Magellan's real reason, doubtless, for the raising of the cross in such a conspicuous place, lay in the fact that such an act signified actual possession, and allegiance on the part of the natives to the king he served. But he veiled his real motives in the religious ceremony, and he told the kings, through the interpreter, "that he wished to set it up in that place for their benefit, for whenever any of our ships came they would know that we had been there by this cross, and would do nothing to displease them or harm their property. If any of their men were captured, they would be set free immediately, on that sign being shown; and it was necessary to place it on the highest hill or mountain, so that on seeing it every morning they might adore it; and if they did that, neither thunder, lightning, nor storms would harm them in the least. They thanked him heartily, and said they would do everything he wished most willingly."

Near the shore, and overlooking the harbor, rose a verdant, palm-dotted hill with a smooth and rounded crown. It was a site most fit for the erection of that holy symbol of Christianity, and there Magellan resolved to place it. With a host of natives in the van, breaking a path through the tangled tropical vegetation, and himself leading his fifty soldiers, he ascended the hill soon to be made sacred to the religion he professed. The two kings accompanied him, and while the trio stood apart, watching the proceedings with deep interest, the soldiers detailed for the purpose dug a deep hole and set the cross in position. Less than eight years previously, Balboa, on the isthmus of Darien, had marked with a cross the site from which he had first viewed the Pacific, and now it was Fernan Magellan's privilege, in these far-distant isles of the same ocean, to confirm his sovereign's possession of that vast body of water which he was the first to cross.

A gilded crown surmounted the cross, and both together typified the spiritual and material sovereignty which Magellan, as a faithful subject of his king and true soldier of the faith, was desirous to extend and to confirm. After it was in position, he reverently knelt at the foot of the cross, and with his soldiers, also on bended knees, listened to the invocation by his chaplain. The moment it was finished a musket was fired, as a signal to the ships, and their cannon boomed a salutation. Volleys of musketry responded from the hill, and, amid dense clouds of smoke, the party descended to the plain at its base, where the soldiers performed martial evolutions and fought a sham battle, greatly to the edification of all the people, who were loath to allow their guests to depart.