Enrique, Magellan & Lapu Lapu

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While in Cebu recently I took the opportunity to visit the Mactan Shrine, the spot where the explorer Ferdinand Magellan was killed in 1521 during a skirmish with the local chieftain, Lapu Lapu.

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There are two monuments at this site.  The oldest is the Magellan Monument which was erected by the Spaniards in 1866 to commemorate their hero.

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The newer one, erected after the Philippines achieved independence, is a bronze statue of Lapu Lapu, who is regarded as a national hero for resisting Spanish aggression.

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Lapu Lapu may have won the battle but he lost the war because the Spanish were soon back in force heralding over 300 years of Spanish colonisation and spreading Christianity to much of the archipelago.

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Ferdinand Magellan (or Fernao de Magalhaes in his native Portuguese) is often thought of as the first person to sail around the world and he was leading that circumnavigation expedition at the time of  his death. He had earlier made another journey eastwards as far as Sabah, Borneo so it could be argued that he had been around the world, apart from the relatively small gap between Cebu and Borneo.

However another person can be credited with being the first to achieve a full circumnavigation and that was Magellan’s servant/slave and interpreter, known as Enrique.

According to Antonio Pigafetta, who chronicled Magellan’s voyage, Enrique was a Malay slave, originally from Sumatra, who was acquired by Magellan during the conquest of Malacca in 1511. Perhaps he was one of the slaves from the Sultan of Melaka’s household. Magellan had him baptised with the name Enrique and he was taken back to Portugal and accompanied Magellan on all his subsequent trips and took part in the Mactan battle where Magellan met his fate.

Three days after Magellan’s death, Enrique went ashore as interpreter with a party of Spaniards to meet another chieftain but they were attacked and only one survivor made it back to ship, witnessing that all were killed except the interpreter. Some have claimed that Enrique helped plan this attack as he was bitter that the Spaniards were not going to grant him his liberty as Magellan had intended and specified in his will. It is not known what happened to Enrique after the attack but, if he did survive, it is quite possible that he made it back to Malacca, or even Sumatra, thus completing his circumnavigation, and that this took place long before Magellan’s surviving crew made it back to Spain.

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I have a light-hearted children’s book at home called First Around the Globe – The Story of Enrique, which claims that Enrique was in fact a Filipino from Cebu and that the reason he was found by Magellan in Malacca was because he was kidnapped by a band of pirates while out fishing. They took him to Jolo where he was sold to the slave trade in Malacca. The authors argue that Enrique could speak Cebuano which is how he was able to interpret for Magellan when he reached Cebu. Filipinos add that it is appropriate that the first person to have been around the world should have been Filipino because modern day balikbayan are such great travellers. 

Malaysians and Indonesians however would argue that Enrique was a Malay from Sumatra as evidenced by Pigafetta and he was able to communicate with the Cebu chiefs because Malay was the lingua franca among the ruling classes in the Visayas at that time. And Malays are famed for their seamanship skills.

Well, I don’t think I want to take sides in that argument but the possibility that this former Malaccan slave might have been the first person ever to sail around the world is certainly intriguing but I guess we will never know for sure.

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