By Felice Noelle
Rodriguez and Jomo Kwame Sundaram(*)
LUMPUR, Malaysia, Mar 16 2021 (IPS) – Globalisation’s beginnings are symbolised
by Ferdinand Magellan’s near circumnavigation of the world half a millennium
ago. But its history is not simply of connection and trade, but also of
intolerance, exploitation, slavery, violence, aggression and genocide.
Philippines today struggles with this history. Some Filipinos highlight
the warm native reception extended to Magellan’s fleet and the first Catholic
mass, reminiscent of American Thanksgiving mythology. For others, native
resistance to conquistador aggression, captured by Danilo Madrid Gerona’s
biography of Magellan, is more memorable.
In 1494CE, Pope Alexander VI, now of Borgias TV series
infamy, united the Iberian Catholic kings behind the Inquisition. His
Tordesillas treaty, after Christopher Columbus’ 1492 ‘discovery’ of the New
World under Spanish royal auspices, gave the Portuguese rights to Brazil and
all lands east of it, with Spain getting the rest of the Americas.
Gama reached India in 1498 with the help of an Arab trader. In February
1502, he returned to demand that the ruler of Calicut (Kozhikode) expel all Muslims. When rejected, da
Gama bombarded the port city and severely maimed those he captured.
Under Portugal’s second Viceroy to the East, Afonso
d’Albuquerque, Fernão de Magalhães distinguished himself in several Portuguese
naval sieges, attacks and sackings of ports in southern India and beyond.
Portugal had its eyes on Malacca well before arriving there.
For the Portuguese chronicler Tome Pires, Malacca then was the greatest port in
Magalhães arrived with the first Portuguese expedition to
Malacca in 1509, returning in 1511 with a thousand men under Albuquerque’s
command to capture it.
Magalhães was later injured in the 1513 Portuguese invasion
of the Maghrib (Morocco). This
aggression had begun almost a century earlier (1415) under the legendary Prince
Henrique, Henry the Navigator. Later, after failing to get what he
believed to be his due, Magalhães moved in 1517 to Sevilla, the base of the
Spanish Inquisition and navy.
Ferdinand Magallanes, he persuaded Spanish King Carlos V to sponsor his
proposed circumnavigation to get to the Moluccas spice islands in Southeast
Asia by sailing west, as allowed by the Tordesillas treaty. The monarch
provided him with five ships, crew and provisions for the expedition.
On 16th March 1521, Magallanes’ depleted fleet of three
ships arrived in the eastern Visayas in the central Philippines. The ships had
sailed through the straits at the southern tip of the Americas which now bears
his name. Sailing on to Cebu, he demanded native acceptance of his God and
King, plus tribute.
He twice attacked the small neighbouring island of Mactan,
where the Cebu airport now is, razing two villages who did not comply.
Anticipating the third attack before dawn on 27th April, Lapulapu – a local
leader, with the name of a grouper fish species – prepared to resist.
Over-confident and arrogant, Magallanes shunned offers of
reinforcements. Lapulapu’s mobilised village defence force greatly outnumbered
and prevailed against his. Thus, the 500th anniversary recalls a rare victory
for native resistance against the conquistador.
Of the five ships in his original fleet, only the smallest,
Victoria eventually returned to Spain in 1522 under Spaniard Juan Sebastian
Elcano. Nevertheless, despite the loss of most of his ships and many crew, the
King still made a huge profit.
Slave, the first
is another, largely untold story. After the Portuguese conquest of
Malacca in 1511, Magalhães left with a captured teenage slave, whose original
name no one knows. Perhaps to honour Henry the Navigator, Magellan renamed him
‘anRyk’, probably a Catalan version of the name.
A favourite slave of Magellan, anRyk served as his
interpreter and was to be freed upon his death. However, the ship’s captain
refused to honour the will. Unsurprisingly, anRyk deserted. Thus, he may well
have become the first to circumnavigate Earth, as some claim he returned to
live out his life near Malacca, avoiding the Portuguese there.
In 1957, a history teacher in Singapore named Harun
Aminurrashid published a novel to inspire children in the newly independent
Malaya. The hero was a character loosely based on what was known about anRyk,
whom he lionised as Panglima (Commander) Awang.
Thus, we have the heroic figure of Panglima Awang. Almost
Spartacus-like, the captured defeated slave becomes the hero. Recent portraits
as well as a sculpture of Enrique da Malacca by the Malaysian multimedia artist
Ahmad Fuad Osman strengthen this image.
A Man of All Nations
anRyk is claimed by several contemporary Southeast Asian nation states. Some
Malaysian historians have reified the fictive Panglima Awang. Thus, Malaysian
memorialisation has involved not only making history from fiction, but also
creating new myths from history.
Indonesian claims rely on self-appointed Magellan chronicler
Antonio Pigafetta’s suggestion that anRyk was from Sumatera; others claim he
was from the Moluccas, Maluku today. Some Filipinos insist he stayed there,
becoming Filipino before there was even a Philippines. More than anyone else,
anRyk symbolises island Southeast Asia, the Nusantara.
In Iberia, in Europe, in the West, there is a subtle debate
over personalities and dates. For the Portuguese, the circumnavigation began under
Magellan’s leadership in 1519. For their neighbours, the Spaniard Elcano led
the Victoria back in 1522. His diverse crew allows pan-European claims,
ignoring most slaves, presumably of colour, who were not deemed worthy of
mention in the official ship manifests.
Imperialism today is, in many ways, a far cry from what it
was five centuries ago. Yet, there are many continuities and parallels,
including racisms, cultural, including religious intolerance, exploitations and
oppressions of various types despite changing forms, relations and even
The voyages of exploration and conquest were driven by
greed. Nonetheless, God, king and country have been readily invoked to
legitimise avarice and atrocities. Invoking 21st century intellectual property
norms, globalisation today involves vaccine imperialism, apartheid and genocide.
Noelle Rodríguez is a Filipina historian. She is now a Scholar-in-Residence
in Kuala Lumpur and Visiting Fellow at the Ateneo de Zamboanga University.– Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics
professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic
Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the
Frontiers of Economic Thought.