Death of Ferdinand Magellan

Death of Ferdinand Magellan

Heading northwest, the crew reached the equator on 13 February 1521. On 6 March they reached the Marianas and Guam. Magellan called Guam the “Island of Sails” because they saw a lot of sailboats. They renamed it to “Ladrones Island” (Island of Thieves) because many of Trinidad’s small boats were stolen there. On 17 March Magellan reached the island of Homonhon in the Philippines, with 150 crew left. Members of his expedition became the first Spaniards to reach the Philippine archipelago, but they were not the first Europeans.

Magellan was able to communicate with the native tribes because his Malay interpreter, Enrique, could understand their languages. Enrique was indentured by Magellan in 1511 right after the colonization of Malacca and was at his side during the battles in Africa, during Magellan’s disgrace at the King’s court in Portugal and during Magellan’s successful raising of a fleet. They traded gifts with Rajah Siaiu of Mazaua who guided them to Cebu on 7 April.

Rajah Humabon of Cebu was friendly towards Magellan and the Spaniards, both he and his queen Hara Amihan were baptized as Christians. Afterward, Rajah Humabon and his ally Datu Zula convinced Magellan to kill their enemy, Datu Lapu-Lapu, on Mactan. Magellan had wished to convert Lapu-Lapu to Christianity, as he had Humabon, a proposal of which Lapu-Lapu was dismissive. On the morning of 27 April 1521, Magellan sailed to Mactan with a small attack force. During the resulting battle against Lapu-Lapu’s troops, Magellan was hit by a bamboo spear and later surrounded and finished off with other weapons.

Magellan’s voyage led to Limasawa, Cebu, Mactan, Palawan, Brunei, Celebes and finally to the Spice Islands.

Pigafetta and Ginés de Mafra provided written documents of the events culminating in Magellan’s death:When morning came, forty-nine of us leaped into the water up to our thighs, and walked through water for more than two cross-bow flights before we could reach the shore. The boats could not approach nearer because of certain rocks in the water. The other eleven men remained behind to guard the boats. When we reached land, [the natives] had formed in three divisions to the number of more than one thousand five hundred people. When they saw us, they charged down upon us with exceeding loud cries… The musketeers and crossbow-men shot from a distance for about a half-hour, but uselessly… Recognizing the captain, so many turned upon him that they knocked his helmet off his head twice… A native hurled a bamboo spear into the captain’s face, but the latter immediately killed him with his lance, which he left in the native’s body. Then, trying to lay hand on sword, he could draw it out but halfway, because he had been wounded in the arm with a bamboo spear. When the natives saw that, they all hurled themselves upon him. One of them wounded him on the left leg with a large cutlass, which resembles a scimitar, only being larger. That caused the captain to fall face downward, when immediately they rushed upon him with iron and bamboo spears and with their cutlasses, until they killed our mirror, our light, our comfort, and our true guide. When they wounded him, he turned back many times to see whether we were all in the boats. Thereupon, beholding him dead, we, wounded, retreated, as best we could, to the boats, which were already pulling off.

Magellan provided in his will that Enrique, his interpreter, was to be freed upon his death. However, after the Battle of Mactan, the remaining ships’ masters refused to free Enrique. Enrique escaped his indenture on 1 May with the aid of Rajah Humabon, amid the deaths of almost 30 crewmen. Pigafetta had been jotting down words in both Butuanon and Cebuano languages – which he started at Mazaua on Friday, 29 March and grew to a total of 145 words – and was apparently able to continue communications during the rest of the voyage. “Nothing of Magellan’s body survived, that afternoon the grieving rajah-king, hoping to recover his remains, offered Mactan’s victorious chief a handsome ransom of copper and iron for them. Lapulapu was elated; he had not possessed so much wealth in his lifetime. However, he was unable to produce the body. He could not find it. He searched; accompanied by a delegation from Cebu, he and his warriors carefully examined the shallow surf where Magellan had thrashed his last. Nothing turned up, The only explanation is that the Mactan defenders literally tore him apart and the sea, which had brought him so far, bore his blood away. Since his wife and child died in Seville before any member of the expedition could return to Spain, it seemed that every evidence of Ferdinand Magellan’s existence had vanished from the earth.