Ten days after their unfortunate experience at the Islands of Thieves, the Armada de Maluku found land again. It was the feast day of Lazaras, befitting for the recovery of sailors near death from starvation and scurvy. The captain general ordered a camp set up under palm trees on the beach as shelter for the sick. He personally distributed fruit and coconut milk, which had been found to alleviate suffering.
Victoria and Concepcion also brought their sick ashore. It was the first chance since El Paso for men to share their stories. Of the 260 who had left Seville, 160 now survived. Padre Valderrama celebrated mass and, although lacking the accoutrements of his tabernacle in Port St Julian, he made up for it with an ambitious Te Deum, the ancient chant of thanksgiving in praise of God.
The captain general named this island New Providence, which signified a new beginning. It was covered with jungle and appeared to be uninhabited. After a few days natives appeared in a canoe with nine men aboard. Besides the paddlers, it carried some kind of chief or rajah not bare chested like the others but dressed in robes and seated under a three-tiered parasol in bright colours. As it came into the shallows over the sand, the boat seemed to float into the air, so perfectly clear was the water.
Mindful of his last contact with natives, Magellan ordered those of his men who were fit to stand by with their weapons.
“Let no one speak or make any movement without my leave.” he said. He walked down the beach with a hand on the hilt of his short sword. He halted ten paces short of the waterline and the chief halted knee-deep in water, having climbed out of the boat. They stood there inspecting one another. Finally the chief said, “Selamat soré.”
Pigafetta immediately recognised this phrase. His insatiable curiosity had led him to study not only the customs and language of the Patagonians and of the Guarani in Rio but also of Henriqué, the captain general’s slave, who was a native of Malacca.
They’d had many conversations and Pigafetta learned that Henriqué had been captured when the Portuguese attacked Malacca in 1511. He had been baptised and became Magellan’s slave. He explained that his language, called Malay or Malayalam, was spoken all over the countries trading in the region from India to Cathay and was understood by every sailor. Henrique had almost returned home.
What the chief had said was, “Good afternoon.”
The captain general beckoned Henriqué, sitting on the ground behind him.
“Henrique, your services may be needed.”
Henrique stood up and joined Magellan. “He just said, ‘Good afternoon,’ captain general.”
The conversation faltered as they eyed one another, and then the chief asked, “Who are you?”
“We come as representatives of Don Carlos, the mightiest king of Europe. We come in peace and seek to trade spices and other things and also to spread the word of God.”
Although Pigafetta was by no means fluent in the language, he was astonished when Henrique translated this as something like, “Beware, O Rajah, these white devils come to steal your gold, rape your women and destroy your cities.”
“Yes, we have heard what the white devils have done in Malacca,” the rajah replied, “but they are few and we are many. We can trade if they want.”
Henrique translated this as, “News of your greatness has preceded you. If you wish to trade, we can trade.”
This was the end of the beginning.