Ferdinand Magellan and me (86)

Magellan’s demise


Pigafetta grieved for the captain general, noting in his journal ‘the armada has lost our guide, our light and our mirror.’ His loss was a calamity but perhaps there was more to it than religious fervour. Magellan would never have found peace however long he lived. Had he returned to Spain he would have faced condemnation for the executions in Port St Julian and for abandoning Cartagena, the bastard son of Bishop Fonseca, the most powerful official in the Casa de Contratatión. Imprisonment would be the least punishment and execution quite likely.

The armada was leaderless and diminished to three ships and 115 men, less than half the crew that sailed from Spain. A meeting in Trinidad’s great cabin could not agree on a successor to fill Magellan’s shoes. They compromised by electing Magellan’s brother in law, Duarte Barbosa, and Juan Serrano, his former shipmate as joint captains general. Magellan had always asserted a horse cannot have two heads. What were the prospects for a rudderless ship or a rudderless armada?
Duarte’s priority was to retrieve Magellan’s body, or what was left of it. Although he was by no means a devout Christian, he preferred his brother in law to be given a Christian burial and not eaten by savages. In the event, Lapu-Lapu responded he would keep the body as a symbol and memorial of the white man’s treachery. There was no information as to whether it would be eaten.

Duarte relied upon Henriqué for communicating with Rajah Humabon, who was disgusted with the failure of the Spanish Empire to defeat his enemy, Lapu-Lapu. But Henriqué considered himself no longer a slave now Magellan was dead. Indeed, he was back among his own race after ten years of slavery. Duarte considered Henriqué to have passed to Magellan’s widow, Duarte’s sister, along with the rest of his estate. In that case, Henriqué was now the property of Duarte.

“I am not your servant but Tuan Ferdinand’s and now he is dead I am a free man and am to be given ten thousand maravedis.”

“What impertinence. Get yourself ashore and take a message to the rajah.”

“Duarte,” Pigafetta said. “Henriqué is correct. I have seen the captain general’s testament. He is to be set free and given ten thousand maravedis.”

“Nonsense. All that legal stuff won’t be settled until we get back to Spain. Meanwhile, he will do what he’s told or I will have him flogged.”
Henriqué dragged himself to his feet and took himself sullenly ashore. He returned a couple of hours later with the news that Humabon had invited all the sailors to a banquet that very night.

The prospect of a banquet with plenty of wine and girls was popular enough to fill three boatloads and they began heading ashore soon after dark. Pigafetta found his most presentable shirt and pants and joined the queue on deck for a place in a boat, when Henriqué came up to him and said: “Tuan Antonio, it is better you do not go.”
“What? Why not?
“You have a wound on your forehead. It is better you do not go.”
“It’s nothing.”
“Please do not go.”

Henriqués intense manner caused Pigafetta to take him seriously. In puzzled apprehension he watched the boat pull away from the ship with its party-goers. A fire had been built in the public square between Valderrama’s tabernacle and the trading post still stocked with trade goods. The flames illuminated the backdrop of forest and silhouettes moved in front as they arrived from the boats and took their places for the banquet. Then his attention was caught by further movements beyond the fire: figures stalking through the bushes. Then a shout of many voices and a horde of screaming savages burst out of the shadows wielding spears and swords as they waded into the unarmed party-goers, who now screamed in terror.
So that’s why Henriqué warned him not to go.

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Ferdinand Magellan and me (85)

Lapu Lapu

Magellan’s Killer
The hero of Mactan


At midnight, sixty armoured men in three boats cast off and proceeded down the channel between Cebu and Mactan. The breeze was too light to drive the longboats and men laboured at the oars with a rhythmic thumping and the squeak of rowlocks in a space crammed by crossbows and muskets. In the near-full Moon the shore on either side was visible in silhouette. Trinidad, Victoria and Concepción, with only skeleton crews aboard, heaved up their anchors and set sails that barely filled in the light airs. Three native boats commanded by Rajah Humabon paddled along nearby.

About three hours later the little armada arrived off that part of Mactan regarded as Lapu-Lapu’s territory. The captain general, on the steering oar, signalled across to Humabon, who spoke a smattering of Spanish, and called on him to deliver a message.

“Tell the renegade he can avoid war if he swears allegiance to Don Carlos and is baptised into the Christian faith. In that case, we shall be friends but if not, he will learn the sharpness of Christian swords by painful experience.”


While they waited for an answer, the captain general repeated his earlier instructions. Raw recruits were given final lessons on how to cock their crossbows or load their muskets. Musketeers were warned to keep their powder dry. Magellan made the sign of the cross over them and said “May God go with you,” which only made them more nervous.

Lapu-Lapu’s reply was defiant. His lances were made of stout bamboo and he had stakes hardened in fire. He was ready for battle. The falling tide uncovered coral heads revealed in the early light of dawn, which also revealed the three ships, that were meant to provide artillery support, were out of range. Pigafetta tried again to talk sense to his captain general, his hero.

“Captain General, please, please. Without the cannons we have no advantage. Your own plan is now wrecked.”

“We have stout-hearted men with the Lord God Almighty as their shield. God’s will be done.”

He climbed over the side into thigh-deep water and drew his sword. “Follow me in the name of the Lord.”

Eleven men were left to guard the boats and 49 staggered, stumbled, slipped and slid across the coral. As they reached ankle deep water the sky lightened to reveal a village among the trees. A horde of Lapu Lapu’s men further along the shore shouted defiance and brandished spears and swords. Pigafetta was astounded at their numbers. Well over a thousand, he estimated, when Magellan had expected a few dozen at most. Surely now the captain general would see reason.

Instead, he extracted a tinder box from somewhere under his armour. “We shall have that village for a distraction” he said and detailed off four of his men. “Take this tinder box. I want you to set fire to that village. When the village is well alight, come back here.”

Whatever result Magellan may have expected, the outcome was a roar of outrage from the warriors, many of whom no doubt had wives and children in the village. They surged forward in overwhelming numbers on three sides not only with swords and spears but also blowpipes firing poison darts.


Magellan’s motley crew broke and ran, floundering back towards the boats. Magellan’s force was disintegrating and the enemy tasted victory.

“Retreat” was a word Pigafetta never thought he would hear from the captain general’s mouth but he had taken a spear in the leg, wrenched it out and tried to staunch the blood with one hand while wielding his sword in the other.
“Retreat! Retreat! Pigafetta, go for the boats!”
“Come, Captain General. Come. I shall help you.”
“Go for the boats, Pigafetta. Do what you’re told.”
“Come, Captain General. Come.”
“Go. Go. Go.”


Finally the captain general stood alone to face an army. With whoops and yells they stabbed and hacked, the water turned red with his blood and his body was lost to the sea.

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Ferdinand Magellan and me (84)

Magellan's faith

Magellan’s faith

Magellan’s religious zeal reached its peak in Cebu, the biggest and most prosperous island yet found. Once its rajah, Humabon, converted to Christianity hundreds and eventually thousands of his subjects followed. Padre Valderrama supervised construction of a tabernacle like the one at Port St Julian and baptised hundreds per day. A trading post was established and the ships brought their trade goods ashore: axes, knives, hammers, pewter and bronze pots and pans exchanged for gold in the ratio ten weights of gold for 14 of iron.


It was not the Spice Isles and Magellan was diverted from that objective by the quest for heathen souls. He took to wearing long white robes like a biblical figure. When Humabon mentioned his nephew was ill and sacrifices to their god Abba were of no avail, Magellan responded, “Sacrifices to Abba will not cure him. If he believes in Jesus Christ our lord and destroys the idols and consents to baptism he will be cured immediately. If this prophecy does not come to pass you can cut off my head.”

Humabon agreed to this extreme bargain and they went in procession from the tabernacle to the sick man’s house; the captain general in his biblical robes with a crucifix at his belt attended by Henriqué, for translation, by Humabon and his chieftains, by Pigafetta and, as always, by a retinue of children and dogs.

The sick man lay on a woven mat in his elevated house. His two wives and ten children clustered around him. He moaned in the grip of some mysterious disease, not unlike a man dying of scurvy.
Magellan knelt to examine him more closely. He sprinkled the patient with water from a container at his belt, made the sign of the cross and said through the interpreter, “I baptise thee in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Accept Jesus Christ as your saviour and earn everlasting life.”

The patient tossed and turned on his mat. Magellan made the sign of the cross and said “Are you well?”

“Yes, yes, “ the sick man said. He tried to sit up but fell back, exhausted. The onlooking crowd were astonished. This man had not spoken for four days and yet at the command of the black-bearded one had broken his silence. The two wives threw themselves upon him and the ten children threw themselves on the wives.

News of the miracle spread quickly and soon Magellan could not appear in public without a train of followers. He visited the sick man each morning and brought him coconut milk, which seemed to work in curing scurvy. Clearly, Magellan’s god was greater than Abba. Hundreds more were baptised but the captain general learned of a chieftain on the nearby island of Mactan who refused to accept the Christian faith. He determined to bring the renegade into the arms of Jesus and called for volunteers as soldiers of Christ. The plan was opposed by all his senior officers including Duarte, his brother-in-law , and Juan Serrano, his old shipmate. Even Pigafetta urged restraint.

“Captain General, will you not desist and listen to your captains?
“I march in the name of God, Pigafetta; in the name of truth and righteousness.”
“Can nothing change your mind?”
“Nothing.”
“Then with great reluctance I volunteer to join your army and may God protect us.”
“God will protect us, never fear. Pray with me, Pigafetta.”
It remained to be seen whether God was listening.

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Ferdinand Magellan and me (83)

Magellan's cross

Magellan’s cross


Already a devout Christian, Ferdinand Magellan became a fervent proselytiser in this land of heathen souls ripe for conversion to the one true faith. Easter had arrived again – the anniversary of the mutiny at Port St Julian. On Maundy Thursday a prau with 8 crew approached the ship and Magellan enticed them aboard with gifts of red caps, bells and beads. Then he instructed Pigafetta and Henriqué to go ashore with them to see what manner of town lay beyond the trees on the beach; what defences, what weapons and how many warriors.

“Is it war, captain general?” Pigafetta asked.

“No. Just prudence.”
In a clearing behind the trees they found bamboo houses on stilts, with pigs, chickens and children beneath. The rajah’s palace was not much different, only bigger, and it was necessary to climb a ladder to the rooms. It was now revealed that one of their guides was the son of the rajah, Columbu. He introduced them to his father, a middle aged man in robes, with a curly bladed kris at his waist and gold rings hanging from his ears. He invited them to sit on cushions while a servant appeared with a porcelain urn of wine which he served in coconut shell cups.


As he handed over the gifts he had brought from the ship, Pigafetta wrote down their names in the local language. When he read the names back to them, Columbu and his son were astonished. Pigafetta tried to explain through Henrique that words can represent not only things but also abstract ideas like love and hate, war and peace and the most abstract idea of all, god.
“Abba,” Henrique said. “Their god is Abba. In some places where Moors live, god is called Allah.”
“Yes, I know about Allah, and the Patagonians call it Setebos and another word is Jehovah but is it the same god or all different?”

Henrique had no answer but the question troubled Pigafetta, knowing the captain general was about to introduce a new god, Jesus Christ.They were treated to a feast of pork, chicken and fish with copious quantities of wine so Pigafetta woke up with a sore head in the morning.


He reported to the captain general that these people were hospitable and their wine very powerful. Since there was some confusion over the word “god” they might be receptive to the Christian faith. The captain general was pleased by this news and sent Pigafetta and Henrique ashore again to invite the rajah and his people to an important ceremony.
On Easter Sunday they landed in two boats. Padre Valderrama conducted mass with monstrance and censers and a colourful figure of the Virgin Mary before Rajah Columbu, his son and many of his people.
At the conclusion of the service, the musketeers fired a volley in the air and the ships at anchor fired a blank broadside. Half the congregation ran into the forest in fear.
Next, the captain general shouldered a large cross brought especially for the purpose. It featured the crown of thorns and the nails that tortured Our Lord. He set off climbing the steep hillside like Jesus Christ climbing the hill of Calvary. At the summit, the cross was erected overlooking the sea and Valderrama said a Pater Nostra and Ave Maria. Little did he know he would soon be delivering the Last Rites for Ferdinand Magellan.
That cross, or its descendant, stands in the same place today. It is a tourist attraction.

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Ferdinand Magellan and me (82)

A New Deckhand


After riding out another storm in the fishing boat harbour, which featured dead bodies washed out through storm water drains, we decided we could not stay in Valparaiso. We had made friends there and the chief mate had found a doctor she was comfortable with but life seemed too precarious.

We had a slow trip north looking for a sheltered harbour and a good clinic. Our last option was Arica, just 20 miles from the border with Peru. We found a friendly yacht club, a town with parks and gardens and a hospital with a doctor named Ricardo who pronounced mother and baby well. Whew.

In a few weeks we were among friends, including the honorary British Consul, Gladys, who introduced us around town. We became infamous as the crazy gringos having a baby on a yacht and our story was featured on TV and newspaper. Weekly examinations showed sonar scan and electronic heart monitor were okay. The chief mate went into labour early one morning and I got her to hospital pronto. She was in emergency for an hour or so until the staff could round up Ricardo. She was in labour for two days, moaning and groaning. Then Ricardo took me aside and said the baby was in distress and he recommended a Caesarean section. That sounded serious to me but what did I know?


Within twenty minutes she was on the operating table with me in cap and gown watching through the window of the observation room. She was sitting up on the table quite naked with arms crossed over her breasts while the doctors and attendants scrubbed up. Ricardo gave her a spinal injection and they stretched her out like Jesus Christ on the cross while waiting for the anaesthetic to take effect. It clearly wasn’t working. Every time they told her to raise a leg she complied willingly. After a few minutes Ricardo gave her another injection in the arm and she went out.

Pandemonium broke out with Ricardo and his assistant slicing her belly open while the anaesthetist and her assistant shoved a duct down her throat and, frantically it seemed to me, clapped a rubber mask over her nose and mouth and began fiddling with oxygen bottles. A nurse ran from the theatre to an adjoining room and ran back with a tray of instruments.

Next thing I remember is peering up into the bearded face of a young doctor asking me if I was all right. I was lying on my back on the stone-tiled floor with the world spinning before my eyes and my blood-stained cap on my chest. I had a glimpse of a tiny, squealing kicking baby before someone brought a trolley and they loaded me on it and wheeled me off to the casualty room. After an examination they transferred me to a wheel chair and and took me to another room where the new mother lay in bed looking pale and groggy with my son in the crook of her arm, already searching for the breast.

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It seemed like half the population of Arica turned out for the baby’s head wetting at the yacht club a couple of weeks later. We were bombarded with baby clothes and toys and people slapping us on the back saying “Que lindo, la wha wha.” (How beautiful the baby.)
Yes indeed. How clever of me to produce such a beautiful child.

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