Heritage

Magellan's Death: A Detailed Description by Antonio Pigafetta

Magellan died because he underestimated the battle-hardened Filipino natives.
IMAGE WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
Comments

Every April 27, Filipinos commemorate the Battle of Mactan, the fateful day when Lapu-Lapu led his tribe to repel Spaniards from invading our shores. Lapu-Lapu’s ardent love for freedom led him to victory. Or at least that was what we were taught in grade school. Antonio Pigafetta, the chronicler of Magellan’s voyage, tells us a much colorful, albeit different story. 

Antonio Pigafetta and a page from his journal showing Mactan Island, the place where Magellan died


ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

Magellan’s Landing in Homonhon Island

Contrary to old textbook depictions of Ferdinand Magellan arriving in the Philippines to invade the country, the actual purpose of Magellan’s voyage was to prove that Earth is not flat by circumnavigating the world by traveling westward to get to the East.

A map of Magellan's circumnavigation route


ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

After crossing the Pacific Ocean, a name coined by Magellan for its tranquil waters, the expedition team sighted the highest peak on Samar Island on March 16, 1521. On Magellan’s orders, the crew waited until the following day until they landed on the beach of Homonhon, an uninhabited island. 

When they landed on Homonhon, Magellan's crew was detected by Rajah Humabon, the chief of a nearby island called Limasawa. Humabon sent scouts to Homonhon to investigate. Pigafetta details how the Filipino natives approached their beach settlement from a boat.

“We saw a boat coming toward us with nine men in it. Therefore, the captain-general [Magellan] ordered that no one should move or say a word without his permission. When those men reached the shore, their chief went immediately to the captain-general, giving signs of joy because of our arrival.”

Magellan presented the natives with mirrors, bells, red caps, combs, and ivory. In exchange, the natives offered the foreigners fish, wine, and bananas, which the Spaniards mistook for figs.

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

“When those men reached the shore, their chief went immediately to the captain-general, giving signs of joy because of our arrival,” wrote Pigafetta. “The captain-general seeing that they were reasonable men, ordered food to be set before them, and gave them red caps, mirrors, combs, bells, ivory, bocasine, and other things. When they saw the captain’s courtesy, they presented fish, a jar of palm wine, which they call uraca (alak), figs more than one palm long.”

“They had nothing else then, but made us signs with their hands that they would bring umay or rice, and cocoanuts and many other articles of food within four days,” details Pigafetta.

Magellan Was Caught Between Feuding Chieftains

The highest ranks in society in pre-colonial Philippines were composed of local chieftains or datus who cooperated or competed against each other. In some places, there was a pecking order among the ranks of the datus: vassals or subordinate datus were less powerful leaders who allied themselves with datus who controlled trade and had more resources.

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

Magellan and his crew witnessed this play of politics, but did not recognize its dynamics. They even mistook these local chieftains for “kings,” which they were not. One of the “kings” with whom Magellan forged a close friendship was Rajah Humabon of the small island of Limasawa.

Humabon was a rival of one of the chiefs on Mactan Island, Lapu-Lapu. Another chief in Mactan, Datu Zula, was also wary of Lapu-Lapu.

Magellan fervently believed that his men were so superior to the natives that he allowed 49 of his crew to face off against a force of 1,500 enraged natives. He was so confident that he refused the help of his allies, Rajah Humabon and Datu Zula, and asked the them to just watch how they fought.

Pigafetta writes, “On Friday, April twenty-six, Zula, a chief of the island of Matan, sent one of his sons to present two goats to the captain-general, and to say that he would send him all that he had promised, but that he had not been able to send it to him because of the other chief Cilapulapu (Lapu-Lapu), who refused to obey the king of Spagnia.” Because of this, Magellan promised to eliminate the “king” who would not recognize the superiority of Spanish crown.

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

Although this was technically true, it was Magellan’s arrogance and his overconfidence on Medieval weaponry that cost him his life. Magellan was an excellent explorer and navigator, but he was no battle tactician. 

In one of their encounters with datus aboard the Victoria, Magellan demonstrated the superiority of Spanish armor and weapons, to the amazement of the locals. Pigafetta described the encounter in proud detail.

The Victoria, the only ship that survived Magellan's voyage


ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

“Then the captain-general had a man armed as a soldier, and placed him in the midst of three men armed with swords and daggers, who struck him on all parts of the body,” wrote Pigafetta. “Thereby was the king rendered almost speechless. The captain-general told him through the slave that one of those armed men was worth one hundred of his own men.”

Magellan fervently believed that his men were so superior to the natives that he allowed 49 of his crew to face off against a force of 1,500 enraged natives. He was so confident that he refused the help of his allies, Rajah Humabon and Datu Zula, and asked the them to just watch how they fought.

“The Christian king [Humabon] would have aided us,” wrote Pigafetta, “but the captain told him before we landed, not to leave his balanghai, but to stay to see how we fought.” Chiefs Humabon and Zula obeyed, to Magellan's demise. Magellan was an excellent explorer and navigator, but he was no battle tactician. Refusing the help of the two chiefs was his first big mistake at the Battle of Mactan.

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

A Lopsided Battle of Mactan

The Battle of Mactan is often depicted in films and paintings as a fierce battle between Filipinos and Spaniards of arguably equal force, won only by Filipinos by virtue of their love of freedom. In reality, it was a horrific battle for Magellan and his crew.

According to Pigafetta, they arrived at the shores of Mactan three hours before sunrise. Magellan sent a message to the natives saying that if they still refused to recognize the Spanish king and pay them tribute, they would demonstrate how effective their swords were at wounding people.

In reply, Lapu-Lapu’s men told Magellan that although the Spaniards had lances, they, too, were armed with bamboo and stakes hardened with fire. The natives requested Magellan’s party to wait until morning before attacking so they could gather more warriors, to which Magellan obliged.

When the sun rose, Magellan, including his crew of 49 (11 remained on the ship) witnessed how the natives were highly organized at warfare:

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

“When we reached land, those men had formed in three divisions to the number of more than one thousand five hundred persons. When they saw us, they charged down upon us with exceeding loud cries, two divisions on our flanks and the other on our front,” wrote Pigafetta.

Against spears, bows, and arrows, Magellan’s muskets and armor proved worthless. The musket took one minute to reload and fire, while the bow and arrow took one or two seconds to shoot between two arrows.

Realizing their huge disadvantage, the Spaniards panicked and began firing at no particular target.

The Battle of Mactan


ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

“When the natives saw that we were shooting our muskets to no purpose, they redoubled their shouts. When our muskets were discharged, the natives would never stand still, but leaped hither and thither, covering themselves with their shields,” wrote Pigafetta.

“They shot so many arrows at us and hurled so many bamboo spears (some of them tipped with iron) at the captain-general, besides pointed stakes hardened with fire, stones, and mud, that we could scarcely defend ourselves.”

Magellan's Second Mistake: Burning the Natives' Houses

Realizing that they were no match for the natives they so underestimated, Magellan became desperate, so he ordered some of his crew to distract the natives by burning their houses. Pigafetta is generous in details.

“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 saw their houses burning, they were roused to greater fury,” described Pigafetta. “Two of our men were killed near the houses, while we burned twenty or thirty houses. So many of them charged down upon us that they shot the captain through the right leg with a poisoned arrow.”

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

The wounded Magellan ordered his men to retreat more slowly, but the enraged natives were relentless at the pursuit.

“The natives shot only at our legs, for the latter were bare; and so many were the spears and stones that they hurled at us, that we could offer no resistance... We continued to retire from the shore always fighting up to our knees in the water. The natives continued to pursue us, and picking up the same spear four or six times, hurled it at us again and again.”

Ancient Filipino weapons and armor similar to what Lapu-Lapu and his men used in the Battle of Mactan, as described by Pigafetta


ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

Magellan’s Death

According to Pigafetta, it was not Lapu-Lapu who slayed Ferdinand Magellan, but many nativesprobably battle-hardened, evidenced by their proficiency with spears and very large bolos. This was something that Magellan and his company did not expect.

“Recognizing the captain, so many turned upon him that they knocked his helmet off his head twice, but he always stood firmly like a good knight, together with some others. Thus did we fight for more than one hour, refusing to retire farther.”

“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.”

Today, although Magellan did not complete the circumnavigation of the world, he is still honored with the title as the first captain to sail around the world. It was Juan Sebastian Elcano who took over the helm after Magellan died in the Philippines, and thereby completing the world’s first circumnavigation. Sailors today who successfully circumnavigate the world are bestowed the Order or Magellan. Prominent people who were awarded with this honor were General Douglas MacArthur and astronaut John Glenn.

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

Sources:

Pigafetta, Antoinio. (1525). The First Voyage Around the World. Milan, Italy: Biblioteca Ambrosiana.

Blair, Emma H., Robertson James A. (05 June 2013). Project Gutenberg of the Philippine Islands 1493-1898 Volume XXXIII, 1519-1522 by Antonio Pigafetta. Retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/42884/42884-h/42884-h.htm.

*This story originally appeared on Esquiremag.ph

*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors

Comments
Recommended Videos
About The Author
Mario Alvaro Limos for Esquiremag.ph
View Other Articles From Mario Alvaro Limos for Esquiremag.ph
Comments
Latest Stories
 
Share
These Christmas tree color combinations go beyond the traditional green and red.
 
Share
Because getting in the spooky spirit doesn't mean you have to forfeit good taste.
 
Share
Atlantis’ 20th anniversary season-ender is unexpectedly relevant.
 
Share
Production has started on new episodes of the Netflix series about Queen Elizabeth's reign.
 
Share
A new parliamentary session began today, after the previous one-the longest continuous parliamentary session ever-came to a close.
 
Share
When it comes to putting together an ensemble, the DOT secretary proudly shows off her roots.
 
Share
The health advocates are launching a movement that thrives on pure, positive energy and their common respect and love for Mother Earth.
 
Share
Two years after the Truly Rich Lady divulges the secrets to climbing the social pyramid, she revisits what those rules truly mean.
 
Share
Welcome to the whimsical and wonderful world of Helen Mirren's wardrobe.
 
Share
Dress up your new Apple Watch with a range of stylish straps from brands like Hermès, Coach, and Shinola.
Load More Articles
CONNECT WITH US