A “Filipino” seafarer may have well been the first person to circumnavigate the world. This is one of the key messages of a new maritime museum in Pasay City which showcases the journey of Enrique de Malacca, the personal interpreter of Ferdinand Magellan and largely believed to hail from the island of Cebu.
Museo Maritimo, located at the 6th floor of the Asian Institute of Maritime Studies (AIMS) in Pasay City, is said to have the most comprehensive collection of maritime artifacts. The museum seeks to retell the Philippines’ rich maritime history and how it has shaped the country through the centuries.
Gina Barte, president of Hiniraya Foundation and lead curator of the museum said the museum is a product of cooperation among Philippine maritime history experts, key pillars of the maritime industry and museum professionals, artists, and museum volunteers and enthusiasts.
“This museum is really a long overdue project considering that we are a seafaring nation and we provide a significant number of seafarers to the global shipping industry,” she said.
Filipino seafarers are preferred by the global shipping industry, making the Philippines the no.1 supplier, deploying more than 4 million seafarers annually to the world’s shipping fleets. Likewise, according to Barte, Philippine history is basically determined by maritime events. “We have made an eloquent statement in this museum, that if we are to understand history better, we have to expand our perspectives beyond the confines of our islands and seas and understand how maritime exploration and trading from the earliest periods of our history to the present have evolved the nation that we now call the Philippines,” she said.
A pair of doors with portholes—like those on ships—leads visitors to Museo Maritimo which took almost a year to build, although the research done by foremost Philippine maritime scholar, Antonio Araneta entailed years and years of painstaking research here and abroad of information in any language available to deepen the knowledge. This research is still ongoing. The museum opens its doors on October 11 to the students of the school, the seafarers and the general public to discover this relatively unknown world that our seafarers have lived through centuries but is now our privilege to discover and experience vicariously in the museum.
A statue of a Franciscan priest, known only in history as Blessed Odorico, welcomes visitors with outstretched hands. Blessed Odorico is said to have celebrated the first Holy Mass in the country in Bolinao, Pangasinan, in 1324, together with Chinese traders, Arabs and other Catholic missionaries.
This opens vistas to discovery of earlier contacts predating the more popularly known first Mass held in Limasawa (now part of Southern Leyte) in 1521.
Also on display are detailed models of Spanish galleons that plied the Manila-Acapulco trade route, along with reproductions of navigation maps that cover the Philippines from that era. Another
section shows interesting objects of ancient ship artifacts like binoculars, beacons and sextants, morse code equipment, now phased out in ships and many more objects that visitors can discover. Simulated environments where children can experience the work of a sea captain on a sectional replica of a navy boat and interactive audio visual aids have expanded the space for learning and discovery that appeals to students of every age group, teachers, families looking for places to spend productive time and bond with each other. There are special places for seafarers and their families and interactive kiosks for the visitors to leave their imprint in the museum.
But the museum’s spotlight is aimed on a local hero, a man called Enrique de Malacca, who entered history books as the companion of Ferdinand Magellan when he made the voyage to the Philippines in search of the Spice Islands in 1521. A statue of Enrique based on descriptions given by Magellan’s chronicler Antonio Pigafetta stands amid panels piecing together his story as the man who may have been the first to circumnavigate the world. Some accounts pointed out that Enrique originated from Cebu but was captured by the Moros and later sold as a slave in
Malacca (now a city in Malaysia). When Magellan invaded Malacca almost a decade before reaching the islands that would become known as the Philippines, he took Enrique with him to Europe.
‘Language Geiger counter’ According to Antonio Araneta, a history scholar, Magellan brought Enrique to serve as his ‘language Geiger counter,’ a linguist, to find his way back to the islands. Magellan paid Enrique the same salary as Pigafetta’s and used him to communicate with the natives when they arrived in Guam, Sulu and Homonhon Island. But his dialect, which is a variant
of Cebuano mixed with Ilonggo, was not understood there, Araneta added.
“It was only in an area called Masawa in the Butuan area, a Cebuano-speaking region, where Enrique was understood for the first time. This was when Magellan realized he was near the islands he was looking for,” he said.
After Magellan was killed in a battle with Lapu-lapu in Cebu in 1521, his men turned against Enrique. “The ship’s crew ordered him to tell local leaders to give the treasures they have promised, but Enrique allied himself with the locals and invited the remaining Spanish leaders to a banquet where they would supposedly receive the gifts. Enrique and the locals used the banquet to ambush the leaders,” Araneta said.
The remaining members of the expedition team then hurriedly left, found their way to the Spice Islands, before returning to Spain. As for Enrique, Araneta said, he settled in Cebu.
“To rally the support and have the trust and confidence of the locals just like that would be very hard if you were not understood,” Araneta said to back up the theory that Enrique was most likely a native of Cebu.
Enrique’s story resonates on the great journeys taken by today’s overseas Filipinos, he said. “He is not only the first to circumnavigate the globe but he also could be the first overseas Filipino worker. He could have returned to Spain and enjoyed an inheritance from Magellan but he decided to work for the benefit of his fellow natives and he eventually returned to Cebu,” he said. “I hope this story and this museum will put us in the right perspective globally,” Araneta said.