Encounter of two worlds
Magellan and Columbus are names that figure prominently in a part of Western history that used to be known as the “Age of Discovery” roughly from the 15th to the 18th centuries. Since these “Discoverers” encountered unknown lands and people, and in Magellan’s case was killed by them, the more nuanced and politically correct name for this period is the “Age of Exploration.” The 500th anniversary of the Magellan expedition will be commemorated in 2021 and it will be interesting to see how millennials will view the Philippine part of the voyage ending with the Battle of Mactan. It is not well known that, in the Mactan Shrine today, there are two memorials: a 19th century coral obelisk celebrating the “Glorias Españolas” and a drab 1970s structure that celebrates Lapu-lapu’s victory. As a matter of fact, there are two historical markers installed there: a postwar marker that emphasizes the Victory of Lapu-Lapu and a prewar one that focuses on Magellan and the first circumnavigation of the world. One place, one event, seen from two points of view.
The 500th anniversary can be a mere commemoration of historical fact, or it can be a celebration or the re-opening of old wounds and bad memories of the Spanish period in the Philippines that did not start with Magellan, but with Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in 1565, ending in 1898 when the Spanish ceded the Philippines to the Americans at the conclusion of the Spanish-American War — leaving Emilio Aguinaldo and the Filipinos who had declared their independence from Spain on June 12, 1898, surprised and frustrated. How to remember 1521 and move forward rather than backward will be a challenge. We do not have to reinvent the wheel on this one though because the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Columbus expedition in 1992 did not focus on the so-called “Discovery of America” that native Americans did not agree with. Rather it was billed under the felicitous phrase “1492-1992 Encuentro de dos mundos” or the “Encounter of Two Worlds”—the old and the new. What was the encounter between the Magellan Expedition and the people of the lands he called the Islas de San Lazaro in 1521? Lapu-Lapu of Mactan was not yet a “Filipino” at the time since the name “Filipinas” was yet to be bestowed on the islands in 1529 by the Villalobos expedition.
One way to explore the encounter of two worlds in a relevant and contemporary way is to re-examine our cuisine and see how it developed over time to our day. First, we have to accept that our so-called national dish adobo (the other contenders being sinigang, lechon and balut) was not introduced by the Spanish but is an indigenous dish. Adobo is not the name of the dish but the process of marinating and stewing meat and fowl in vinegar (“adobado”) to flavor and preserve before it is seasoned with garlic, peppercorns, bay leaf, and depending on the recipe you learned at your mother’s knee, onion and soy sauce. When the Spanish were served the dish, they described the way it was cooked, and found it so good they forgot to ask the cook what it was called in their language. Adobo is a Philippine dish with a Spanish name, just like the archipelago that surely had a name before the 16th century, that disappeared when we took on the name of the 16th century Spanish King Felipe II.
“Flavors that Sail Across the Seas” was a thought-provoking exhibit mounted in the National Museum last year. It was curated by Antonio Sanchez de Mora who deployed the content of numerous documents in the Archivo General de Indias in Seville to show how the encounter between the Philippines and the Old World through Mexico led to changes in food consumption, cuisine, and eating habits that literally changed the face of the earth. The exhibition has since been taken down and should travel to Cebu and Davao where more people outside “Imperial Manila” could see and experience it. Fortunately, a catalogue was published that can be a handy reference for future research. Contrary to popular belief, history is not always about musty old documents and dusty books, it is not always about an array of facts deployed with little or no imagination. One can read history off the food we eat if we take the trouble to do so.
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