Enrique, 1st Filipino to circumnavigate the world? | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Enrique, 1st Filipino to circumnavigate the world?

In August 1519, a month before Fernando de Magallanes sailed on what is now known as the Magellan-Elcano expedition, the first circumnavigation of the world, he signed his last will and testament. From this document we not only see the assets he had at hand, but also amounts receivable, and a projection of the title and income to be derived from the lands he set out to discover for the Spanish crown.

It is clear that Magellan took Matthew 16:26 to heart: “For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul? Or what exchange shall a man give for his soul?” Magellan’s will is an insurance policy to secure comfort in the afterlife. He left the better part of his fortune to churches, monasteries and even lay people, all obligated to pray for his soul.


At the time Magellan’s will was written, he listed down a son, Rodrigo de Magalhaes, from his wife Beatriz Barbosa, who was with child in 1519. Carlos de Magalhaes, the second son, was born after Magellan had set sail on his historic voyage. Magellan declared that the King had granted him, his sons and heirs, the title of “Adelantado” and, among other benefits, a twentieth part of the products of the lands and islands “discovered” by him. His will stipulates that the “mayorazgo” — or the right of succession to land, income and titles — be passed down to his sons or male heirs and, as minors, their estate was to be administered by his father-in-law, Diego Barbosa.

Magellan’s sons died while very young and his wife Beatriz was said to have died sometime in 1521, leaving title and estate to Magellan’s brother, Diego de Sosa, then in the court of the Portuguese king. To inherit all these, Diego had to move to Castile, change his surname to Magallanes and bear Magellan’s coat of arms. If Diego did not comply or did not produce any legitimate children, the estate passed on to their sister, Isabel Magalhaes, “provided she uses the name Magallanes and bear my arms, and come to reside and marry in the Kingdom of Castile.”


It is clear from the above that Magellan had switched his allegiance and his nationality from the Kingdom of Portugal to that of Castile, causing a bit of a row, five centuries later, between Portugal and Spain over the credits. Is the first circumnavigation a Portuguese enterprise simply because Magellan was born in Portugal? Or is it a purely Spanish enterprise, since Magellan’s plans were spurned by the King of Portugal, thus prompting him to physically move to Spain, Hispanicize his name from Magalhaes to Magallanes and lead an expedition financed by the Spanish crown?

For Filipino historians, the relevant part of Magellan’s will concerns one of his servants:

“I desire,” Magellan states in his will, “that the sum of 30,000 maravedis be paid to Cristobal Robelo, my page. I bequeath this sum unto him for the services he has rendered me and so that he may pray God for my soul. And by this present will and testament, I declare and ordain free of every obligation of captivity and subjection, and slavery, my captured slave, Enrique, mulatto, native of the city of Malacca, aged 26 more or less, that from the day of my death thence forward said Enrique shall be evermore free, exempt and relieved of every obligation of slavery and subjection, that he may act as he wants and thinks fit; and it is my wish that 10,000 maravedis out of my estate be given to him. This manumission I grant because he is a Christian and so that he may pray God for my soul.”

In Antonio Pigafetta’s account of the expedition, the slave is identified as “Henrique.” But in most sources he is known as “Enrique de Malacca,” and in English sources, under the now politically incorrect “Henry the Black.” Enrique was “enslaved” by Magellan at age 14 sometime in 1511; his pre-Christian name was allegedly “Awang.”

From Pigafetta and other sources, we know that Enrique spoke Malay and served as interpreter during the voyage, particularly in Cebu. This has led to the yarn that Enrique was originally from Cebu or the Visayas, that he was captured in a slave-raiding expedition and sold to Magellan in Malacca. Following this line of thought, Enrique is the first Filipino to circumnavigate the world!

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, Enrique de Malacca, first circumnavigation, Looking Back, Magellan-Elcano expedition
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