Enrique, Magellan’s elusive slave | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Enrique, Magellan’s elusive slave

/ 05:04 AM November 04, 2020

It must have been a Freudian slip, but I did hear someone once refer to the Magellan expedition as the first “circumcision” of the world. This reminded me of the coat of arms conferred on Juan Sebastián Elcano by Charles V in 1522 that had a terrestrial globe and the text “Primus circumdedisti me” (You went around me first).

While the Magellan expedition was the first to circumnavigate the world, Magellan did not complete the trip; he was killed in Mactan by the forces of Lapu-Lapu in 1521. Early in the voyage, Elcano joined a mutiny against Magellan, so it is ironic that someone who did not believe in the captain ended up with all the honors for having returned the Victoria to Spain in 1522 and completed the first circumnavigation of the world. Only one ship of Magellan’s fleet of five limped its way back to its starting point, but its spice cargo paid for the entire expedition, plus much more.


All this obscure history became clear to me thanks to Celia Anna Feria, Philippine ambassador to Portugal, who arranged for five Filipino historians to participate at a symposium on Magellan at the Sociedade de Geografia de Lisboa last year. In the museum of the society, I saw actual 15th- and 16th-century maps and globes. A stained-glass window honoring Magellan was of particular interest, because the Dutch artist used more of his imagination than historical research and depicted the Mactan warriors as African Zulus!

In the hall where we delivered our papers was a wall-size map depicting the great Portuguese voyages of exploration. As I followed the route of Fernão de Magalhães (that’s his Portuguese name, not the Spanish Magallanes or the Anglicized Magellan), I was surprised that it ended abruptly in Mactan. What happened to the return trip and the circumnavigation? Well, the Victoria, under the command of the Spaniard Elcano, did not figure in the list of Portuguese voyages. These artifacts in Lisbon made clear to me how history can include or exclude depending on the point of view of the historian.


Memories of Lisbon wafted over the weekend as I ghosted a conference on “Arrivals, Conflict & Transformation in Maritime Southeast Asia c.1400-1800,” organized by the Philippine Historical Association, the Society of Indonesian Historians, and the Malaysian Historical Society. The presentations into our common histories made me realize, rather late in life, that I should have studied more Southeast Asian history than the history of Spanish and US intrusion into the Philippines. History textbooks did not tell me much about our Asian neighbors, and how we were once connected by a maritime history, along with language, culture, food, dance, etc., long before the Europeans came to our shores in the 16th century and divided us into the 10 nations of Asean today.

Dr. Fernando Santiago of the De La Salle University Southeast Asia Research Center read a paper on Magellan’s slave Enrique de Malacca that was fascinating. He appears in the historical record under different names depending on the source or the language of the source: Enrique, Henrique, Heinrich, Henry, and even Henry the Black. We know him by his baptismal name Enrique, as his real name is lost to history. Magellan acquired him from the Malacca slave market in 1511, hence the name Enrique de Malacca, misunderstood by those who confuse Malacca in Malaysia with the Moluccas in Indonesia.

To complicate matters, Antonio Pigafetta, the chronicler of the Magellan expedition, states that Enrique was from Sumatra. So it is possible that Enrique was originally from Western Indonesia but was captured and sold in Malacca in Malaysia. He is known in Malaysian literature as Panglima Awang. Enrique served as interpreter when Magellan sailed into the Visayas, leading some enthusiastic Filipino historians, led by the late Carlos Quirino, to suggest that he was Visayan. Quirino said he was from Carcar, Cebu! However, a closer reading of the sources reveals that Enrique was not able to speak with ordinary people on the street, but only with men whose trade and political contacts made them fluent in Malay.

Enrique is a mere footnote in the circumnavigation, his true origins yet to be ascertained. But in an Asian representation of the Magellan story, Enrique is relevant to us in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, Enrique de Malacca, Ferdinand magellan, Looking Back, Philippine history
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