Mr. Karnow has a very engaging writing style. It’s probably the thing that got me through his thorough and very impressive book. At times it was like reading war segments of Lord of the Rings. There were several instances of armies traveling, landing on a particular coast and engaging in battle. There were many accounts of unforgiving jungles and terrain that decimated foreign armies and natives alike. Yet the same jungles and terrain protected its inhabitants foreign and native alike. These conflicts were first waged with swords, spears and shields in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, guns in the 19th century and finally politics, psychology and economics in the 20st century. Actually, those last three occurred early on as well but more subtly with the hand to hand combat in the forefront.
When reading about the rule of Spain, Mr. Karnow described it as “feudal” with plantation overlords and indentured servants up until the 19th century. This feudal climate and revolution on the brink was the backdrop of two works by Dr. Jose Rizal reviewed in this blog.
In our earliest history, Mr. Karnow talks about the Philippine people as a tribe that “belonged to no social group larger than the village, which was in fact [their] family”. He described us as clans with a male chief living in villages where most quarrels happened with each other. Such disputes were also resolved by the male chief. These tribes were a self-contained system of checks and balances and had the ability to settle disputes, take care of its very young members and also it’s elderly. The Philippines being an archipelago isolated such clans from each other. They had no idea (or concern) that on the other side of the world, the Crusades were being waged. This was an effort to restore Christian access to holy places in and near the Holy Land. As a result empires grew and waned. Eventually, the dark ages saw the dawn with the Age of Exploration. In 1460 the Catholic pope issued the Inter Cetera, granting Spain rights to explore lands west of Europe. In the same vein Portugal was granted the right to explore lands east of Europe. In 1493 the next Pope granted Portugal the privilege of Christian Crusade, considered holy writ of exploration. For a reasons that will not be considered in this essay, a Portuguese explorer Fernão de Magalhães aka Ferdinand Magellan sailed for the Spanish crown. He and his crew sought out spices, lands and prestige. Magellan and his co captains were promised 1/25 of the profits should they return with a cargo full of cloves, cinnamon, ginger and sesame. Their progeny were also promised the rights to rule lands that they “discovered”.
|Magellan courtesy of Google|
Magellan wished to convert the natives to Christianity and rule as a viceroy of Spain. A local chief Humabon feigned interest in such a plan and both parties exchanged gifts. Humabon gave rice, pigs and chickens. Magellan offered silk Turkish style gowns, a red cap and a pair of gilt cups. Magellan’s crew was sent to Humabon’s palace to deliver such gifts and explain the benefits of Christianity. Prior to leaving, one of Humabon’s nephew’s invited them to his home to be entertained. Women, topless and some nude, danced and played musical instruments. Pigafetta wrote that they were “very beautiful and almost as white as our girls” (I will revisit this in a later post). He left out further details of evening for discretion.
In April 1521, Humabon was baptized and re-named Charles after the Spanish king. Humabon’s wife and entourage were also baptized. The villagers underwent the same ritual to emulate their leader. Magellan did not understand that Humabon’s influence was limited to a handful of villages. Magellan directed the local tribes to pledge their allegiance to Humabon who would represent the crown of Spain.
|Humbon, courtesy of Gooogle|
Lapu Lapu, a chief on the nearby island of Mactan, Humabon’s traditional enemy, resisted the conversion. Humabon implored Magellan to punish his rival and Magellan sought out to do so, despite the admonition of his advisors. He thought he was protecting “his flock”.
|Thanks Google Maps!|
Magellan’s men arrived on the shores of Mactan in the very early hours. In the low tide, their boats were unable to get too close to shore leaving their mounted cannons out of reach. I imagine tropical mist on pristine blue beaches, still dark with the sun not fully alight. It might have been enough cover for the warriors that waited for them. I’m not sure who made the sound louder than the lapping waves before the ocean water turned red and the silence erupted into opposing armies uttering the unintelligible Rage that drives men into war. Lapu Lapu’s force thunderous in their defiance and Magellan’s men equally valiant perhaps shocked by the force that waited for them. The Europeans used their muskets and crossbows but in vain as the savages slaughtered the knights, under holy writ of exploration, abandoned by their God. Magellan in the midst of the chaos and slaughter, ordered his men to retreat. He covered them, injured and looked back many times to make sure they could escape. Perhaps he questioned his Catholic king why he would grant such access to undoctrinated lands so that he may be slaughtered to give rise to the capitalist kingdom come. The few that survived it called Magellan a martyr.
|Battle of Mactan|
They had no inkling that their numbers would also be slaughtered under the hand of their newly Christened Charles, disappointed by their ability to subdue the heathen Mactan king.
At this stage of the story, it seems like the explorers landed and both parties employed guile and violence until very few of the explorers returned home to document the events. I’d like to think we won, yet it was the “discovery” of Magellan’s crew that opened the door for a more “civilized” people into my country. What seemed like equality in hand to hand combat would never happen again. My people weren’t going to stand a chance against the imperial powers that found their way in our lands and altered the course of our history. As a colony, we were made into their image, distorted and becoming what we were not (Quinano 2000).