MISSIONARIES FROM MACAU TO THE WORLD – Saint Lazarus Island (19)

Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

Contrary to what happens with other Asian countries, the Portuguese contribution to the knowledge of the geography and cultural and ethno-anthropological characteristics of the Philippines and its diverse inhabitants has been largely ignored.

Tome Pires, based in Malacca, mentioned the existence of the so-called “lucoes,” all of them gentiles, who lived “ten days of continuous sailing” on Borneo Island. It specifies the famous traveling apothecary, in his juicy “Suma Oriental,” that the said people had no king, only governed “by the elders,” and that they were robust people, although of “little value.” In other words: they were not exactly people of commerce. Pires also added that there were not many of his ships, “up to two or three,” in which they carried the goods obtained in Borneo.

In spite of the early information of this socio-economic reality and its proximity to the islands rich in spices, further south, the Philippine archipelago would not arouse commercial interest, precisely due to the absence of the mentioned and so desirable merchandise.

Regarding Fernao de Magalhaes’ death, Captain Antonio Galvao, in the comfort of his abundant refuge in nutmeg, cloves and stretcher, wrote the following: “In the archipelago of Sao Lazaro, on an island called Sebu Magalhaes was killed and his ship burned The other two ships went to Borneu and from there they went to Mindanao.”

 If we exclude the several dozen Portuguese who were part of the Castilian expedition led by the author of the circumnavigation, the first official Portuguese visit to the archipelago that would later be known as the Philippines but which initially the Portuguese navigator dedicated to Sao Lazaro, protector of the sick and the most in need,  happens with the trip from Simao de Abreu, somewhere between 1523 and 1526, therefore, a period not far from the passage of the armada commanded by Fernao de Magalhaes. In a geographic universe where the Crown initiative often rivaled that of the private initiative (generating situations of conflict), it is difficult to define a date for this official arrival.

Abreu, on his reconnaissance trip in search of a new route between Malacca and the spice islands, via Borneu, most likely he would have supplied himself with water and food on one of the multiple islands that make up the archipelago. The account is made, once again, by Antonio Galvao: “In the year 1523, in the month of May, Antonio de Brito, captain of the Moluccas, sent his cousin Simao de Abreu to discover the route between Borneu and Malacca. They sighted the islands of Manado  (north of Sulawesi), Panguensara (islands of Likoepang and Bangka),. They went through the Dantreminao and Taguina Strait (that is, between the islands of Mindanao and Basilan) and the islands of Sao Miguel (South Cagayan), which are seven degrees high in the northern part and then proceeded to the island of Borneu, and trod the entire coast. They also saw Pedra Branca (eastern part of the island of Singapore), passed through the strait and went to Malacca, discovering many islands, sea and land that were unknown until then.”

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