GREAT FIGURES OF THE MISSIONARY WORK – The Philippines’ Macau and Portuguese connection

Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

Bernardita Reyes Churchill, president of the Philippine National History Society and the Philippine Studies Association, so to speak the highest authority on the archipelago’s history, once mentioned (at a conference I attended) that not much attention has been paid by Filipino historians to the period marked by the arrival of the first Europeans, noting that in addition to the journey of the well-known Fernão de Magalhães, the most remembered event is the blockade of Cebu carried out by the Portuguese captain Gonçalo Pereira Marramaque in the context of the Portuguese-Spanish rivalry for the hegemony of trade in the region in the mid-16th century.

The slight emphasis given to the Portuguese presence in the Philippines is explained, not properly due to the lack of research material, since in the archives of that country there are many documents that refer to the Portuguese presence – not to mention the various Portuguese writings referring to the archipelago which António Galvão, a chronicler of the sixteenth century, recorded the paper with the name of the islands of São Lázaro, a designation given by Magalhães himself – but rather by the concentration, by local historians, on the Spanish colonial period that lasted for three centuries. A work that has been based, moreover, on the erroneous idea that during the Spanish rule the foreigners, with the exception of the Chinese, were not officially authorized to remain in the country. It has been proven otherwise. It is now known that several foreigners, including the Portuguese, traded and resided, albeit illegally, in the archipelago. Researchers such as Maria Eloisia P. de Castro and Cynthia Luz P. Rivera, both assistant professors at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, are studying documents concerning the Portuguese and Macau, which are in the Dominican archives in the Philippines. They are all microfilmed and constitute a significant part of the archives of the University of Santo Tomas. The work of Cyntia Luz P. Rivera, for example, focuses on the examination of Philippine secondary sources (including textbooks) of the last five decades in order to reconstruct a coherent image of Macau and the Portuguese empire in the collective imagination of the Filipinos .

Also teaching in Santo Tomas, the Dominican Lucio Gutierrez studies the attempts of evangelization in China in the late sixteenth century, which had in Domingo de Salazar, the first bishop of the Philippines, a staunch proponent. Macau would be an ideal gateway for the religious of this congregation in the Middle Kingdom, but its strategy proved less efficient than that of the Jesuits. There were several attempts by Macau missionaries from the Filipino Spanish colony in the Southeast Asian territories, which directly or indirectly, economically, politically or militarily, were heavily influenced by the Portuguese.

Let us call to mind the figure of Alonso Sanchez, one of the first Jesuits to arrive in the Philippines in 1581, and who later, via Macau, would reach Canton, gaining the confidence of the local mandarins.

A lecturer at the Ateneo University in Manila, Francis A. Gealogo has investigated the role of Manila’s “macanistas” or “macaus”, a group that fought for its own identity and refused to be confused with the “Chinese”.

Although mediated by Portugal, Spain and China, the Macau-Manila relationship provided immense opportunities for personal contacts and trade outside the sphere of state policies. During the Macau-Manila trade ban, after the Restoration, merchants turned to other ports in Southeast Asia to perpetuate the deal.

The Holy House of Mercy founded in Manila in 1594, is due to the initiative of some Portuguese residents there.

The two port cities have become two important strategic points of the Iberian activities in the South Seas of China. In a first phase as rivals, and in a second phase, post-Iberian Union in 1581, under the aegis of Philip II, as a kind of allies to the force. Macau and Manila were important ports of commerce and diplomacy, but also points of missionary diffusion.

The arrival of the Dutch in the region was successful in Indonesia, where Portuguese presence was scarce. But in the north, though they set up centers of operation in Japan and Taiwan, they could never be enforced. This Spanish-Dutch rivalry and Formosa’s strategic function is well demonstrated in the map of Pedro Barreto (1636) in the Livro do Estado da Índia Oriental.

The Macanese merchant Salvador Dias, imprisoned by the Dutch in 1622 while traveling to Manila, after several months in Taiwan managed to escape to Macau bringing with him precious information about the Calvinist rivals. It should be noted that all attempts to join forces between Manila and Macau to fight against the Dutch during the period of Iberian Union would be unsuccessful. At this time and in this region, the role of Duarte Gomes Solis, a Portuguese merchant of Jewish origin, whose pragmatic proposals of mercantilism contrasted with the decadent situation of the Portuguese empire, was highlighted.

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