The Circumnavigation of the World: Once More With Feeling

Why did Magellan circumnavigate the world? Who cares really. We were not the beneficiary of this accomplishment. It was Spain and, later Europe that would rake in the privileges of knowing the way to our islands and the resources. Many books have already been written about this, with the article written by George E. Nunn, being one of the most comprehensive. In Nunn’s article, written in 1934 for the American Geographical Society, the footnotes go back to the English translations provided by Lord Stanley of Alderley of the “Diario o derroterro” or log book in the voyages made by Magellan. There are also the narratives of Portuguese navigator in, the ship, Victoria, made in 1519, and many more.

All these documents point to, objectively, an intrepid sailor and explorer in Magellan. For this he should be honored by Spain and/or Portugal and/or Europe. These were the territories who were the recipient of the boon gathered out of that long, arduous travel. The Philippine historians could participate, why not.

And so to that question about whether we care about Magellan. I think our institutions do. The Church does and the educational institutions, with the exception of the few, care.

In truth, we care, in an odd caring way. We care too much. We have placed our ethnicities and politics and future in the golden basket of colonization and the miscreant concept of benign colonization. Colonization can never be good. If destroyed our land and mocked our own cultures. Colonization can never be removed from evangelization, the arrival of a new faith that was not introduced harmlessly. To evangelize is to be violent against another belief system.

Go back to the reason for the travel of Magellan and discover a powerful Church, a terrorizing Papacy, dividing, for heaven’s sake, the globe into the east and the west of two imperial powers. If you cannot call that naïve, then brand it narcissistic. From that act and other acts in the past came this command to subjugate the earth, all for the greater glory of a God that hides in his temple the gold.

But we are going to celebrate him. So, why all the hysteria and protest against a Spanish animation film called “Elcano and Magellan?”

The animation has already earned the ire of many, including those who have not even seen its contents. There is a growing, gnawing perception that the animation will celebrate colonization. What is wrong with that? We have been doing that for the last four hundred years or. In our elementary days, we were told that we should be proud that we are the only Christian country in the Far East. No one told us that there was a subtext to that: we are the only colonized country in the Far East.

We do not even question the geographical notion of the Far East, a label that assumes there is a Near East and Southeast and Middle East. And, it follows, there is the Center from which all these Southeast and Northeast have been determined.

At the core of the complaint against the animation is the depiction of Lapu-Lapu. Judging by the poster, Lapu-Lapu is imagined as this hostile, aggressive warrior. If we are to use Pigafetta’s account, indeed, he seemed to be a man of strong principles. He did not agree with the other rulers in the area, not with Rajah Humabon who acquiesced and, with his wife, converted to Christianity. The couple, it was written, assumed Christian names.

Read this story to children and tell them about a King who had himself baptized and took the name of Carlos, after the King of Spain, and a Queen who became Juana, after King Charles’ mother and then go to the saga of Lapu-Lapu whose men killed Magellan and you have a clear narrative of villain vs. hero, cowboy vs. Indians.

The problem of Lapu-Lapu vis-à-vis Magellan is the problem of dossier. Many books have been written about Magellan but there indeed few significant materials about Lapu-Lapu. Magellan wins in terms of documentation; Lapu-Lapu loses by default in a history that is silenced.

The problem with this issue of another culture depicting another culture in a bad light is not because of ethnocentricity but also of academic discipline. History is of Western import. History relies on archives, on records that are corresponding to vanquished lands. We, however, speak of heroes. We thrive on orality, on the act of speaking and transforming the speech, the multivocalic, into truths.

Historicity is just another concept borne out of the written. Memory has more potency. To remember is to keep alive events and people. Take inspiration from the words of Claude Levi-Strauss and his concept of “la pensée sauvage” or the Savage Mind. The anthropologist is not romanticizing the “primitive”; rather he is swaying us into embracing the untamed mind as one that goes on and on to construct realities. That mind gathers the events of the day, the memories of the recent past and the ideation of the near future into a collection of conjectures, an assemblage of arts and artifice, a bundle of contradictions.

For a civilization that points to civilized elements like ours, we cannot rely on the always completed accounts of historians. Documentary evidences are by-products of perspectives and class. Interpretations of records depend on the language and the reading of that language. Any country struggling to cope with histories that murder heroes in order to prop up a patriot must subsist on the majesty of the ellipses, the barely whispered stories. Any country that does not have its own archives, in its own languages and worldview. should be aware of the erasures that Western-based historical accounts triumphantly have reached. Dominant civilizations will always insist on the destinies of their Columbus and Magellan, and now Juan Sebastian Elcano. We, who happen to be at the periphery, can use the power of assertion and when there are, for there will always be, moves for the other civilizations to mount negations and destructions, then we can proceed to subversion, imagination and invention. After all, even art, the monument to Truth and Beauty, was merely invented by histories,