Monday, July 24, 2006

Black Henry, or Enrique de Malacca (Glossary)

Black Henry, aka Henry the Black, Enrique de Malacca and Henry of Malacca is often said to be the first person to truly circumnavigate the globe in known history.

Taken as a slave by Magellan during his stay in the East Indies, Enrique was described as a "mulatto" and is said variously to have come from Malacca, "Taprobana," or "Zamatra."

There is though, as mentioned previously in this blog, a good argument for giving Enrique at least a partial Bisayan ancestry from the central Philippines.

The Italian and Yale manuscripts of Pigafetta's journal during Magellan's voyage, give lists of not only Malay but also Bisayan words. These lists are attributed to Enrique, who also displayed in-depth knowledge of local customs and traditions upon landing in the Bisayan islands.

Also, it is rather curious that Magellan, who had pre-planned his course to what is now known as the Philippines, would just coincidently happened to have a servant onboard who spoke the local dialect!

Political situation before Magellan's circumnavigation

In the decades leading up to Magellan's voyage, the "New World" had been divided by the papal Line of Demarcation which set up a race for the control of the East Indies between Portugal and Spain, the two great exploring nations of the time.

One of Spain's stragegies starting with Columbus was to approach the East Indies from the East by sailing West from Europe.

In the East Indies, on the other hand, the Lusung kingdom was apparently quickly developing ties with the Portuguese through their merchants, pilots, sailors and other agents in Malacca, Brunei and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. These links are attested up until the mid-16th century.

Further south from Lusung, in the central Philippines the Cebuano kingdoms were on the ascent since when Magellan arrives in the area we hear that the Sugbu (Cebu) king had trade relations as far as Siam in the West.

About a decade earlier, Magellan had obtained Enrique when the latter was 12 to 18 years old and the latter was quickly baptized in the Christian faith. Magellan may have taken his servant on his mysterious voyage further east of Malacca possibly together with his friend Francisco SerrĂ£o.

Did Enrique provide Magellan during this trip with information on the Cebuano kingdoms setting up the future voyage to what is now known as the Philippines from the East?

We know that Spain used its relations in the Bisayas to build alliances and to Christianize the inhabitants setting up the future invasion of Luzon.

Giovanni Battista Gesio of Naples, the astrologer and advisor of King Philip II of Spain told the king that Luzon was 'the key to the entire east', and should be regarded as highly as Flanders or Italy.'

He may have been simply echoing Magellan's much-earlier beliefs. But by Gesio's time, Lusung's relations with the Portuguese had apparently soured, and the kingdom itself had serious internal divisions. It was ripe for the taking.

When Magellan renounced allegiance to Portugal after King Manuel's refusal to promote him and reassign him to the East Indies, it is not clear whether Magellan had ever brought to the king a circumnavigation proposal.

However Magellan, bringing with him Enrique and others, did present such a plan to Charles I of Spain. By this time, Enrique could speak Portuguese and Spanish, in addition to Malay and Bisayan. Later he may have also learned Italian.

After four expeditions to the Philippines following Magellan's discovery, Philip II ordered Miguel Lopez de Legazpi to occupy the islands for Spain. This Legazpi did with the aid of Cebuano Rajah Sikatuna of Bohol who helped the Spaniard force King Tupas of Cebu to submit to Spain.

Legazpi then obtained the Cebuano units that formed the backbone of his invasion force for Luzon. Here he also managed to exploit internal divisions with Lusung and enlisted the rajahs Soliman, Matanda and more reluctantly Lakandula, to help reduce the 'Moro' resistance in Pampanga and Bulacan.

Looking at this entire scenario it seems likely that Enrique's ability to act as interpreter and informant on Magellan's landing in the central Philippines was not an accident.

Ironically, Enrique rebelled against his master at Cebu and apparently stayed on with the king of that island after Magellan's death.

Paul Kekai Manansala


Goodman, David C. Power and Penury: Government, Technology and Science in Philip II's Spain, Cambridge University Press, 2002, p. 63.

Lach, Donald F. Asia in the Making of Europe: The Century of Discovery. Book 2, University of Chicago Press, 1994.


Vicente Calibo de Jesus said...

The author should read the comprehensive discussion on Enrique of Malacca at Wikipedia,

Just about all the aspects of this issue are discussed there.