It has been often said, very truly, that religion is the thing that makes the ordinary man feel extraordinary; it is an equally important truth that religion is the thing that makes the extraordinary man feel ordinary. — G. K. Chesterton

Voyages and Adventures of Magellan - George Towle




Sailing Towards Home

The Spaniards found the other islands as beautiful and as fruitful as Tidor; and such was the fear with which they were regarded by the natives—for it was evidently their sense of the warlike superiority of the Spaniards, more than any love for them, that rendered these barbarians so submissive and friendly—that they were allowed to go freely into the houses, and to wander at will over the fields and through the forests.

Pigafetta, the inquisitive Italian who has been so often mentioned, seized the opportunity to observe everything in these strange islands with a curious eye. He was especially struck with the spice trees and shrubs, which yielded products so valuable in Europe; and one of his first excursions was to a grove of clove trees. These he found to grow quite high, with trunks as thick as a man's body; and they only grew on high land. The branches spread out at the middle, and narrowed to the shape of a cone at the top. The bark was of an olive color, and the leaves much like those of the laurel. The cloves, he found, were white when they first appeared; they gradually deepened into red, and when dry became dark brown. Two crops were gathered each year; one at Christmas, and the other about the middle of June. The leaves, bark, and even the wood of the clove tree had the same perfume, he noticed, that the clove itself had. The natives told him that the cloves were ripened by the mountain mists; and must be gathered in the nick of time, or they would become so hard as to be useless.

He examined with equal curiosity the nutmeg trees, which reminded him of the walnut trees of Europe. The nutmegs, when gathered, were shaped like small quinces, and had a soft fur, or down, upon them. The outside rind was quite thick; beneath it was a thin, web-like covering: under this, a bright red bark, and within the bark the nut itself, as we see it in the market.

The ginger shrub did not escape Pigafetta's quick eye. He found that this shrub shot out of the ground in long branches like the shoots of canes, and that its leaves were like those of the cane. The ginger itself was, of course, the fragrant root of the shrub; in order to dry it, the natives used lime.

Many of the ways and customs of the people were interesting. It appeared that the bread they ate was made of the wood of a tree that somewhat resembled the palm. They took a piece of the wood and extracted certain long black thorns they found enclosed in it; these they pounded into a powder, and cooked it as we do flour. The bread thus made, however, did not seem to Pigafetta very palatable.

The king of Tidor had no less than two hundred wives, one only of whom was acknowledged as his queen. The others were inferior to her in rank. These wives all lived in a long mansion outside the town, where the king visited them when he chose. They were most carefully guarded; and if any man were found near their house, either at night or in the daytime, he was at once put to death. The king always ate alone, or with his queen, on a raised platform, below which the rest of his family were gathered. No one else ate until his majesty had finished. Each noble family was bound to provide the monarch with a wife. The only other person who was permitted to have a number of wives was a sort of bishop, or high priest, whose rank was next to the king. This holy personage had forty wives, and more than a hundred children.

These islanders, like those of Mindanao, and others the Spaniards had already visited, regarded the pig as a sort of sacred animal; and as soon as the King of Tidor found that there were pigs on board the ships, he begged the Admiral that they should all be at once slaughtered, saying that he would fully make up for the loss with fowl and goats. Espinosa humored him, and had all the pigs killed, and hung up on deck, so that the natives could see them. Whenever a native espied the carcasses, he at once covered his face with his hands, so as not to perceive or smell them.

On one of the islands, it was the custom of the natives to worship the first thing they saw, when they went out in the morning, as their god throughout the day. It was on this island, called Gilolo, that Pigafetta found some bamboos growing near the shore, "as thick as a man's leg," which contained in their hollow interior a kind of water, which he found very excellent to drink. The king of the island had no less than five hundred children.

The King of Tidor was much grieved when he found that Espinosa had begun to suspect his intentions; and came almost weeping to him, to assure him of his good faith. Taking a Koran, the king put it on his head four or five times, then kissed it, and swore by Mohamet to be true to the Spanish sovereign. Espinosa was now convinced that he h ad wronged the king; the more so, when soon after he learned that some of the native chiefs had tried to persuade the king to kill all the Spaniards, but that he had sternly resisted their demand.

At last the time came to take leave of the Moluccas, and to set out on the voyage homeward. But just as the final preparations for departure had been made, and the ships had actually started, a serious accident happened. The Victoria  sailed first; the Trinidad  was about to follow, when one of the sailors discovered that she was leaking very badly in the hold. In all haste some of the men discharged her cargo, piling it on the strand, at haphazard; while others worked with desperate energy at the pumps. This continued all day; but the labor was a vain one. The water spurted into the ship as if forced in by a large pump; and it continually gained in the hold.

On hearing of this serious mishap, the king of Tidor at once offered the Admiral his aid. He brought with him five or six native divers, who, putting on large masks, plunged under the waves, and searched for some time for the place where the ship leaked. The divers went under with their hair all loose, thinking that their long locks, when they came near the leak, would be sucked towards it, and thus show where it was. But nothing could be discovered, and Espinosa was forced to abandon all hope of making his good flagship seaworthy again.

It only remained to transfer so much of his cargo to the Victoria  as the latter would safely hold, and leave the Trinidad  behind. The king said that he had more than two hundred carpenters, and that they should be set to work repairing the ship; and that if her crew would remain at Tidor till she was whole, they should be cared for as if they were his own children." These generous offers touched Espinosa's heart, and he finally decided to accept them. The east winds, favorable to a westward voyage, were now steadily blowing; and it was full time for the Victoria  to take advantage of them and be off. At the last moment, Espinosa resolved to remain at Tidor, and to share the fate of the faithful crew of the ship he had so long commanded. With him stayed fifty-three men. Meanwhile he confided the command of the returning Victoria  to his brave lieutenant, Juan Elcano, who, with a crew of forty-seven Europeans, and thirteen Malay prisoners who had been captured in the boats, at once made ready to set sail for the Cape of Good Hope.

On Saturday, the 21st of December, 1520, the king of Tidor visited the Spaniards for the last time. He brought on board the Victoria  two Malay pilots, whom he offered to Elcano to conduct the ship safely beyond the islands, and into the Indian Ocean. He embraced the captain, with many protestations of friendship; and as he bade adieu to him, he shed many tears.

The Victoria  set sail about mid-day. Espinosa and his companions, who were to remain until the Trinidad  was repaired, and was ready to follow her sister-ship, accompanied the Victoria  some distance beyond the bay, in their long-boats. The king also, with several barges, proceeded for many miles side by side with the departing ship. As the Victoria  finally emerged from the bay where she had met with a hospitality so bounteous and evidently sincere, her guns boomed a parting salute to the disabled Trinidad, and from the decks of the latter an echoing "God-speed" was given by the mouths of the cannon to the vessel homeward-bound.

The Victoria, guided by the faithful pilots provided by the king of Tidor, sailed southwestward from that island, and soon the Moluccas were lost to view. The voyagers were still, however, in the midst of the Archipelago, with its innumerable shoals of isles; and day after day they progressed across a sea teeming with beautifully green and fertile spots, and among oriental races strangely differing from each other in features and customs.

Elcano was eager to get back to Spain, and to at last accomplish the tour of the whole world. On the other hand, he desired to carry back to his sovereign as complete an account of the Archipelago as possible. As he sailed in the direction of the Indian Ocean, therefore, he made it a point to stop here and there at the islands, where it was evident that he would meet with a friendly reception, and to observe their people and productions.

He was continually surprised by the natural richness and beauty of the islands he passed, and in the bays of which he anchored. Everywhere there was the greatest abundance of tropical fruits, and especially of spices. He found that the inhabitants of many of these islands were cannibals, who did not hesitate to feast on the prisoners they captured in their numerous wars; others were Mohammedans, and betrayed many indications of being quite civilized and intelligent. On one island, he found the coast peopled by one race, followers of the Prophet, and the interior by a totally different race, who were ferocious, savage, and inveterate man-eaters.

While the Victoria  was proceeding southward, she encountered, between Buru and Solor, two of the larger islands, one of those sudden, tremendous tornadoes, or wind storms, which often burst unexpectedly, almost out of a clear sky, in the tropics. For two days destruction seemed inevitable. At one moment the good ship was on the very point of dashing her ribs to splinters on the rocks of an island; at another, she threatened to founder in a terrific whirlpool. There were times when the desperate crew were all ready to give up, and cease longer to resist the overpowering fury of the elements. But Elcano refused to give way to despair. He shared the labors of his men, and by his example made them ashamed of their faltering; and as soon as the tempest subsided a little, he succeeded in bringing the Victoria  into the shelter of an island bay.

Landing on the beach, the Spaniards soon found themselves surrounded by the fiercest and most savage-looking people they had yet seen. One of the strangest things was that while the men stood aloof, in staring groups, the women advanced boldly and threateningly towards the strangers, and drew their bows, as if about to shoot a volley of arrows among them. Elcano sent one of his Malay pilots to them with some presents, however, and soon succeeded in pacifying them.

These people wore their shaggy hair in a very peculiar fashion. The thick and tangled locks were raised high above the head, held there by long combs made of cane; somewhat after the manner of the grand ladies of France and England a century ago. The men, moreover, wrapped their beards up in leaves in a very curious way, or enclosed them in the tubes of reeds. They went almost entirely naked; and Elcano shuddered when some of the chiefs, thinking to perform an act of hospitality, invited him and his companions to a feast composed of some of their dead enemies.

The Victoria  remained a fortnight at this island, which was called Mallua, during which time her sides, worn by the storm, were carefully caulked. Meanwhile her cargo was increased by the wax, pepper, cocoanuts, and fowl which the island produced in great abundance.

She next passed a little island, the people of which were of such low stature that the Spaniards were fain to call them dwarfs. They had, moreover, very long ears; their voices were very shrill and squeaky; they shaved their faces closely, and had their dwellings underground, in rude caves. Their only food was fish, and the pith of a certain tree.

A few days after, the provisions of the ship having become well-nigh exhausted, and the natives of the islands in that vicinity not proving friendly, Elcano resolved to obtain supplies by a trick. A few Spaniards landed on the shore of a large island called Timor, and sent word to the chief of the nearest village that they wished to speak with him. He came to them very timidly; but on their attempting to make a bargain with him for some pigs and goats, he became bolder, and demanded a high price for them. Whereupon the Spaniards seized him, hurried him into their boat, and rowed away with him to the ship. They threatened him with death unless he would send to his village an order to return some pigs and goats, as his ransom. The poor chief was frightened almost out of his wits, and made all haste to obey his captors. In due time the pigs and goats arrived, and the chief was sent home rejoicing, with some cloths, hatchets, scissors, and looking-glasses which Elcano thought it right to give him.

The voyagers had now reached the eastern end of that extensive series of islands, lying almost in a straight line from east to west, which ends in the long island of Java, and northwest of Java, Sumatra. But now the Victoria  was supplied with as many provisions as she could hold; though worn with so long a voyage, she was still weather-tight and water-tight; and there seemed no reason to land at any more of the islands in the Archipelago.

Elcano therefore kept his course southward of Java, the long line of its hilly coast appearing dimly for many days on the north of him. He skirted also the coast of Sumatra, and at last found himself fairly launched on the Indian Ocean. He then kept his direction southwesterly, passing many leagues to the southward of Ceylon, and made as straight a course as possible to the Cape of Good Hope. It was December when he left Timor, his last stopping-place in the Eastern seas; his eyes did not greet the Cape of Good Hope until late in the following May.