It is natural enough that history should be mixed with myth, to make it interesting to the populace. But it is uttery unnatural that history or myth should not be interesting to the populace. — G. K. Chesterton

Voyages and Adventures of Magellan - George Towle




Adventures at Sebu

The island of Sebu, Magellan was told, was the most beautiful and fruitful of the vast labyrinth of islands which cluster in the Archipelago. It lay some leagues westward of Mazzava; and was ruled over by one of the most intelligent and powerful potentates in the Eastern seas.

To this island, therefore, he determined to repair. It would be one of the fairest provinces which he could offer to King Charles; and he would do all in his power to engage the friendship and alliance of its ruler.

On the way, the weather was pleasant, and no accident occurred to mar the pleasure of the voyage. Magellan conversed much, through the Malay interpreter, with the friendly king who had trusted himself with him, and learned many curious things about the peoples and customs of the islands by which they sailed.

The adventurers observed everything with the deepest interest; and many were the strange sights and scenes which, in this far-off- region, greeted their eyes. They saw birds flying through the air, "as large as eagles," one of which they killed, and ate with good relish; they saw doves of various brilliant hues, parrots with gorgeous plumage, and long-tailed blackbirds as large as hens; while on the shores of the islands they espied tortoises which, compared with those of Europe, were enormous.

It was on a Sunday, about noon, that the fleet came in sight of the much talked-of island of Sebu. Skirting its shores, the Spaniards raw many closely-built and busy villages, some close to the beach, others nestled in picturesque valleys, at the foot of green, sloping hills. They sailed for some distance along the cost, until finally they reached a pretty bay, at the head of which was situated the principal town of the island.

As the ships entered the bay, Magellan ordered that the standards should be run up to the masthead, the sails lowered, and the cannon fired. A vast crowd of natives speedily assembled along the shore. When they heard the deafening report of the cannon, echoing among the hills, they huddled together in a terrified mass, and made all haste to regain the town.

Magellan then sent an intelligent young Portuguese whom he had brought with him, and the Malay interpreter, on shore, to seek the presence of the king of Sebu, and assure him that the fleet had come on a friendly errand.

As they advanced from the shore, and approached the town, they saw the inhabitants fleeing from them in all directions, and shutting themselves up in their houses. The young Portuguese, however, succeeded in overtaking one old man, who could not move as fast as the rest; and made him know, through the interpreter, what his errand was. The old man soon recovered from his fright, and said he would go and deliver the message of the strangers to his sovereign. In no long time he returned, and told the Portuguese and his companion to follow him into the royal presence.

They found the king seated on a wide mat, in a court of his palace; which was a low building, erected in the form of a quadrangle. He was surrounded by a multitude of courtiers; while at his feet lay, in languid attitudes, his dark-brown wives, whose raven hair fell on their shoulders, and whose large black eyes stared curiously at the white men.

The Malay interpreter advanced and knelt before the king, who lifted his hands heavenward in token of welcome. Then the Malay spoke in his own tongue, which the king understood at once. He was assured that the fleet had come on an errand of peace and goodwill.

"What, then," asked the monarch, "are you seeking here?"

"My master," replied the Malay, is a captain of the greatest king in the world, and hath come, by his king's command, to discover the far-famed Molucca islands. Hearing of your courtesy and good renown, he has come hither to visit you, and to exchange the merchandize he has brought for such provisions as you are willing to provide him."

"Your master," responded the shrewd prince, "is right welcome. But we have a custom, that all ships that enter our port pay tribute. Only four days ago, a ship came here from Siam, laden with gold and slaves, and paid the tribute I exacted. Here," added the king, "is a Siamese merchant who came in her." So saying, he pointed to a strange-looking personage, with sallow face and squinting eyes, but very richly dressed, who was standing by.

"But my captain," replied the Malay, drawing himself up proudly, "will not pay tribute to any sovereign in the world; being, as he is, the subject of the greatest of them. If you wish peace, you shall have it. But if you had rather have war, it shall be so."

The brow of the dusky potentate darkened at this bold reply, and for a moment he seemed on the point of ordering the strangers to be seized. He looked around among his people, and half-rose from his mat. His hand was already clutching a short sword which hung at his girdle, and the Portuguese and Malay had grasped their daggers, when the Siamese merchant, coming forward, and making a profound salaam, spoke:

"Look well, O king," said he, "to what you do. These people are the same that conquered Calicut, Malacca, and all the greater India. If you receive them hospitably, and proffer them of your abundant good things, you will find yourself the better for it. They will be your friends and allies. But if you treat them ill, it will be all the worse for you; so the people of Calicut have found out, to their cost."

"My sovereign," added the interpreter, who had understood all that the Siamese had said, "is a much greater ruler than the king of Portugal, who conquered India. He is not only king of Spain, but emperor of Christendom. If you do not well treat his captain, he will, another time, send hither enough men and ships to sweep you and your subjects off the face of the earth."

These speeches seemed to impress the king of Sebu very much; he declared that he would talk with his chief advisers, and would deliver his response to Magellan's messengers the next day. He then gave proof that he had recovered his good temper, by ordering a bountiful feast to be set before the white men; who soon after returned to the flagship, and apprized Magellan of what had passed.

The next day the messengers returned to the island, where the king received them in a large, open space, between the houses. He was squatted on a palm mat, and was quite naked, except that he had a wide cloth about his waist, and a loose turban, embroidered with silk, on his head. About his neck hung a heavy chain, while in his ears were two gold rings, studded with precious stones. The king was a little, fat, jovial-looking man, though the expression of his countenance was marred by tattooing. When the visitors approached, he was eating tortoise eggs from some china dishes; taking, every now and then, a long drink from a jug of palm wine, which he sucked through a cane tube. Asking them to sit by him, he proceeded at once to overwhelm them with questions, which he asked eagerly, bending towards the interpreter to catch his replies.

Was there more than one commander in the ships? Was he to be required to pay tribute? How many men were there on board? and so on. The young Portuguese replied that Magellan did not ask any tribute, but only desired to trade with the articles he had brought from Spain. The king seemed at last fully satisfied; for, pricking his right arm, he let a little blood flow upon a fig-leaf, and wrapping it up, begged the Portuguese to carry it to Magellan, as a token that he would be a faithful friend of the king of Spain. He asked a similar token from the Admiral which the Portuguese smilingly promised.

After this, everything went on swimmingly between the voyagers and the people of Sebu. The king of Mazzava went ashore on a visit to his brother monarch, and on his return, told Magellan that the king of Sebu was preparing a large quantity of provisions for him; and that in the afternoon two young princes, nephews of the king, with their retinues, would come on board to present them.

Magellan prepared to welcome these young princes in a manner worthy of their rank and importance, and to show his gratitude for the good things they brought. A handsome carpet was spread on the deck, and mats were laid on either side. On the carpet was placed a red velvet chair for Magellan himself; and leather chairs, for the other captains and officers, were ranged on the mats. The standards floated from the masts; and the flagship presented a gay, holiday aspect.

About the middle of the afternoon the boats conveying the princes were seen to put out from the shore; Magellan and the rest took their places; and soon the dusky and gaudily-dressed group were seated in front of the Admiral. At Magellan's side stood the faithful Malay interpreter, who rendered his conversation with the princes easy.

"Is it your custom," asked Magellan, of the elder and more important of the princes, "to speak in public about matters of state? And have you the power to conclude peace between us and the king of Sebu?"

The prince bowed assent to both these questions.

"Then I would have you know," resumed Magellan, "that I ardently desire this peace, and will pray God to confirm it."

"I hear the captain's words with delight," was the prince's answer;" I have never heard a stranger speak so gently."

Magellan then questioned his royal guest about many things. He asked, "Who will succeed your king, on his death?"

"The king has no son," was the reply, "but several daughters. I am the king's nephew, and have married his eldest daughter; and I shall be his successor."

The prince also told him that when fathers and mothers in Sebu grew old, they were greatly neglected, and their children ordered them about as if they were slaves.

The discoverers and conquerors of the days in which Magellan lived thought it one of their first duties to convert the heathen peoples whom they encountered to Christianity. They sometimes did this by persuasion; and not seldom by force. When the savage kings and their peoples refused to abandon their religion for that of the European, they were often compelled to accept the new faith by fire and sword.

Magellan, therefore, lost no opportunity of trying to plant Christianity among the rude natives of the tropical isles; and the first task to accomplish was to convert their rulers.

He now began to persuade the young princes to embrace the Christian religion. Reproving them for the ill-treatment which they declared the old people suffered in their kingdom he said:

"Our God, who made heaven and earth, and all things therein, has commanded that every one should yield obedience and respect to his father and mother; and you may be sure that whoever does otherwise shall be condemned to eternal fire."

The princes listened earnestly to all that he said, and finally declared that, if the king would consent, they would become Christians.

"You must not accept our faith," said Magellan, "from fear of us, or in order to please us. If you wish to become Christians, you must do so willingly. No harm shall be done you if you do not embrace our religion; but those who do, shall be more loved, and better treated, than the others. Moreover, if you become Christians, I will leave you arms, as my king has commanded, with which to defend yourselves from your enemies."

The princes declared that they would embrace Christianity of their own free wills; whereupon Magellan, with tears in his eyes, warmly embraced them, and caused the priests to bless them. All on board now sat down to a bountiful feast; after which the princes and Magellan exchanged presents. The princes brought forth a large basket of rice, figs, goats, and fowl; and Magellan returned to them cloth, red caps, and cups of gilt glass, besides a robe of yellow and violet silk for their royal uncle.

The young Portuguese and the Malay were now sent on shore every day to converse with the king, to arrange for a treaty of peace, to establish trade, and to prepare the monarch and his courtiers for their reception into the Christian faith. They were treated, whenever they went, with trust and hospitality. On one occasion, the elder of the young princes conducted them to his house, where he provided various amusements for them. Among these was a very pretty dance, performed by four lovely young girls; who, as they danced, played softly and sweetly upon musical instruments, the like of which the Portuguese had never before seen. Another time, when one of the Spanish sailors had died, he was carried on shore by the two messengers to be buried. The king not only provided him with a grave in the open space in the center of the town, but himself, with his court, attended the funeral ceremony. After the sailor was buried, his comrades set up a cross over the grave.

The Spaniards were soon engaged in an active trade with the people of Sebu. The king provided one of the larger huts, near the shore, as a warehouse; and thither was carried a variety of the goods that composed the cargo of the ships. Four of the Spaniards were selected to act as salesmen. They bartered iron, cloths, and trinkets for gold, which, it appeared, was found in large quantities in Sebu and the neighboring islands; and in dealing with the natives they found them peaceable, honest, and fair, and not at all disposed to drive a hard bargain. They had a curious contrivance for weighing their goods. It consisted of a wooden pole suspended in the middle, with a basin suspended by three cords at one end, and a cord at the other, upon which hung a weight equal to the basin, to which the weights were attached. The Spaniards soon persuaded the natives to give up this cumbrous device for the scales they had brought with them from Europe. The natives gave gold worth fifteen Spanish ducats, for fourteen pounds of iron.