Voyages and Adventures of Magellan - George Towle

The Barbarians Converted

The king and his court were, in no long time, fully persuaded to become Christians; and Magellan resolved to make the ceremony of their baptism and entrance into the fold of the Church as imposing and impressive as possible. He wished that their untutored minds should have the deepest sense of the importance of the step they were taking, so that they would never forget or retreat from it.

Preparations for the solemn event were made on the most elaborate scale. A high platform was erected by the Spaniards in the center of the open space; and this was decked out with tapestry, carpets, and palm branches. Not only the king of Sebu, but his queen, and the king of Mazzava (who was still with Magellan) were to be baptized; and the day appointed was Sunday, the fourteenth of April.

On that morning, all was commotion, both in the fleet and in the town. The natives assembled in the streets, and huddled in excited groups along the beach; while the crews of the ships attired themselves in their best suits, as if for an extraordinary occasion.

Soon everything was ready. The boats were lowered, and each was filled with its quota of officers and sailors; and when all had embarked, the boats set out for the shore. At the same time the cannon broke the stillness of the Sunday morning, and sent joyous peals over the waters. The boats that went ahead contained forty men in armor, one of whom carried the royal standard of Spain. These landed first, and were soon followed by the sailors. A procession was formed; Magellan was in front, with his captains, all wearing velvet cloaks and plumed caps; then came the priests; the soldiers were next in order; and the rear was occupied by the crews.

Advancing up the slight slope that led from the shore to the open space, Magellan and his company reached the scene of the day's ceremony. The short, fat king, in fantastic attire, his face freshly painted that morning, stood ready to receive them, surrounded by a numerous array of courtiers and chiefs. By his side was the king of Mazzava, who had preceded the Spaniards on shore.

Magellan and the two barbarian kings now ascended the scaffold, and took their places in chairs of red and violet velvet, which had been brought from the flagship for the purpose. Meanwhile, the chief men of Sebu arranged themselves on chairs, or squatted on mats, below the platform; the trumpets sent forth a loud, long blast; then Magellan, turning to the potentates, and addressing them through the Malay, who stood behind his chair, for the last time asked them if they really wished to become good Christians.



"If you do," said he, you must burn all the idols in your dominions; and in their places, set up the cross, which is the symbol of our God. And each day you and your people must go and kneel at the cross, and join your hands, and implore the favor of heaven. Will you do this?"

The kings promptly replied that they would; and that whatever the "captain," as they called Magellan, commanded, they would faithfully and always obey.

Magellan then rose, and taking the king of Sebu by the hand, led him around the platform; after which the priests performed the solemn ceremony of baptism. The king was christened by the name of Charles, after the king of Spain. The king of Mazzava, and the eldest of the Sebu princes, were next in the like manner baptized; the former receiving the name of John, and the latter that of Ferdinand.

The principal subjects of the king of Sebu now flocked upon the platform, to be received in their turn into the bosom of the Catholic Church; and when fifty of them had been baptized, the rite of the mass was performed. Then Magellan and his company returned to the ships, being escorted to the beach by their royal host.

In the afternoon a ceremony not less curious and impressive was performed. This was the baptism of the queen of Sebu, and the dusky ladies of her court. One of the priests, accompanied by Pigafetta and some others, went on shore, and were met in the open space by the queen and her companions. These were led upon the platform, where the queen was conducted to a cushioned seat. She was young and pretty, and was arrayed in a black and white robe; her mouth and nails were very red, and she wore on her head a large hat made of palm-leaves, surmounted with a sort of crown, also made of palm-leaves.

The priest, in the midst of a large multitude of Sebu men and women, who looked on with excited interest, approached the queen, and held up before her a small wooden image of the Virgin and Child, and also a cross. The queen seemed impressed with these, and through the interpreter declared her willingness to become a Christian and to be baptized. The priests therefore sprinkled water on her raven locks, and called her by the name of Joan, after the Spanish king's mother. Her daughter, a young girl of fourteen, who advanced very timidly up the steps, was next in like manner received into the Church, being called Catherine; and the queen of Mazzava was baptized as Isabella.

As the queen was withdrawing she begged the priest to give her "the little wooden boy," meaning the image of Christ, to put in place of her idols, which she promised to destroy. This the priest did willingly. Many years after, on the return of the Spaniards to Sebu with missionaries, they found the little image still in the town, and the natives worshipping it as an idol; whereupon the missionaries taught them its true significance, blessed it, and had it placed in the Christian church that was built. From having found this image there, these Spanish missionaries named the place, "the City of Jesus," by which it is still known.

Before the shades of night had fallen, no less than eight hundred natives, including the royal family and the court, had been baptized, and the country had become, in name at least, a Christian one; and Magellan thought well to celebrate so remarkable a conversion by festivities in the evening. By the brilliant light of the moon, the king, queen, and court of Sebu came down to the beach, whither Magellan had caused one of his cannon to be brought; it was fired off on the waves; and now that the barbarians knew what it meant, and that they need not be frightened, they listened with delight, with much shouting, capering, and dancing about, to the sudden shocks and echoing reverberations.

Magellan did not confine the baptisms to the first day; but every day after that, for more than a week, the ceremony was performed over crowds of natives who flocked to receive it. It was a strange sight to see the groups of dark islanders, with their painted faces and palm-leaf aprons, kneeling at the feet of the priests, and with amazed and wondering eyes watching his every action; and, their turn over, scampering down the steps, and dancing wildly about on the sward, and under the wide-spreading trees. It is not probable that any of them got a clear conception of what it was to be a Christian. They only knew that their king had accepted the new religion; they felt awe towards the Spaniards, whom they looked upon as more than mortal; their barbaric fondness for show and ceremony was gratified by the stately rite which they saw the priests going through; and they cared little, apparently, for their own rude wooden gods and goddesses.

A cross was now set up in the center of the town; and every day mass was said near it, which Magellan usually himself attended, explaining, through the Malay interpreter, such points in the Christian religion as he thought he could make his benighted hearers understand.

One day, the queen of Sebu came to hear mass in all her state. She was attired in black and white, and wore a long silk veil with gold stripes, flowing down gracefully over her shoulders. Before her went three young girls, each carrying one of the queen's palm-leaf hats. Following the queen, flocked a great number of women of rank, wearing smaller veils, and hats above them. Otherwise, they only wore a palm-leaf apron about their waists; while their long black hair fell in luxuriant clusters over their shoulders to their knees.

The queen approached the altar, and knelt before it, and then took her place on a large silk-embroidered ottoman; while her chief ladies surrounded her in a semi-circle. Magellan advancing to her, gently sprinkled over her and her companions some rose-water and musk, which they sniffed eagerly, as if much pleased by the perfume; and then mass was said by the priests.

On another occasion, Magellan resolved that, at the mass, the king of Sebu should, with all due formality, swear allegiance to the king of Spain. This ceremony, he thought, should be made as impressive as possible. The king made his appearance at the appointed hour, in a long silk robe, with which Magellan had provided him; and with him came his two brothers, and many of his principal courtiers. These being ranged in a row on seats before the altar, Magellan, standing before an image of the Virgin, drew his sword, and holding it aloft, called upon the king to take the oath to be ever faithful and true to the Spanish sovereign. The king bowed his head, and repeated, in his own tongue, the words of the oath that Magellan offered him. Magellan then affectionately embraced him, at the same time saying that when a man took such an oath as that, he should rather die than fail to keep it. In his turn, he swore to be always faithful, to be true to the king of Sebu, in the name of the Virgin and of King Charles. Then, turning to his men, Magellan ordered them to bring forth a splendid velvet chair; this he presented to the swarthy monarch.

"Wherever you go," said Magellan, "have this throne borne before you, by your attendants, as a sign of your power and sovereignty."

In return, and as a token that he would keep his oath, the king presented Magellan with some large gold rings, for the ears, fingers, and ankles, all of which were set with roughly-cut precious stones.

A day or two after, Magellan was visiting the town, and going about in company with the king, when, on reaching one of the rude native temples, he saw, to his disgust, that the idols were still in their places, and that the people were worshipping them. Turning sharply to his royal companion, he asked him what this meant?

"You have promised," he said, "to destroy these idols. Why have you not done so?'

The king replied that he intended to burn the idols; but that one of his nephews, a valiant warrior, lay very ill, and that they were praying to the idols to restore him to health.

"If you wish to see him well again," rejoined Magellan, "you will at once burn all these foolish idols, which can do nothing for him; and you will cause your sick nephew to be baptized. I will wager my head that he will then speedily recover." So great was Magellan's faith in miracles!

"It shall be done," was the king's reply.

Thereupon, a solemn procession was formed, which repaired to the sick prince's house. The prince was, indeed, very low. He could neither speak nor move; his eyes stared unmeaningly at the priests, nor did he seem to recognize anyone or anything. He was carefully lifted from the soft mat on which he lay, into a sitting posture; and was thus baptized. Two of his wives and his ten children also submitted to the rite.

Not very long after, Magellan approached the sick man, and addressed him in a few words of his own language. The prince slowly moved his head, and muttered something. Magellan applied some brandy to his lips. In a few moments the invalid grew so much better that he could move freely, and talk quite rationally; and from that time he grew gradually better.

This incident was hailed by all the Spaniards as a great miracle; and they took care to impress its meaning, as they interpreted it, upon the minds of the natives.

It happened that some of the native old women, who had refused to be converted, had concealed an idol in the sick prince's house, thinking that this would restore him to health. On his recovery, the prince discovered the idol, hid behind some mats in a corner. He forthwith brought it out, and had it burned in presence of the king and all his subjects. Not content with this—for he himself was fully persuaded that the Christians had performed a miracle on him—he set fire to the temples that stood on the seashore; while the people gathered in crowds to see the conflagration, shouted loudly, and aided him in his work of destruction. The idols thus burned were made of wood, and were curved in shape, being hollowed out behind; they had large faces, painted, with four large teeth, like those of a wild boar; their legs and arms were stretched out horizontally, and their feet turned upwards, like the feet of the Chinese. They were, indeed, hideous-looking objects.

While Magellan was at Sebu, a very curious ceremony was performed by the natives. This was what was called "the sacrifice of the swine," or "blessing the pig." Their mode of blessing the pig was an odd one, as will be seen; and Magellan and his companions witnessed the performance with much interest.

The whole population gathered in or about the large open space in the center of the town, which evidently served as the spot where all public ceremonies took place. The king and queen sat on cushions raised on a platform; and Magellan and his captains were stationed on either side of the royal couple. Presently a loud, banging noise was heard, and a number of the natives appeared, violently thumping upon tambours, or drums. They were followed by others, who bore large dishes, two of which were filled with cakes of rice and cooked millet, and roast fish, and the third with cloths and strips of palm bark.

One of the cloths was spread on the ground, before the king; and two old women now made their entrance, fantastically dressed, and vigorously blowing upon rude reed trumpets. These old women, stepping upon the carpet, and turning to the sun, made that luminary a profound obeisance; then taking the other cloths that had been brought, they arrayed themselves in them. One twisted a cloth about her head, so that the knots formed two horns, on either side; having done which she began to dance and sing, and stretch out her arms towards the sun.

The other, attiring-herself in the palm cloths, followed her companion's example, with shrill shrieking and wild gestures; each tooting, every now and then, on her reed trumpet. While this was going on, a fat pink pig was brought into the open space, and bound securely to a stake; upon which the old women began to caper around the poor animal, which squealed, in his terror, with all his might.

The next thing the old women did was to make a short prayer, in low, mumbling voices, to the sun. Then one of them—the first who had appeared—took from an attendant a cup of wine, which she handed to her companion. The latter took it and raised it three or four times to her lips, as if to drink it; but always withdrew it, and resumed her droning prayer. At last, all of a sudden, she dashed the wine on the poor pig, which squealed more frantically than ever.

Throwing away the empty cup, the old woman now seized a long limber lance, with a point made of a sharpened fish-bone, and leaped from end to end of the carpet, brandishing the lance and gnashing her teeth as she went. Approaching the pig, she made thrusts with the lance, as if to plunge it into him; but withdrew it again, and resumed her strange dance. Pretty soon, however, she carried her threat into execution; for, poising the lance a moment in her hand, and with rapid glance taking perfect aim, she shot it straight through the quivering creature's heart. Withdrawing it at once, she retired; whereupon two male natives seized the pig, closed the wound, and dressed it with herbs. The old woman who had done the deed now took a lighted torch, and capered about, holding it in her mouth; while her companion, dipping her lance in the pig's blood, carried it to her husband, whose forehead she marked with it, doing the same afterwards to her other relatives. Both old women then took off their robes, and retreating into a corner, greedily ate the rice-cakes and roast fish by themselves. The pig was afterwards roasted and eaten by the royal party; and Magellan was told that pigs were only eaten in Sebu when they had been killed in this way.

During all the time that the ships were at Sebu, the officers and sailors were wont to go on shore freely, whenever they pleased; and they thus got on very social terms with the natives. They observed that their dusky friends only half-cooked their food, and that they spread a great deal of salt on it. This made them thirsty, and they were constantly drinking the palm wine, which was their favorite beverage. Their method of drinking was to suck the wine from the jars with long reeds. When they saw a knot of sailors they would run to them, and invariably beg them to come and have something to eat and drink.

Once, when a great chief among them died, the Spaniards had an opportunity to witness a Sebu funeral. The chief's corpse was laid in a chest in his house; around the chest was wound a cord, to which branches and leaves were tied in a fantastic fashion; while on the end of each branch, a strip of cotton was fastened. The principal women of the island went to the house of mourning and sat around the corpse, wrapped in white cotton shrouds from head to foot; beside each woman stood a young girl; who wafted a palm-leaf fan before her face. Meanwhile, one of the women was engaged in cutting the hair from the dead man's head with a knife. His favorite wife all this time lay stretched upon his body, with her mouth, hands, and feet pressed close to his. As the woman concluded her hair-cutting, she broke into a low, dismal, wailing song, which the others after awhile caught up. The attendants on the mourners then took porcelain vases with burning embers on them, upon which they kept sprinkling myrrh, benzoin, and other perfumes, that formed a cloud of incense in the room.

These ceremonies and mournings continued for several days; meanwhile, the body was anointed with oil of camphor, to preserve it; and at the end of the mourning period, it was solemnly deposited in a kind of tomb, made of wooden logs, in the neighboring forest.

Magellan was delighted with the success which attended his stay at Sebu, which he had prolonged far more than he had intended. It was now time to bid adieu to the friendly king, and proceed on his voyage. As active preparations for setting out were being made, however, an incident occurred which induced Magellan to change his plans, and which was destined to bring a fatal misfortune on the fleet.

The king of Sebu ruled over several islands in the neighborhood of that on which he resided. One of these was Matan, only two or three leagues away. It was a beautiful island, and contained a large and warlike population; and among the chiefs who, under the king, held authority there, was one named Cilapulapu. Just as Magellan was about to sail, another chief in Matan named Zula, came in all haste to Sebu with a message that Cilapulapu, enraged at the conversion of the king and his subjects to Christianity, had rebelled, and had incited the people to rise in revolt. At Matan, he said, all were actively preparing for war against their sovereign. Magellan, on hearing this, resolved that the least he could do would be to remain, and defend the converted king from the violence of his new enemies.