Voyages and Adventures of Magellan - George Towle

Magellan Among the Malays

It was now the latter part of March; in that tropical region one of the pleasantest periods of the year, when the sun no longer blazed down remorselessly, and the superb vegetation of the equatorial lands displayed its gaudiest colors.

As the ships wound in among clusters of islands, which were now never out of sight a single day, Magellan thought he had never seen so many natural beauties, that he had never imagined such trees, and shrubs, and flowers, so glowing an atmosphere, so smooth and fair a sea; such beautiful forests, jungles, valleys, such fairy isles, as he now beheld.

He often sat on deck at sunrise, and gazed on the magic scene; observed the lovely islands as one after another was passed; saw the natives as they ran about on the shore, or huddled in curious groups to watch the ships; and inhaled the rich, dense perfumes that the breezes wafted from the fruitful fields.

After skirting many islands, the fleet came, one night, near an island where a great fire appeared to be burning. The next morning Magellan anchored just off its shores; and no sooner had he done so, than a boat with eight men pulled out from the island, and approached the Trinidad." When it came near, a Malay, whom Magellan had brought with him as an interpreter, exclaimed in an excited voice, that the men in the boat were his countrymen, and that he would speak to them. Magellan told him to do so; and the Malay, leaning over the side of the ship, rattled off some gibberish at the top of his lungs. The men in the boat, as soon as they heard him, jumped up and began to make wild gesticulations; and when he paused, replied to him in the same tongue. The interpreter asked them to come on board the Trinidad;" but they replied that they were afraid to do so.

Then Magellan caused a small plank to be brought; to this he tied a red cap, and some trinkets, and threw it into the water near the boat. The natives seized the plank eagerly; and the chief of them, detaching the cap, put it on his shaggy head, and began dancing about in the boat.

Presently they rowed rapidly away; and Magellan was about to weigh anchor and proceed on his voyage, when he saw two larger boats, with many more men in them, put out from the shore. As the foremost drew near the Trinidad, he perceived in the center of it a tall, dark man, much more richly dressed than his companions, seated under an awning of mats. He asked the interpreter who this man could be; the Malay replied that he was doubtless the king of the island. Such, indeed, he proved; for the Malay addressed him in his own language, to which the swarthy monarch readily replied. He could not be prevailed upon to trust his royal person on board the flagship; but sent some of his courtiers, whom Magellan cordially welcomed, and to whom he confided some presents for the king. In return, the king sent him a large bar of solid gold, which made the eyes of the sailors sparkle; and a basket of ginger.

Finding this native prince so friendly, Magellan resolved to prolong his stay at the island, which was called Mazzava. The ships moved around into a convenient cove, quite near the royal residence; and now, every day, civilities passed between the natives and the Spaniards. The king was soon persuaded to go on board the Trinidad;" and on his arrival, in great state, one morning, he went up to Magellan, and tenderly embraced him. The Admiral had an arm-chair placed on deck for his august visitor, and entered into familiar conversation with him, the Malay acting as interpreter. The king said that he wished to be "cassi, cassi," with Magellan—that is, the best of friends; and in token of his amiable disposition, he produced some china dishes, on which were rice and fish.

Magellan was not to be outdone in generosity and politeness; he gave the king a robe of red and yellow cloth, and a handsomely embroidered red cap; seeing to it that presents of knives and mirrors were also made to the king's attendants. Magellan then caused cloths of different colors, linen, and coral to be brought and shown to his guest; and ordered the artillery to be fired, which much pleased the king, who, having heard guns fired before, was not terrified. The king, seeing one of the Spaniards with a suit of armor on, asked what was the purpose of so strange an attire; whereupon Magellan ordered three other Spaniards to strike the man in armor with swords and daggers, as hard as they could. The king observing that they made no impression on him, then understood why armor was worn.

Magellan took care to let the swarthy monarch know that he had two hundred men who, thus clad in armor, could fight without being harmed by any enemy's weapons.

Resolved to show the king still further evidence of the powers of the Europeans in battle, he commanded two of his soldiers to engage in a mock combat in fencing. The potentate leaned forward in his chair, and gazed breathlessly at the struggle. He seemed amazed at the skill with which the soldiers parried each other's blows, and aimed rapid and deadly thrusts at each other's breasts. He examined the swords, cuirasses and helmets which were brought for his inspection, with the deepest interest.

Then, turning to Magellan, whom he was beginning to regard as something more than mortal, he asked if he had made a long voyage, and how he was able to navigate his great ships hither? Magellan then showed the king his charts, compass, quadrants, and other instruments, and explained their use as well as he could; and made the king stare with wonder, when he told him that he had sailed for many months without seeing a speck of land in any direction.

The royal visit was brought to a close by a bountiful repast in the Admiral's cabin, at which the best things the ships afforded, or that had been procured on the islands, were served, daintily prepared and cooked by the stewards of the fleet. The king tasted of all the dishes, eating some of them with a keen relish, and making wry faces at others. He disdained the use of knives and forks, but ate fast with his fingers. He became very merry after drinking some port wine, to which he took a vast liking, and once more embracing Magellan, swore eternal friendship for him and his mighty sovereignty, the king of Spain.

A day or two after, it was arranged that two of Magellan's principal men should go on shore, visit the king's house, and see the town and the natives. One of these was Antonio Pigafetta, an accomplished, courtly Italian, a cherished friend of Magellan; who, years afterwards, wrote the best account that exists of Magellan's voyage and exploits.

As soon as Pigafetta and his companion had landed on the island, the king approached them, and lifted his hands to the sky; and they did the same. This, it appears, was the way the king had of saying, "You are right welcome." Then he conducted his visitors to an inlet, the shores of which grew thick with tall canes, and where a long boat was moored; and made motions to them to step on board, and take their seats on the little deck in the aft end. The royal attendants stood around, with their swords and spears. Presently some roast pig and wine were brought, and with these his majesty regaled them. Pigafetta noticed that whenever there was any wine left in the cups, it was poured back carefully into the vase again. The islanders were evidently very economical. Their way of drinking was curious. They first raised their hands aloft; then took the cup in their right hand, while they held out the left towards their companions. The king, just before drinking, clinched his fist, and thrust it close to Pigafetta's face; but the latter, perceiving that it was a friendly, and not a hostile motion, returned the singular compliment.

When the two guests had feasted to the top of their bent off roast pig, rice, and broth, they were conducted to the royal palace. A poor-looking palace, indeed, it was; a long, rickety building, which reminded Pigafetta of the barns in his own country, thatched with fig and palm-leaves. It rested on heavy timbers and posts, and a flight of steps reached to its first story from the outside. On entering the chief apartment of the king, Pigafetta observed a plain floor, covered with mats, and supplied with rude, low tables.

No sooner were the strangers, the king, and the courtiers seated on the mats, than more food and drink was brought. These people seemed, indeed, forever eating and drinking. This time Pigafetta and his comrade were treated to roast fish and ginger, which really tasted quite nice. Pigafetta's companion, indeed, enjoyed his supper so much, especially the wine—which was far more palatable than that they had got at the other islands—that he grew very tipsy; and made so much noise that Pigafetta was obliged to have him carried to one corner of the room, and laid on a mat. Here he was soon snoring soundly, in a deep slumber.

Presently the prince, the king's son and heir, a comely, cream-colored young man, came in, and his father made him sit at Pigafetta's side. As soon as it was dark, torches made of the gum of a tropical tree, and wrapped in palm and fig-leaves, were brought and lighted; and these lit up a very curious and unwonted scene. The king now went away to his own sleeping-apartment, leaving the prince with Pigafetta, to sleep in that where they had supped. On retiring his majesty kissed Pigafetta's hands.

The Italian found his bed to consist of some pillows and cushions stuffed with leaves. It was a rough place for repose; but, having been used to the trials of the sea, he minded it little, and slept soundly until he was awakened by some of the royal attendants. He and his companion breakfasted gaily with the king; and while they were at the table, there appeared another potentate, a brother of their host, who was the king of a neighboring island. This personage impressed Pigafetta very much. He was a tall and very handsome man, with raven-black hair that fell in thick clusters about his shoulders, and a dark, copper complexion, large and brilliant black eyes, and an erect and symmetrical figure. Upon his head he wore a kind of turban of rich silk, finely embroidered; he was attired in a silken tunic that reached his knees; two enormous gold rings hung from his ears; at his side was suspended a dagger, the handle of which was solid gold, and the sheath carved wood; while his person exhaled a strong and agreeable perfume. When this king spoke, Pigafetta perceived that on each of his teeth were stuck little round disks of gold, which made his mouth fairly shine when he opened it. Pigafetta was told that the island on which he ruled had gold mines, from which great nuggets of the precious metal were often extracted.

Pigafetta and his companion then returned to the flagship, carrying this monarch with them. Magellan received him as cordially as he had received his brother, and he went away fully as much delighted with the Spaniards as his brother had been. Easter had now come, and Magellan, who was a good Catholic, and throughout his voyage had never omitted to observe each festivity of the Church as it came, resolved to have a solemn mass performed, in honor of the anniversary of the rising of Christ. He therefore sent a message to the king of Mazzava, informing him that the voyagers were going on shore, not to visit him, but to hold a religious festival. He invited the two kings and their courtiers to be present, and to join in the devotions of the Europeans, if they saw fit.

It was an impressive scene on that brilliant, warm Easter Sunday morning, on the shore of a tropical isle, with its lofty palms and luxuriant shrubs growing almost to the water's edge; thousands of miles from the nearest Christian church, in the midst of regions given over to idol worship and the densest barbarism! There were the weather-beaten sailors, rough and rude, attired in. such show of good clothing as they could still afford; there were the officers, in more imposing costume, their swords hung at their sides, their velvet cloaks thrown across their shoulders, their heads adorned with sashed and plumed caps; there was Magellan, with serious countenance, awaiting the beginning of the rite; and there, strangest of all, stood the two swarthy kings, with painted faces, decked out in fantastic and savage finery, surrounded by their dark-featured and half-nude courtiers, watching with keen interest the scene that was being enacted before them. On the smooth strand an altar had been set up with lighted candles, and lace draperies, and such other ornaments as had been brought for religious purposes on the voyage; and before it now appeared two priests, with shaven heads and long embroidered copes.

Just before the mass began, Magellan advanced to the two kings; and taking his place between them, gently sprinkled them with musk-rose water. Then the cannon boomed from the ships; and this deafening noise was succeeded by the clear voices of the priests rising in the intonation of the sacred words. At one period of the ceremony, the Christians went forward and kissed a cross, held by one of the priests; and their example was followed by the barbarian monarchs and their subjects. When the host was elevated, all, including the natives, prostrated themselves on the ground; and at this moment the cannon once more pealed forth from the decks of the ships.

Mass over, Magellan ordered that the more lively and worldly festivities should begin; and the kings watched with wonder and delight the skillful fencing, and the rough martial sports, in which the Spaniards now lustily engaged. They were amazed at the strength of the wrestlers; witnessed breathlessly the shooting matches, for which targets were set up on the strand; and looked on eagerly while rough games of many kinds were played by the strangers.

There was one more task for Magellan to perform, ere he left these hospitable isles. He was now in regions, the discovery and possession of which Spain and Portugal disputed between them. Although himself by birth a Portuguese, Magellan owed now his allegiance to the king of Spain, who had trusted him, and confided to him the command of the fleet. As the two countries aspired to divide the eastern world between them, it was necessary for him to have a care for the interests of the sovereign he served, and to take possession of the places where he landed.

Not very far from the shore where mass had been celebrated, rose a lofty and verdant hill, the summit of which, however, was quite bare. It was the highest eminence on the island; the top could be discerned from a great distance, by a ship at sea. Upon the summit Magellan resolved to erect a cross, surmounted by a wooden crown, as a token that he had taken possession of the island in the name of the Spanish king.

It was not difficult to persuade the king of Mazzava to allow him to do this. The barbarian monarch was told that King Charles had commanded such crosses to be raised wherever his voyagers went; that if, in future, any Spanish ships came to Mazzava, they would know, by the cross, that it was a friendly country, and would commit no violence on the people; and that if any of his subjects were ever ill-treated by Spaniards, they would make full reparation, as soon as the cross was shown to them.

Magellan did not forget to add a pious lesson to these persuasions. He assured his royal host that the cross was the symbol of the Christian deity; and that, if he and his people would, at the approach of danger, fall down and adore it, no harm could come to them; neither thunder, lightning, nor tempest could injure them.

The king and his brother, the other king, readily consented that the cross should be erected; whereupon Magellan, attended by fifty of his sturdiest men, armed to the teeth, several of whom carried the heavy cross, slowly ascended the hill. With him went the two kings and their retinues.

Arrived at the summit, the Spaniards dug a deep hole; the cross was placed in position, and the hole was filled up. Magellan advanced, and knelt before the cross a moment; then, rising, and taking off his cap, he declared the island to be the dominion of the king of Spain.

Soon after, Magellan went to bid adieu to the two monarchs, who overwhelmed him, not only with an affectionate reception, which they expressed by touching his forehead and kissing his hands, but with an abundance of the good things their fruitful land afforded. They described the islands by which he would pass on his way, told him of the traits of their inhabitants, which to avoid, and in which he might expect a hospitable welcome; and at the last moment, the king of Mazzava resolved to accompany him, at least as far as the inland of Sebu.

The ships were now provided, not only with grain, water, and wood, but an ample store of figs, cocoanuts, lemons, pigs, fowl, ginger and rice; what few repairs they needed were completed; and on a pleasant morning in April, Magellan sailed away from Mazzava, delighted with the reception he had met with there, and his heart buoyant with the hope of a successful continuation and ending of his voyage. With him, on board the flagship, went the king of Mazzava, and several of his courtiers.