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The Place Called Limasawa

The place Mazaua, as actually stated, is where the expedition of Ferdinand Magellan was said to have held the first Catholic mass in the Philippines after he landed in March 16, 1521. This has been an important issue among Christian religious as they would like to establish the earliest history of Christianity in the Philippines, the only Catholic country in Asia.

Historians did not find a place by the name Mazaua, or Masawa in the native diction. Philippine historians determined the name of the place was Limasawa. Early Philippine historians have placed this Limasawa as neighboring Homonhon Island. Homonhon is in the Eastern Visayas region, off southern Samar island. Limasawa was later claimed by others to be in Mindanao. I take the older theory as more probable.

Let’s start at Sanlucar de Barrameda in Spain. An expedition has set out. Its objective was to reach Moluccas by way of west. The expedition was headed by a Portuguese named Ferdinand Magellan who had been to the Moluccas by way of east. If the aim is achieved, then it will prove that the Earth is round and not flat.

From Sanlucar de Barrameda they sailed south then south-west. Why? First, north was already known all ice – the Great Arctic region. And from there, it was all solid land mass to far south – The great continents of North and South America. So, if there is a passage around the great continents it has to be far south in the part not yet explored and charted. And indeed there was a passage – known today as the Strait of Magellan.

Getting through the straight or strait, the expedition sailed north-west. Why? First, during that time sailors have already idea of latitude. By latitudes, Magellan saw his position to be south, [modern, about 52 degrees S] of the Moluccas region, which is located at around Zero degree equator.

world chart 1502

How the world looked to the Portuguese in 1502 and what Ferdinand Magellan probably had in mind. Lifted from Yahoo and Wikipedia search: treaty of tordesillas. Added drawings to the map are by rltjs.wordpress.

From South America, then facing an unknown, the proximate location of Mollucas was pure estimate based on imagination. It should be noted that during that period the earth was not yet established as round and most of all not cir-cum-navigated yet, to have longitudinal references like we see them today.  Perceptions of longitudes have already existed in charts though they only showed distances west and east of Europe, and as far only as territories that had been explored. Longitudes were called meridians or imaginary lines running north and south. A base point was called prime-meridian and meridians east and west to that were given in figures of leagues.

league [leeg] (plural leagues) noun
measure of distance: a measure of distance of variable length, usually about 5 km/3 mi, no longer in general use

Microsoft® Encarta® 2007. © 1993-2006 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Where people have had explored, charts were proximately accurate. With map, navigational compass, noted position of Sun or stars, time pieces, and by triangulation they know fairly well direction to take to proximate points and objectives. But in an indefinite in-charted space, everything becomes pure guesswork. Yeah, like, 52 latitude to North by itself is absolutely useless.  A longitude placed across a latitude forms an X to show the specific location of a place. Without that,  Magellan had guessed somewhere north-west would be fine.

The North-west direction from South America

I suppose, Magellan, by taking that course, was thinking that if he was not headed straight to the Mollucas, which at that instance was purely imagined location, he was going to find his way into the stretch of the Indian Ocean if he over-shot. Or, he was going to hit the great land mass that is Asia if he fell-short. Whichever, surely he will then be more definite of his location.

As a result, they hit the Marianas and the island of Guam. He named the island Ladrones [Thieves] because they lost a rowboat tied to one of the ships there. They concluded that it was stolen by natives. At Guam, Magellan must have a hunch that Moluccas was getting nearer. Flora and fauna must have told him that. But from 52 south, he was already north, around 14 degrees North, of the location of Moluccas.

Therefore he must sail south.  West South-west to be sure, because if he missed [another imagined location of] Moluccas, he might still hit charted territory in the East Indies. By the course he took from Guam, Magellan was in fact near to Moluccas than he had imagined. His course was pointed straight to the Malayan peninsula which is an over-shoot. He hit what would be the Philippine archipelago, named in honor of Philip of Spain,  in the way.

1520 -1521 Magellan expedition to the Far East. Google satellite maps. Added drawings to the map are by rltjs.wordpress.

1519 -1521 Magellan expedition to the Far East. Google satellite maps. Added drawings to the map are by rltjs.wordpress.

Magellan in the Philippines

Magellan landed in a place that early Philippine historians noted as [Homonhon and Limasawa]. There they christened the tribal chiefs and their followers, and must have performed other church ceremonies needless to say. The expedition had Church friars on board.  They also had a Mollucan muchacho, presumably an Indo-malayan, on purpose for the expedition, since they left Spain.

At that point the expedition must have already determined for sure that they were in the general region of the Moluccas but that their position is still north. They must keep going south.

The world is round, no doubt about it. And then another objective, which was to find their passage home all the way westward, must have come to wake. They must go west. And same with Moluccas, passage way west, which then would be the strait of Singapore to come into mind, also pointed south. So, West South-west must be maintained.

And that course is interesting. Because, by sticking to that course in an uncharted seas, they would be following any coastline going south in case they hit land, then resume West south-west after that. In case they hit land that is already south of the proximate latitudes of the Moluccas, or of the strait of Singapore, then there would be a reversal – to become West North-west pattern – a system of exploration, triangulation, charting, navigation. In fact this system was already applied since the Mariana islands, to explain the shift from North-west to West South-west, by the explorers.

Following that pattern, if it was Mindanao that they had actually hit, then, Bingo, it would have been Borneo and charted territories – the Spice Islands and the Moluccas already behind!

By the Homonhon – Limasawa theory [located around 11 degree N] they headed to Leyte and then headed for Bohol, all in the Visayas. But, by that time they must have made considerable contacts with natives to know Cebu, which is slightly northward, to be the hub of the region, and for replenishment. They went to Cebu, which is a slight deviation of the West south-west pattern. In fact, perfectly on course from Homonhon.

No, natives did not have silly maps. Where they have explored they kept charts in mind and passed them from generation to the next. Yeah, bio-computerized. When they were too lazy or what to point direction with their fingers, they did them with their eyes and spouted lips. They measured distances by time like number of days and in what mode of travel. With them, the expedition could have easily pieced one plus one together, to make a tentative chart ahead, or of the region.

From Homonhon, a decision to head to Cebu would have come easy as, by simple point, Cebu was within course.  In practice they would have to dip south then turn north, skirting southern Leyte island,  to do that.

The Mindanao -Limasawa theory [located around 10 degree N] is based on the assumption that the expedition had feared running into the Dutch if they went south near Moluccas so that they turned north. That’s funny because that would be going away from their objective – Moluccas, which was not ascertained at that point.  And away from their passage home, too. Still at an unknown longitude but at determined latitude, the strait of Singapore [around 1 degree N] to the Indian Ocean is south. Furthermore, from Mindanao, Cebu is a big deviation from the West South-west pattern.

The Mindanao – Limasawa theory is also based on the fact that if we look at the map today and draw the course taken by Magellan then Mindanao was more like it. This was also demonstrated by Legazpi  who traced Magellan’s routes. But if the course from the Ladrones is drawn putting the Philippine archipelago closer than actual, the Homonhon-Limasawa theory still holds. Magellan happened to have sailed through a storm in his way to the archipelago from the Ladrones. Typhoon that forms at the Philippine Sea in the Pacific usually sweeps toward a North-west direction.

Where was Limasawa, really? Never mind. The Cebuanos have put a monumental cross in Cebu at a spot where they claimed Magellan planted a cross when he came from Limasawa. People in Surigao, Mindanao also made a similar monument where they believe Magellan made the historic first landings. And they guessed Magellan also planted a cross at a spot that, again, somebody had guessed. They believe Limasawa was there.

There is also a place in southern Leyte today that has been called Limasawa but this could not be the place. I understand tourism brings in money, but no no no, this could not be the Limasawa we are looking for as it is not neighboring Homonhon island.  Beside, it is not rare for people to give a late settlement the name of their previous place of origin. A community that lives primarily on slash-burn farming, hunting, and fishing, can be semi-nomadic. Until the modern day they are known to migrate in whole for some reasons. Whole communities were known to vanish or relocated in a leap-frog manner after a time.

It was Miguel Lopez de Legazpi around 45 years later, guided by a not so zero-perfect log of Ferdinand, doing his best, who landed in Mindanao in 1565. And knowing very well his location because of the already more or less established longitudinal lines, and everybody owed that to Ferdinand Magellan, Legazpi deliberately sailed north and found Cebu. It was him who was afraid of venturing south to avoid the Dutch. Unlike Ferdinand, he knew for sure that straight south is Moluccas. He came to establish Spanish colonies.

In Cebu, Legazpi established the first Spanish settlement in the Philippines. He also befriended the Ilonggos [Hiligaynon people] of Panay. He transferred the base of his mission there. Then with his [ugh] mercenaries, he conquered the Tagalogs in Luzon. Mga lain guid! Mga dautan gyud! How horrible of them! Can you imagine that, they chased their Tagalog cousins as far as Pangasinan in the north and to Bicol in the east.  And that gave Spain 329 years control of Luzon  in the Philippines.

No, you won’t find mention of Ilonggos and Cebuanos in any history book regarding that. If Legazpi had his way he might have reported it to the Crown as a feat he did single-highhandedly, all by himself!  Just a guess  🙂  because Legazpi had too small an army to take Raja Soliman and Datu Sikatuna to do it by themselves.

No, Spaniards never chased and beat up the Cebuanos and the Ilonggos, nor called them one day to a meeting to tell them that they were subjects of the crown. They woke up to realize that centuries later. Spain simply, smoothly, acted as ally and assumed central governance that did not exist for all the independent city states in the Visayas region when they came. That relation became traditional. Co-existence, very mutual…big brother, small brother.

You see, the relationship of the Visayan tribes and the Southern tribes in Mindanao was one of animosity if not open hostility. Southern tribes were becoming bolder and stronger because of their Sultanate structure. They had converted to Islam and the Tagalogs in Luzon were also converting when Legazpi arrived. Soliman and Sikatuna were already Islam. They were not welcomed in the Visayas.

With my head upon my hands on the pillow, sometimes I wondered why Legazpi did not come to Luzon in the manner of his arrival in the Visayas. No, I am not saying that he was drunken by the Ilonggos and the Cebuanos that made him want to beat up the Tagalogs before he had even seen them. Or, why not it was Legazpi who drunken the Ilonggos and the Cebuanos so that they wanted to beat up their cousins living up north? Yeah, real mutual friendship, must have been. They must be crazy naughty ideas that are very taboo to Filipinos.   🙂

Homonhon is there today but it was just a guess because Magellan did not mention exactly that. One of its neighboring islands might have been Limasawa. And as for Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, well, presumably he did not find Limasawa, either. He made no mention of it. Legazpi and Magellan obviously did not land in the same place.

As for Ferdinand Magellan, he died in Mactan [probably Makatan] shortly after they landed in Cebu. Little known and little heard, he had revolutionized the world.  Maps had become old history overnight. Maps had to be redrawn showing 360 longitudes, and 90 latitudes in each side of the equator. And, yes, politicians had argued where zero longitude should be placed; would have moved the equator if it could. Round map called Globe was invented.

After Cebu, and after Magellan had died in the island of Mactan, Captain Juan Sebastian del Cano took over command of the fleet. By sticking to the West-Southwest course, and with tips from natives, finding Borneo and charted territories thus going home all the way westward must have been easy. This was around the era of active Malay migration into the archipelago mainly from Borneo.

The old world of East and West virtually ended. East is no more than very far West and West is no more than very far East. World expeditions were more specific and precise because there were only unexplored but visible-in-the-map unknown territories. It gave credence to arguments of others, like Galilei Galileo, later. Church had to re-position. A lot more than anyone can imagine.

As for Mazaua or Limasawa?  Maybe there was indeed a place called Masawa which must have evolved from ma+asawa [male sexist, literally, going to + wife.  to wed.  Ma also can mean much, many, and if the Visayans had already used the Tagalog word sawa, then it was a place named for so many snakes.

Or, it might not even be the name of the place and everything was a mis-understanding. Or, a creation of the explorers in the manner of the “Ladrones”. Moreover, post Magellan and post Legazpi literary works might have included some mix-ups from the two expeditions. There appeared inconsistencies. Whatever, wherever, that was long time ago and I tend to take early historians, all arguments including mine considered, more probable. I take it to be Homonhon and Limasawa, and not Mindanao.

And, well, this is a free country. People have right to believe, believe any of them or not.

Related article  The World Was Flat

5 Responses

  1. I have watched air TV ch5 this evening and saw Aga Mulach telling me that Ferdinand Magellan landed in Masao, Butuan, Mindanao.

    Hahahaha. Funny TV show. I never knew any history book, for public education or in private library, about that. I guess my generation is lost.

    So, Magellan’s chronicle was wrong. The place is Mazau or Masao and not Mazaua or Masawa and it is in Mindanao? Funny.

  2. mazaua is located in butuan. this is the very same place where magellan serving in moluccas under a portuguese flag already went before proposing the spanish king to give him a boat to travel westward and discovered the philippines. butuan is actually the first place where the filipino natives first came in contact with europeans-albeit they were portuguese colonizers who based in malacca (spice island). not spaniards.

  3. in short, there is a higher chance that the first mass or cross was put in masaua, instead of limasawa.

  4. That is right, for a fact Magellan had been in the Moluccas [today Maluku] under the Portuguese flag. Magellan was in fact a Portuguese national.


  5. In addition to Masao that is claiming for recognition as the site of the First Mass, two other municipalities in Mindanao are also staking claims: Magallanes and Tubay.

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