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The World Was Flat

The time was around 1500 A.D. The world is flat, or how people and authorities in Europe thought it was or is. But in hushed circles of early scientific communities at that time, there were already ideas that the world is round . I guess it was not easy for people to say things that conflicted, or deemed conflicting with Church teachings that point to Earth as center of creation and the Universe.

Because, if the Earth is round, then it is just another round object, like some of the big stars [planet] already seen in the long looking-glass [telescope]. That also strengthens then theory that all the spheres revolve around the Sun, and the center of the universe is therefore the Sun and not the Earth, which is not true either, because that is true only as far as the solar system is concerned.

And little is known about a Portuguese seaman named Ferdinand Magellan [1480?-1521], who held the record as the first man to circumnavigate the world. He came during the time of Nicolaus Copernicus [1473 – 1543] and before the time of Galilei Galileo [1564 – 1642]. He was one of those who believed in the theory that the earth, like all heavenly bodies as the Sun and the moon, is round – a sphere. And he had theorized that the East Indies, a region dominated by the English, the Dutch and the Portuguese at that time, therefore, could be reached through the west.

Apparently he talked nonsense but not to the Royal circles of Spain that eventually decided to bankroll an expedition by Fernando Magallanes or Ferdinand Magellan to prove the theory right. It’s political and economic implications are that, by international law recognized at that time, it would mean that Spain will have rights to trade and claim territories in the East [because it has those rights to the west and not in the east, and everything they discovered by going west can also be considered West and not East!] Spain’s expedition headed by Ferdinand left Sanlúcar de Barrameda, on September 20, 1519.

A fleet of five vessels was outfitted and sailed from Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Spain, with about 250 men on September 20, 1519. Magellan sailed through familiar waters along the west coast of Africa and then south to the equator. There the fleet turned south-southwest and crossed the Atlantic to a point near Recife in Brazil.

Magellan, Strait of, channel, between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, separating the southern tip of the South American mainland from the island of Tierra del Fuego. The strait is 560 km (350 mi) long and between 3 and 24 km (2 and 15 mi) wide. It was discovered by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1520.

Among the territories added to Spain because of Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition were Guam and the Marianas and the Philippines that they ruled for some 350 years. Although Spain came to establish colonies and trade in the East it took them the long route. Galleon Trade across the Pacific to  Mexico  linked the Philippines and Spain. [Spanish colonies in the East were ceded by Spain to the United States of America in a treaty that ended the Spanish – American war at the turn of the 20th century.]

Magellan himself did not complete the voyage around the world. In March 16, 1521 he landed in a place early Philippine historians determined to be present day Homonhon island.  And from there they landed in a nearby place that must have been Limasawa, in what would be the Visayas, Philippine archipelago. They christened the two ethnic groups they found in those places.

Except for the Tagalogs in Luzon and the Moros in Mindanao, the Visayas was then mainly independent city states, and/or mutual federations of such. There was no clear Sultanate. A tribal or a village chief is called a Datu. A formal federation of different Datu would be a sultanate, the leader of which also held the title of Sultan and/or Raha, Raja.

Location of Limasawa, or Mazaua as Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition noted the name, is historically disputed. Early Philippine history books placed history as Limasawa [possibly lima five + asawa wives] neighboring  Homonhon island. Lima and asawa are common to both Bisaya and Hiligaynon. They are also Tagalog words but there asawa means spouse, male or female, to also mean husband. Lima asawa is the nearest match to Limasawa in the Visayan tongues. [Male sexist and polygamy were common tribal practices with all old Malay-Filipinos.] Some believe the first landings were in the Visayas while others think they were in Mindanao.

From there Magellan found his way to Cebu where he befriended the chieftain Datu Humabon who happened to have a feud with neighboring Datu Lapu-lapu of Mactan. Ferdinand Magellan, I suppose, apparently trying to impress Humabon with their advanced technology and playing politics for Datu Humabon, was slain in a raid in Mactan. He died without seeing or realizing his theory right. Captain Juan Sebastián del Cano who took over command of the fleet surely did by making it back to Spain, going all the way westward.

From the Marianas, Magellan sailed southwest to the island of Mindanao in the Philippines, where he converted two local rulers to Christianity. From Mindanao he sailed to Cebu Island, where he made more converts. After converting Humabon, ruler of Cebu, he supported Humabon in a battle with a rival chieftain, Lapulapu. Magellan was killed in the battle, April 27, 1521, while defending the withdrawal of his landing party.

Although Magellan did not complete the voyage, he is considered the first person to circle the world because Cebu is west of the Moluccas. Sailing west, he had reached a point beyond the point he had reached earlier when sailing east.

Acknowledgements: Block quotations are from Microsoft Encarta Reference Library. Refer to it for more about Ferdinand Magellan, Nicolaus Copernicus and Galilei Galileo, or visit Microsoft Encarta – Home.

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