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[Paper read in Homonhon island on March 15, 2003 during the commemoration of Magellan's arrival in 1521]

November 25, 2004

I’m very much honored to be here with you commemorating the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan in the Philippines in this island 482 years ago.

For many years now, there has been a raging debate where the first mass in the Philippines was celebrated.  Most historians point to Limasawa, Leyte but in recent years, Butuan has claimed that it was first celebrated in Mazaua in Caraga.

But if we review the events that led to the arrival of Magellan in Homonhon in March 16, 1521, we will come to believe that it was in Homonhon that they first offered mass.  In recent years, we have come across some documents that confirm this belief.

There are four sources of information on Magellan’s voyage in 1521:

1)       Primo Viaggio Intorno al Globo or the First Voyage Around the world, written by Antonio Pigaffeta;

2)       De Mullucis Insulis by Maximalianus Translvanus which was written from reports of the survivors after their return to Spain;

3)       Lindas da India by the Portugues historian Gaspar Correa;

4)       Log entries by Francisco Albo who was the quartermaster on Magellan’s flagship, Trinidad.

In Pigafetta’s account, he recorded that on the dawn of Saturday of March 16, 1521, after traveling for more than seven months from Seville, Spain and along the coasts of Africa, South America and through the vast Pacific Ocean, Magellan came upon the island of Homonhon in Samar.

The last land that they have landed was the land they called Port of San Julian where they stayed for five months and left it on August 24, 1519.  On October 21, Magellan discovered a strait (now called Magellan’s strait) that would lead them out to the Pacific. It was while exploring the river that led to the strait that a mutiny struck Magellan’s expedition. The ship San Antonio deserted and returned to Spain. On November 28, 1519, Magellan and this three ships left the strait on the perilous voyage across the Pacific Ocean.  For three months and 20 days, they saw no land and had no chance whatsoever to make fresh provisions.  Pigafetta wrote, “We ate biscuit which was no longer biscuit, but powder of biscuits, swarming with worms,...and stank strongly of the urine of rats.  We drank yellow water that had been putrid for many days.  We also ate some ox hides...which had become exceedingly hard because of the sun, rain and wind...often we ate sawdust from boards.  Rats were sold for one-half ducado apiece and even then we could not get them.  But above all misfortunes, the following was the worst.  The gums of both the lower and upper teeth of some of our men swelled, so that they could not eat under any circumstances and therefore died.  Nineteen men died from that sickness (scurvy).  Twenty-five or thirty men fell sick in the arms, legs or in another place, so that but few remained well.

"We saw no land except two desert islands where we found nothing but birds and trees, for which we called the Ysolle Infortunate (the Unfortunate Isles).  We found no anchorage (but) near them saw many sharks...Had not God and his blessed mother given us so good weather we would all have died of hunger in that exceedingly vast sea...”

On March 6, they sighted a small island.  While they have wanted to land, the inhabitants of the island came and entered the ships and "stole whatever they could lay their hands on, "and also stole the small boat tied to the flagship, Trinidad.  Angered, Magellan sent 40 armed men to the shore and burned about 50 houses and killed seven men."  Having recovered the small boat, they immediately left the island.  They called the island, Ladroni (island of robbers).

Ten days later, at dawn of March 16, they came upon Homonhon.  The following day, Magellan disembarked and pitched two tents on the shore for the sick and had a pig killed for them.  On March 18, a Monday, a boat arrived with nine men on it led by their chief who welcomed Magellan and his men.

After traveling for three months and 20 days, without seeing land, having suffered from hunger, sickness and death, is it not logical that a mass would be celebrated to offer their thanks for their first landfall?

In the account of Pigafetta, when they arrived in San Lucar from Seville, Pigafetta reported that 'every day they went ashore to hear mass."  When they arrived in "Verzin (Brazil) after more than two months traveling along the coast of Africa and South America, again Pigafetta reported that "mass was said ashore."

In 1997, during our celebration of Samar Day, Atty. Romualdo Mendiola, asked us, “Was Homonhon the Site of the First Mass in the Philippines”. Of course, his answer, contained in a historical paper, was a yes.  He based his answer on a document that was published in the Philippine Magazine in 1934 by one Percy Hill.  Hill was a researcher of Philippine History and a historical writer, having written a book on Old Manila. This document entitled, A Hitherto Unpublished Document on the Landing of Magellan at Homonhon.  Only last month, Inquirer columnist Bambi Harper also wrote about this document which was also cited by Msgr. Quitorio, when he asked the same question. I also came across this document and had it photocopied from microfilm.

The document was found sometime in 1867 among the civil archives in an old building on Calle Postigo in Intramuros.  It was part of the documents of Governor General Alfonsus Faxardo and a Spaniard, Gil Piamontes de Alazerna had decided to decipher or translate them.

The document tells us that on March 17, while still anchored, Magellan was visited by several canoes or praus, carrying the chiefs of Suluan named Inaroyan, Limbas, Bucad, Layong, Calipay, Badiao, Cabuling and their datu, Garas-Garas.  They boarded the ship of Magellan and Magellan explained to them through his interpreter, Enrique, that their King of Spain sent them to spread the Faith of Christ and convert them to the true religion.  They also listened as Magellan told them of their encounter at the land of the Landrones.  Garas-Garas replied that the chief of that island was named Tilic-Mata and was not a friend of theirs and invited Magellan ashore and accept his hospitality.

So the Spaniards disembarked, pitched their pabellons (tents) and "those suffering from scurvy were benefited by eating coconuts and other fruits and vegetables." Meanwhile, Garas-Garas "having a number of fishing boats with nets, caught a great quantity of fish with dexterity and skil"l and provided the party of Magellan with the food.  "As they were so well received, they called Homonhon, Nueva Providencia."

The following day, Garas-garas presented his gifts to Magellan consisting of two large jars of rice, a bamboo tube full of honey, pigs, fowls, fruits, vegetables especially eggplants, and a gold headed truncheon.  Magallanes refused the gift of the truncheon, saying that it was of too much value.  He gave Garas-Garas a pearly colored mantle of wool, a purple hat, some shirts of merino, Toledo knives, mirrors and silver buttons. Garas-garas divided the gifts among his people and brought out a jar of tuba in which they drank to each other’s health.

"They also agreed to would celebrate a treaty of friendship and returned to the shore.  The next day was stormy and nothing was done until the 19th of March, when most of the Spaniards disembarked, leaving only enough men to guard the vessels.  Mass was celebrated and after the ceremony a tall cross was raised near the shore.  Garas-Garas, Inarayon, and the others entered into a treaty of friendship with Don Hernando Magallanes representing his Majesty, which was drawn up by Leon de Espeleta."

If we review Pigafetta’s account, Pigafetta wrote,

“Early on the morning of Sunday, the last of March, and Easter-day, the captain-general sent the priest with some men to prepare the place where mass was to be said... When the hour for mass arrived, we landed with about fifty men, without our body armor, but carrying our other arms, and dressed in our best clothes.”

Pigafetta did not exactly say that it was their first mass, he only reported that a mass was celebrated on Easter Sunday.  Atty. Mendiola concludes in his paper, "that the mass on Homonhon island on the 19th day of March 1521, was the first one celebrated in the Philippines, not one at Limasawa or Mazaua on the 31st of that month.  Any passage or statement to the contrary in our history books would be unsustainable under present historiography."

Notwithstanding these debates when the first mass was celebrated, the fact remains that it was in Homonhon that Magellan first landed. And today, we commemorate that event and celebrate its greater significance.  The historian Agoncillo writes that it was through this trip that the Europeans first learned of the existence of the Philippines. It also proved that the earth was round; it established the vastness of the Pacific Ocean; it proved that the East Indies could be reached by crossing the Pacific and finally, it showed that the Americas was really a land mass entirely separate from Asia.

While Magellan discovered the existence of the Philippines, for me, the greater significance of Magellan’s arrival in Homonhon, was it showed the world, that we in Samar, already had a society, a culture of our own.  Pigafetta wrote that "their seignior was an old man who was painted.  He wore two gold earrings in his ears and the others many gold armlets on their arms and kerchiefs about their heads...They have very black hair that falls to the waist, and use daggers, knives, and spears ornamented with gold, large shields, fascines, javelins and fishing nets that resemble rizali and their boats are like ours."

Later on, Jesuit missionaries who came and settled our island would document this culture.  Our society then was structured according to social classes which dictated not only the behavior of men and women but also the manner of dressing from head to toe, from cradle to their graves.

482 years later, we come back to this island, where  it all first happened.  This tiny island they called New Providence for their most hospitable stay.  They also called this island , the Acquada da li buoni Segnialli (the Watering place of Good Signs, for it was here that they found two springs of the clearest water and where they found the first signs of gold.

482 years later, we find this island very much in controversy, not much about the first mass in the Philippine, but for the mining operations in the island.

482 years later, we look back to that age. It was an age of explorations, when men cross great voids of oceans, crossing unknown frontiers, charting new frontiers of knowledge.  These things, we take for granted in this age when at the click of a mouse, we are connected to anywhere in the world.



- Agoncillo, Teodoro, History of the Filipino People.

- Hill, Percy, A Hitherto Unpublished Document on the Landing of Magellan at Homonhon, Philippine Magazine, August 1934.

- Mendiola, Romualdo, Was Homonhon the Site of the First Mass in the Philippines?  Unpublished paper, 1997.

- Pigafetta, Antonio, First Voyage Around the World in Philippine Islands by Blair and Robertson, Vol XXIII.

- Transylvanus, Maximilianus, De Moluccis Insulis, in Philippine Islands by Blair and Robertson, Vol I.





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