HOMONHON, 482 YEARS LATER
[Paper read in Homonhon island on
March 15, 2003
during the commemoration of Magellan's arrival in 1521]
By CHARO NABONG-CABARDO
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:
Viaggio Intorno al Globo or the First Voyage Around the world,
written by Antonio Pigaffeta;
Mullucis Insulis by Maximalianus Translvanus which was written
from reports of the survivors after their return to
Lindas da India by the Portugues historian Gaspar Correa;
entries by Francisco Albo who was the quartermaster on Magellan’s
account, he recorded that on the dawn of Saturday of March 16, 1521,
after traveling for more than seven months from
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.
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
South America, again Pigafetta reported that "mass was said
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.
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."
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
"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."
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.
discovered the existence of the
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.
later, we find this island very much in controversy, not much about
the first mass in the Philippine, but for the mining operations in
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.
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.