Ferdinand Magellan

Victorious Victoria

Manila Galleons

Ferdinand Magellan
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      During my childhood days in pre-World War II Guam, we had a sixty-four dollar question, so to speak: Did Magellan discover Guam or did we discover Magellan? Our elders reminded us that our ancestors discovered Guam over three thousand years earlier after they left southeast Asia and sailed the Pacific in search of a place to settle. At best, Ferdinand Magellan and his crew were the first Europeans to visit Guam. Since the Europeans wrote the history books of that time,however, Magellan was the recorded discoverer. This practice was not unlike that among warring nations, whose history books were written by the victors. In our own country, Native American Indians have always lamented the fact that most of the early accounts of their culture and way of life were written through the lens of soldiers of the U. S. cavalry.

      To his credit, Ferdinand Magellan did much more than to "happen" upon Guam. Sailing under the flag of his native Portugal, Magellan reached the Spice Islands by sailing EAST from Portugal via the Indian Ocean and then on to the Moluccas (Indonesia). Upon his return to Portugal, he submitted a proposal to find another route to the Moluccas by sailing WEST across the Atlantic and into the Pacific. When his proposal was rejected, he offered his services to Spain, his native country's arch enemy.

      Sailing under the flag of Spain, Magellan reached Guam on March 6,1521 with his crew scurvy-ridden and starving. After taking on fresh provisions and engaging in skirmishes with the Chamorros, he hastily departed, disdainfully shooting arrows and directing musket fire at his hosts as his ships made their way to open sea.

      When he reached the Philippines, he became involved in the internal affairs of the Filipinos, including going to battle in support of one native faction over another. His actions were clearly in defiance of his contract with the King of Spain and severely damaged his reputation from which he never recovered. He was killed in battle in Mactan on April 26, 1521. By the time of his death, Magellan had already passed longitudinally the Spice Islands which he had visited on an earlier expedition from the opposite direction; thus, Magellan had fully circumnavigated the globe by sailing it one-half at a time, under the flags of two bitterly opposed nations.

      Finally, our elders also reminded us that by replenishing Magellan's ships with food and water, Guam played an important role in that monumental Age of Discovery. By nourishing Magellan and his crew, it made it possible for them to continue their journey which proved that the earth was round.