FMAT: Charles E. Nowell Ed, Magellan's Voyage Around the World - Battle of Mactan

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Sep 11, 2006
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Charles E. Nowell Ed, Magellan's Voyage Around the World - Battle of Mactan
By FENOM - 09-29-2008 12:19 PM
Originally Posted at: FMATalk


Hey all,

Was looking around on the web and came accross a post in another forum that draws upon a personal account/manuscript of the battle of Mactan. An interesting read!

The following account is from Charles E. Nowell Ed, Magellan's Voyage Around the World: Three Contemporary Accounts (Northwestern University Press, Evanston Ill, 1962), pp. 168-173. Nowell used a 1906 translation of Pigafetta's work done by the American scholar James Alexander Robertson. The manuscript of 'Primo viaggio intorno al Mondo' that Robertson used, was obtained from the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan and may have been in Italian. (Nowell is unclear on this point) It should be noted that there are other translations of Pigafetta's work from his journal which were published. Some like Paula Spurlin Paige's, The Voyage of Magellan: The Journal of Antonio Pigafetta (Prentice-Hall, Inc, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1969) (translated from French) are substantially different in content, however the translation I will be providing has been accepted by several other historians, and very well may be authoritative.

"On Friday, April twenty-six, Zula, a chief of the island of Matan, sent one of his sons to present two goats to thee captain-general, [Magellan] and to say that he would send him all that he had promised, but that he had not been able to send it to him because of the other chief Cilapulapu, who refused to obey the king of Spagnia. [Spain] He requested the captain to send him only one boatload of men on the next night, so that they might help him fight against the other chief. The captain-general decided to go thither with three boatloads. We begged him repeatedly not to go, but he, like a good shepard, refused to abandon his flock.'

[Ed: some historical sources have claimed that Magellan was acting on behalf of Rajah Humabon, the chief of Cebu, while other less reliable sources like myself have speculated that he was just attempting to impress Jodie Foster.]

"At midnight, sixty men of us set out armed with corsets and helmets, together with the Christian king, the prince, some of the chief['s] men, and twenty or thirty balanguais. We reached Matan [Mactan] three hours before dawn. The captain did not wish to fight then, but sent a message to the natives by the Moro to the effect that if they would obey the king of Spagnia, recognize the Christian king as their sovereign, and pay us our tribute, he would be their friend; but that if they wished otherwise, they should wait to see how our lances wounded. They replied that if we had lances they had lances of bamboo and stakes hardened with fire. (They asked us) not to proceed to attack them at once, but to wait until morning, [Pigafetta speculates] They said that in order to induce us to go search for them; for they had dug certain pitholes between the houses in order that we might fall into them. [Magellan gave up the element of surprise trying to force a capitulation and may have delayed his attack until dawn because he preferred to conduct operations during the day. It seems ridiculous that he would want his opposition to assemble a larger force against him.]

When morning came forty nine of us leaped into the water up to our thighs, and walked through water for more than two crossbow flights before we could reach the shore. [Ed: one historian I've read claims that a crossbow flight is roughly equal to 100 yards] The boats could not approach nearer because of certain rocks in the water. The other eleven men remained behind to guard the boats. When we reached land, those men had formed in three divisions to the number of more than one thousand five hundred persons. When they saw us, they charged down upon us with exceedingly loud cries, two divisions on our flanks and the other on our front. When the captain saw that he formed us into two divisions, and thus did we begin to fight.

The musketeers and crossbowmen shot from a distance for about a half hour, but uselessly; for the shots only passed through the shields which were made of thin wood and the arms (of the bearers). The captain cried to them, 'Cease firing! cease firing!' but his order was not at all heeded. When the natives saw that we were shooting our muskets to no purpose, crying out they determined to stand firm, but they redoubled their shouts. When our muskets were discharged, the natives would never stand still, but leaped hither and thither, covering themselves with their shields. They shot so many arrows at us and hurled so many bamboo spears (some of them tipped with iron) at the captain-general, besides pointed stakes hardened with fire, stones, and mud, that we could scarcely defend ourselves.

Seeing that, the captain-general sent some men to burn their houses in order to terrify them. When they saw their houses burning they were roused to greater fury. Two of our men were killed near the houses, while we burned twenty or thirty houses. So many of them charged down upon us that they shot the captain through the right leg with a poisoned arrow. On that account he ordered us to retire slowly, but the men took flight, except for six or eight of us who remained with the captain. The natives shot only at our legs, for the latter were bare; [unarmored] and so many were the spears and stones that they hurled at us, that we could offer no resistance. The mortars in the boats could not aid us as they were too far away. So we continued to retire for more than a good crossbow flight from the shore always fighting up to our knees in the water. The natives continued to pursue us, and picking up the same spear four or six times, hurled it at us again and again.

Recognizing the captain, so many turned on him that they knocked his helmet off his head twice, but he always stood firmly like a good knight, together with some others. Thus did we fight for more than one hour, refusing to retire further. An Indian hurled a bamboo spear into the captain's face, but the latter immediately killed him with his lance, which he left in the Indian's body. Then trying to lay hand on his sword, he could draw it out but halfway, because he had been wounded in the arm with a bamboo spear. When the natives saw that, they all hurled themselves on him. One of them wounded him on the left leg with a large cutlass, which resembles a scimitar, only being larger. That caused the captain to fall face downward, when immediately they rushed upon him with iron and bamboo spears and with their cutlasses, until they killed our mirror, our light, our comfort, and our true guide.

When they wounded him, he turned back many times to see whether we were all in the boats. Thereupon, beholding him dead, we, wounded, retreated, as best we could, to the boats, which were already pulling off. The Christian king would have aided us, but the captain charged him before he landed, not to leave his balanghai, but to stay and see how we fought. When the king learned that the captain was dead he wept. Had it not been for the unfortunate captain, not a single one of us would have been saved in the boats, for while he was fighting the others retired to the boats. . . . [105 word tribute to Magellan omitted by SB]

That battle was fought on Saturday, April twenty-seven, 1521. The captain desired to fight on Saturday, because it was the day especially holy to him. Eight of our men were killed with him in that battle, and four Indians, who had become Christians andd who had come afterward to aid us were killed by the mortars on the boats. Of the enemy, only fifteen were killed, while many of us were wounded. In the afternoon the Christian king sent a message with our consent to the people of Matan, to the effect that if they would give us the captain and the other men who had been killed, we would give them as much merchandise as they wished. They answered that they would not give up such a man, as we imagined (they would do), and that they would not give him up for all the riches in the world, but they intended to keep him as a memorial."


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