The Film '1521' Makes Enrique of Malacca Spanish?

Bea Alonzo, Maricel Laxa and the cast of 1521. [Handout]

An upcoming film being shot in the Philippines, 1521: The Battle of Mactan, is revisiting some key history of the island nation. Starring Danny Trejo as Magellan and Michael Copen as Lapulapu, the movie is set to attract a wide audience.

One immediate disappointment, though: A key member of Magellan's crew was his slave-interpreter Enrique of Malacca, a young Malay talented with languages. In 1521, conversely, Enrique the interpreter is "a dashingly handsome" Spanish soldier.

While the need for a love story in a film is understandable (Enrique charms a local princess), it's a shame 1521 misses out on this historical detail. The historical Enrique was the only Asian crew member on the Magellan-Elcano expedition and one of the first (possibly the first) people to circle the globe.

Enrique of Malacca was taken as a slave by Ferdinand Magellan in 1511 following the Portuguese invasion of the city. In 1512–13, Enrique, a teenager at the time, traveled westward with Magellan to Lisbon, then to Spain, where he joined Magellan’s Armada de Molucca as an interpreter earning a salary on par with the fleet's top officers.

After a year and a half at sea and a harrowing three-month crossing of the Pacific, the fleet reached Limasawa Island in the Visayas (located in the modern-day Philippines). There suddenly Enrique could converse with locals, likely speaking a Malay dialect used in regional trade. Limasawa and neighboring islands were part of a trade network that stretched from India to China.

In short, Enrique witnessed first-hand the Portuguese entrance into colonialism in Southeast Asia and later the first Spanish colonial foray in the Philippines, and he traveled over a decade from one to the other—the long way. He sailed so far in one direction that he came to a land where his own language was spoken.

The Enrique in 1521, played by Hector David Jr., is a bit different. From IMDB: 

Philippines, pre-Spanish era, a young native princess with goddess-like beauty falls in love with a dashingly handsome Spanish soldier. Pulled apart by their loyalties to their own people and against all odds they fight for their clandestine romance.

A Spanish Enrique might be a large negative for audiences in the Philippines and Asia.

The film: 1521: The Battle of Mactan is being produced by the Filipino-American filmmaker Francis B. Lara Ho of Inspire Studios. It centers around the Battle of Mactan, where Magellan was killed in hand-to-hand combat. The datu (chief) on the island of Mactan was Lapulapu, a national hero in the Philippines today. That part in the film is being played by Michael Capon, who also directs. The script was written by Mary Krell-Oishi.

Enrique: this is not a minor historical detail in the Magellan story. In his will filed just before departing Seville in 1519, Magellan identified Enrique as from Malacca. The expedition’s main chronicler, Antonio Pigafetta, said Enrique was from Sumatra, the large island across the Malacca Strait, part of which was Malaccan territory.

Panglima Awang (Enrique of Malacca) by Harun Aminurrashid.
Enrique has become a popular historical character in both Malaysia and Indonesia. He was the center of the 1958 Malay historical novel Panglima Awang, (also) the Malay name given to Enrique by the book’s author, Harun Aminurrashid.

Meanwhile, scholars in the Philippines have argued that since Enrique knew a language spoken at Limasawa, he may have been from the Visayan Islands and perhaps taken to Malacca already a slave. In fact, Malacca did import slaves from the islands. If he was born in the Vasayas or on Cebu, Enrique was the first human being to circumnavigate the globe, period, beating Elcano and seventeen other crew who returned to Seville in 1522 by a year and a half.

Whatever the case, Enrique has been adopted and celebrated as a popular hero in the Philippines, as well. Reni Roxas and Marc Singer brought the story of Enrique to life for children in the country in First Around the Globe: The Story of EnriqueTwenty years on they released this anniversary edition in 2017 from Tahanan Books, Manila:

First Around the Globe: The Story of Enrique
First Around the Globe: The Story of Enrique, by Reni Roxas and Marc Singer.

In a March 2021 webinar, Roxas joined the Filipino filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik and historian Danilo Gerona for in-depth discussion of Enrique in fiction, including positive viewpoints on Enrique’s origins and solid historical perspective from Gerona.

Enrique of Malacca Links



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(C) 2022 by John Sailors. All rights reserved.

See Also:

Enrique of Malacca Completes First Circumnavigation—by Language

On March 28, 1521, Enrique of Malacca became the first person to complete a
linguistic circumnavigation of the globe—he traveled so far in one direction that he reached a point where his language was spoken. Enrique’s journey began a decade earlier following the sack of Malacca, when he became a slave of Ferdinand Magellan. A teenager, he accompanied Magellan back to Portugal, then to Spain, and finally on the Armada de Molucca to locate a westward route to the Spice Islands.  Read more.