Enrique of Malacca Interprets at Limasawa—Pigafetta's Account

Over a decade, Enrique and Magellan had traveled to within 2,600 kilometers of a full circuit
of the globe, from Malacca westward to Limasawa.

When Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition first approached Limasawa Island on March 28, 1521, Enrique of Malacca was able to serve as interpreter speaking Malay, the language used in Southeast Asian trade. Enrique had circled the globe, westward from Malacca to Cebu, to a place where his native language was spoken.

The event was a milestone: It offered empirical evidence that the world was round and could in fact be circumnavigated. Magellan had accomplished, even if more by perseverance and luck than knowledge, what Columbus and others had failed to. He had sailed westward to reach the East, as Enrique’s linguistic abilities confirmed.

A decade earlier, Enrique was taken as a slave by Magellan following the Portuguese invasion of Malacca in 1511. In 1512–13, the two traveled from Malacca to Lisbon, then six years later to Seville, where in September, 1519, Magellan’s Armada de Molucca departed in search of a westward route to Asia. The expedition crossed the Atlantic, explored the final stretch of the South American coast, located and traversed Magellan’s strait, and somehow survived an unplanned three-month Pacific ocean crossing that saw more than 20 men die from starvation and scurvy along the way.

The first habitable island Magellan chanced upon in all that time was Guam, where the fleet received an unpleasant welcome from the Chamorro and were in the end chased away by a swarm of flying proas, traditional Chamorro boats. With crew still sick and dying, the fleet limped to the Visayas (in the modern-day Philippines), where they finally found friendly greetings and safe harbor.

Ten days later as they approached Limasawa Island, the fleet was met by eight men in a baloto, a traditional boat, and when Enrique called out to them—presumably to everyone’s delight—they understood Enrique and answered back.

Below is the first-hand account of the meeting written by Antonio Pigafetta, the Italian scholar whose chronicle tells us most of what we know about the first circumnavigation.

Antonio Pigafetta:

Thursday, the 28th of March, having seen the night before fire upon an island, at the morning we came to anchor at this island; where we saw a small boat which they call Boloto, with eight men inside, which approached the ship of the captain-general. 

Then a slave of the captain's, who was from Sumatra, otherwise named Traprobana, spoke from afar to these people, who understood his talk, and came near to the side of the ship, but they withdrew immediately, and would not enter the ship from fear of us. So the captain seeing that they would not trust to us showed them a red cap, and other things, which he had tied and placed on a little plank, and the people in the boat took them immediately and joyously, and then returned to advise their king. 

Two hours afterwards, or thereabouts, we saw come two long boats, which they call Ballanghai, full of men. In the largest of them was their king sitting under an awning of mats; when they were near the ship of the captain-general, the said slave spoke to the king, who understood him well, because in these countries the kings know more languages than the common people. Then the king ordered some of his people to go to the captain's ship, whilst he would not move from his boat, which was near enough to us. This was done, and when his people returned to the boat, he went away at once.

The captain gave good entertainment to the men who came to his ship, and gave them all sorts of things, on which account the king wished to give the captain a rather large bar of solid gold, and a chest full of ginger. However, the captain thanked him very much but would not accept the present. After that, when it was late, we went with the ships near to the houses and abode of the king.

The next day which was Good Friday, the captain sent on shore the before-mentioned slave, who was our interpreter, to the king to beg him to give him for money some provisions for his ships, sending him word that he had not come to his country as an enemy, but as a friend. The king on hearing this came with seven or eight men in a boat, and entered the ship, and embraced the captain, and gave him three china dishes covered with leaves full of rice, and two dorades, which are rather large fish, and of the sort above-mentioned, and he gave him several other things. 

The captain gave this king a robe of red and yellow cloth, made in the Turkish fashion, and a very fine red cap, and to his people he gave to some of them knives, and to others mirrors. After that refreshments were served up to them. The captain told the king, through the said interpreter, that he wished to be with him, cassi cassi, that is to say, brothers. To which the king answered that he desired to be the same towards him. 

After that the captain showed him cloths of different colours, linen, coral, and much other merchandise, and all the artillery, of which he had some pieces fired before him, at which the king was much astonished; after that the captain had one of his soldiers armed with white armour, and placed him in the midst of three comrades, who struck him with swords and daggers. 

The king thought this very strange, and the captain told him, through the interpreter, that a man thus in white armour was worth a hundred of his men; he answered that it was true; he was further informed that there were in each ship two hundred like that man. 

After that the captain showed him a great number of swords, cuirasses, and helmets, and made two of the men play with their swords before the king; he then showed him the sea chart and the ship compass, and informed him how he had found the strait to come there, and of the time which he had spent in coming; also of the time he had been without seeing any land, at which the king was astonished. 

At the end the captain asked if he would be pleased that two of his people should go with him to the places where they lived, to see some of the things of his country. This the king granted, and I went with another.

Stanley translation.

(C) 2024 by Enrique's Voyage. All rights reserved.

For more on Enrique of Malacca:

Map of Enrique of Malacca's circumnavigation
Map of Enrique of Malacca's circumnavigation: Malacca, Lisbon, Seville,
Rio de Janeiro, Puerto San Julián, Guam, Limasawa, Cebu.[1]

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 own language was spoken. Enrique’s journey began a decade earlier following the sack of Malacca, when he was taken as a slave by 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. More about Enrique of Malacca.

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