Enrique of Malacca's Voyage: Profiles

Faces of Enrique of Malacca
Faces of Enrique of Malacca.

Enrique of Malacca, First Circumnavigator

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's. 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.

Ferdinand Magellan, Explorer-Conqueror

Schoolchildren around the world are taught the name Ferdinand Magellan—“the first person to circumnavigate the globe”—many in grade school and again high school. But few people know Magellan's story, that he was killed in the Philippines halfway through that circumnavigation, and moreover, that he still came within 2,600 kilometers of fully circling the earth.

Only one of the five ships that departed Seville in August 1519 returned to the Spanish city in September 1522, and with only 18 of the (roughly) 260 original crew. Magellan was killed halfway, in April 1521 on the island of Mactan (modern-day Philippines).

A decade earlier, though, Magellan traveled halfway around the globe in the other direction, around the southern tip of Africa to Eastern Africa and India. Magellan was serving the Portuguese king, not as a sailor so much as a minor nobleman (fidalgo) and soldier of fortune. Read more. (Three parts.)

Antonio Pigafetta, Magellan-Elcano Chronicler

Antonio Pigafetta went far beyond chronicling the progress of Magellan’s fleet; his passion for learning about cultures and languages made him an early anthropologist of sorts.

Pigafetta’s journal is the source of most our knowledge of the Magellan-Elcano expedition, as well as the discovery of the Strait of Magellan, that first crossing of the Pacific Ocean, and the “discovery” of the Philippines.

What’s more, Pigafetta’s richly detailed diary stands out among travelogues and chronicles of explorers in several ways. Pigafetta went beyond recording the journey’s progress. He was somewhat of an early anthropologist, diligently studying the cultures, lifestyles, and languages of the peoples Ferdinand Magellan’s fleet encountered, including the Tupi in Brazil, the Patagonians in South America, the Chomorros in Guam, and peoples in the modern-day Philippines. Read more.

Duarte Barbosa, Magellan Ally

A relation of Ferdinand Magellan’s by marriage, Duarte Barbosa was a key ally on the voyage, yet also a source of trouble more than once. He may also have been among the experienced travelers in the crew, possibly meeting Magellan in India around 1512.

It’s not certain when Barbosa came to know Magellan. The two may have met in India, possibly in Cochin in 1512–13 during Magellan’s return voyage to Lisbon. By 1518 they were together in Seville, where Barbosa’s father, Diogo Barbosa, had settled and become a distinguished Portuguese expatriate. Magellan married Diogo’s daughter Beatriz Barbosa Caldera in 1517, shortly after arriving in the city. Read more.

Juan Serrano, Magellan’s Top Captain

Of the ships’ captains, Juan Rodríguez Serrano was the most valuable to Ferdinand Magellan. Serrano was the only original captain who remained loyal during the mutiny at Puerto San Julián, and his skills as a mariner helped save lives and navigate the strait.

It’s uncertain whether Serrano was Spanish or Portuguese. Some historians believe he was João Rodrigues Serrão, brother of Francisco Serrão, Magellan’s close friend who reached the Spice Islands from Malacca a decade earlier. If so, he may have been a friend in India of Duarte Barbosa’s, Magellan’s relation by marriage, who like Magellan relocated from Portugal to Seville before embarking on the Armada de Molucca.

Whatever his origin, Serrano had sailed aboard Spanish ships since his youth and had crossed the Atlantic twice before, to the coast of Brazil in 1499–1500 and to Darién in 1514. A royal pilot, Serrano joined Magellan’s fleet as captain and pilot of the Santiago, the smallest of the five ships. Sailing with him were his stepson, Francisco, and a black slave named Juan. Read more.

Diogo Ribeiro, 'Renaissance' Cartographer

Diogo Ribeiro was a Renaissance cartographer, a mapmaker who did it all. In addition to creating several of the most extensive world maps of the early sixteenth century, Ribeiro sailed with Portugal's first expeditions to India and beyond, and he was an inventor and maker of navigation instruments. With this background he defected to Castile where he became a key player in the planning for Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition, and he later served as an adviser in negotiations over whether the Spice Islands lay in Spanish or Portuguese territory—backing the Spanish case with some grand cartographical deception. Read more.

Charles V, Magellan Backer

Ferdinand Magellan’s Armada de Molucca was financed by Carlos I (1500–1558), the newly crowned king of a unified Castile and Aragon. Carlos was an eighteen-year-old Habsburg from Flanders who barely spoke Spanish. Between the time he agreed to back Magellan's expedition and its departure, he became Charles V, Holy Roman emperor, and archduke of Austria.

The extent of Charles V’s dominions by the time of his death ranks among the largest in history. The Habsburg monarch became Holy Roman emperor (modern-day Germany), archduke of Austria, king of Spain (Castile and Aragon), “lord” of the Netherlands, duke of Burgundy, and sovereign of territories in Italy, Naples, Sicily, and Sadrinia. Charles also became sovereign over the new Spanish territories in the Americas—the first empire over which the sun never set. Read more.

Joãozito Lopes Carvalho, 1st Brazilian to Cross Pacific

Ferdinand Magellan’s historic journey swept up several unlikely travelers along the way, among them a seven-year-old boy at Guanabara Bay (Rio de Janeiro). Half-Portuguese, half-Tupi Indian, he is remembered in history as Joãozito Lopes Carvalho. The young boy became the first native of Brazil and likely all of South America to cross the Pacific Ocean—on a year-and-a-half journey that for him ended at Brunei five hundred years ago this summer.

Joãozito was the son of João de Lopes Carvalho and a Tupi Indian woman in what is now Brazil. A Portuguese pilot, João Carvalho had traveled to Guanabara Bay in 1512 on the Bertoa, a commercial vessel sent to pick up dyewood there. A decade earlier a Portuguese fleet had landed at Guanabara Bay and claimed the area for Portugal, naming it Rio de Janeiro for the month they arrived, January 1502. Read more. (Three parts.)

Juan de Cartagena, Magellan Mutineer

Juan de Cartagena, a native of Burgos, was the original captain of the San Antonio and one of the human obstacles Ferdinand Magellan had to overcome on the expedition. History labels Magellan and Columbus and other ship captains as “explorers” and “navigators.” Cartagena is identified as “an accountant and a ship captain,” not quite the swashbuckling image that inspires fifth graders in history class.

The accountant note was important, though—Cartagena was sent to watch Magellan and possibly depose him as captain-general along the journey.

When Spain’s newly crowned King Carlos I (Charles V) agreed to back Magellan’s expedition, several Castilian officials at Valladolid set out to undermine the project. They did not want a Portuguese fleet commander for such an expedition. (Carlos was an 18-year-old from Flanders working partially with Flemish advisers.) Read more.

Paulo, the Patagonian Giant

As they sailed off the map’s end, beyond the point where the last explorers charting South America's coast were killed and eaten by cannibals, Ferdinand Magellan’s crew came across a naked giant dancing and singing along the shore.

The Roman author and naturalist Pliny the Elder wrote of exotic creatures and strange humans that writers of medieval travelogues repeated, embellished, and added to. A people with a single eye in the middle of their forehead, humans with their feet turned backward, and men with dogs’ heads.

When Magellan's fleet came across the Tehuelches, an indigenous people in Patagonia, their imaginations took over. Read more. (Two parts.)


(C) 2023, by Enrique of Malacca's Voyage.