Who Was Enrique of Malacca?

Enrique of Malacca's Circumnavigation
Enrique of Malacca's Circumnavigation.

Enrique of Malacca was the first person to circumnavigate the globe linguistically—he traveled so far in one direction (west) that he came to a land where he could speak to local leaders and at least one foreign merchant, likely using Malay, the language used in regional trade. Enrique may have also circumnavigated the globe completely, a full circle of the earth beginning and ending in Malacca or somewhere in the modern-day Philippines. 

Enrique departed Malacca on the Malay Peninsula in 1512 or 1513, a slave of Ferdinand Magellan's, who participated in the 1511 Portuguese invasion of the area trade hub. They went first to Portugal and later Spain. Enrique may also have accompanied Magellan to Morocco, where Magellan was wounded while fighting with the Portuguese as a cavalry soldier, an episode showing his sea legs did not translate to horseback.

In September 1519, Enrique set off with Ferdinand Magellan’s Armada de Molucca from Seville to search for a strait that would lead the fleet to the Moluccas, or Spice Islands. On October 1520, the fleet discovered the entrance to what became known as the Strait of Magellan.

Enrique survived that deadly first crossing of the Pacific Ocean (which Magellan named along the way) between November 1520 and March 1521; some 30 crew and one Patagonian "giant" died from starvation and scurvy.

On March 28, 1521, Enrique of Malacca reached Limasawa Island (Philippines) with the fleet. There, he was able to converse with people, probably speaking Malay, the language used in regional trade. 

Enrique fought beside Magellan at the Battle of Mactan, where Magellan was killed. Enrique disappeared from history days after the Battle of Mactan. He was last seen at Cebu, before the massacre there.

Over nearly ten years, Enrique of Malacca had traveled westward around both Africa and South America to within 2,600 kilometers of his starting point, Malacca, in modern-day Malaysia. Ferdinand Magellan traveled that same distance alongside him. The events Enrique and Magellan's fleet witnessed along the way changed the world.

(C) 2023 by John Sailors. All rights reserved.

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People interested in Enrique of Malacca FAQs may also be interested in our profiles.

Enrique's Voyage Profiles

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. Read more.

Holy Roman Emperor Charles V Backs Magellan's Armada

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.   Read More.

Magellan's Real Circumnavigation, Enrique of Malacca Taken as Slave (Magellan, Part 1)

Schoolchildren around the world are taught the name Ferdinand Magellan[1]—“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. Read more.

For Ferdinand Magellan, life moved swiftly from tropical amphibious combat in Southeast Asia to land war on horseback in North Africa. Magellan returned to Lisbon in 1512 or 1513, bringing with him Enrique, the slave he claimed at Malacca. Unfortunately, the Malay teenager was about all the fortune Magellan collected in seven years’ service in India. Magellan invested the riches he collected in a trade deal that went sour, a slap in the face he learned of on return to Lisbon … Read more.

Spain's King Charles named Magellan captain-general of the Armada de Molucca, but from the start he had to enforce his authority with an iron hand. In Asia a decade earlier Magellan had been more soldier than sailor. Now as commander of a naval fleet, Magellan relied on his military fleet background to maintain control of his own armada. Read more.

Juan de Cartagena Leads Mutiny Against Magellan

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” [1], not quite the swashbuckling image that inspires fifth graders in history class.   Read more.

Photo: Øyvind Holmstad.

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Learn more about Enrique at EnriqueOfMalacca.com.

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