Bookshelf: Magellan’s travelogue and remorseful thoughts about Guam
Updated: Mar 14, 2022
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
“I think I left too early five hundred years ago and under circumstances that hardly made it possible for me to tell my story. After five centuries I feel compelled now to at least try to tell it as it was. Some of you would be eager to hear the real story, I know. But many of you may ask ‘why, what for? So, allow me to brag a bit to get your interest.’”
These opening lines are bound to hook the reader.
“The Untold Magellan Story” by Filipino author Charles Avila is a creative interpretation of history that recounts Ferdinand Magellan's circumnavigation.
Avila retells Magellan’s voyage through first-person narration, internalizing the Portuguese navigator’s thought process and introspection. He employs a casual voice that humanizes history, which makes acquaintance with Magellan a personal experience rather than a laborious academic chore.
“The Untold Magellan Story” is written in the form of a memoir, recounting the beginning of his journey in 1519 in quest of the valuable spices in the Moluccas, until his tragic end in the land he had claimed in the name of Spain in 1521. It was to be known as the “Philippines.”
Magellan’s fictional voice utters the rhetoric of self-flagellation and self-justification to assuage Guam’s lingering resentment for being called “Isla de Ladrones.”
“How can I ever forgive myself for so disproportionately reacting to the ‘robbery,’ and renaming their place for all history to know as the Ladrones Islands – or the abode of thieves, when I myself was leading an imperial fleet with the clear mission of grabbing the lands and waters of the earth for the King of Spain?"
“I think they had no word for property either and neither did they have a word for war. I apologize for taking exaggerated offense and getting so uncontrollably mad over their ‘theft or ‘robbery’ of my favorite boat, which on hindsight can now believe they just wanted to borrow and test. You see, thinking about it now, I realize that they were quite undeveloped in their notion of ownership and in their level of technology.”
Avila rendered imaginative speculation on what the Portuguese navigator might have resolved to do. “We were getting out of Guam fast – that is what we wanted to do. Now I told myself that we must avoid conflict with natives anywhere, at all costs. We had very little energy left for conflict."
The real history, of course, tells us what came about. Magellan was slain by the troops of Rajah Lapu Lapu in the battle of Mactan. He was decapitated in accordance with the martial custom of the natives.
From the pit of his fatal defeat, Magellan watched the gratification of his triumphant foe. “Lapu-Lapu would not give away my mortal remains for all the riches in the world. For in his view, my body as it was, confirmed him as undisputed lord and master.”
Avila was educated in the Society of the Divine Word in the Philippines. But instead of pursuing orders, he joined the Federation of Free Farmers which he helped transform into the largest peasant movement in the country before martial law.
The “Untold Magellan Story,” which was published in March of 2021, marked the quincentennial of the circumnavigation of the world and the introduction of Christianity to this part of the world. The book is available at Barnes and Noble.