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  • Writer's pictureBy Joseph Taitano

Spanish tall ship departs Guam

Photos by Jan Furukawa

The Juan Sebastián de Elcano departed from the waters of Guam with a sendoff from I Kumision Estoria-ta, which held a commemorative ceremony on Tuesday.

The Spanish tall ship has been docked on Guam since Feb. 26 as part of the Spanish government’s commemoration of the 500 year anniversary of Ferdinand Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe.

“There are always political agendas, and there are always academic disputes,” Dr. Robert Underwood, chair of I Kumision and celebrated orator, said in his rousing speech, “but this historical imagination enlivens us, makes us come alive as individuals and human beings … to look into each others eyes and see each other’s humanity and dignity.”

As chair of I Kumision, he led the project to determine an appropriate diplomatic response to the Elcano’s commemorative voyage. Despite the difficulties of parsing the complicated subject, and managing the response in a time of Covid-19, Underwood saw the interaction as an opportunity to take a long look into the past, in order that the island might gaze properly into the future.

Departing from its dock at Apra Harbor, the vessel made its way to the Port Authority in Piti, where government of Guam officials were waiting to greet her.

According to Captain Santiago de Colsa Trueba, who greeted the delegation from aboard the ship, the Elcano is the oldest and most historical sailing vessel currently operating in the Spanish fleet. It was an appropriate vessel to recreate the groundbreaking voyage, and in honor of the first contact between ancient Chamorus and Spaniards the flag of Guam was displayed atop the ship’s mast.

Strength was a big theme of the event, which was aimed at forging friendly international relationships, while still recognizing the island’s long and complicated colonial relationship with Spain. “500 years ago atrocities were committed, and some people remember that, and we should never really forget it,” Michael Lujan Bevacqua, chairman of the Independent Guahan Taskforce had to say, “but what does that bifurcated past mean, and if it prevents us from getting ahead, that’s a problem.”

And in a show of cultural pride, Leonard Iriarte led I Fanlalai’an oral history project, opening the ceremony with a traditional blessing that honored the Chamoru as the first peoples of the island.

Representing the island’s Catholic heritage, Archbishop Michael J. Byrnes led a prayer celebrating the navigational prowess of both Magellan and the Ancient Chamoru seamen, stressing spiritual unity between Spain and the island.

Photos by Joseph Taitano

A delegation from Spain was also present, which included Dr. Maria Saavedra Inaraja, Captain Carlos Mate San Roman, and Rear Admiral Santiago Barber Lopez, who took a moment to address the historical relationship between Spain and the Chamoru people, “We share our affection, wishing to strengthen the ties that unite our people to this day,” Lopez said, ending on a cry of “Biba Guahan!” and “Viva Españia!”

Cementing this forward-looking relationship was an exchange of gifts between the crew of the J.S. Elcano and Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero on behalf of the people of Guam. Captain San Roman of the Elcano presented the Gov. with a plaque emblazoned with a symbol of the Elcano and the latin words that the earth supposedly spoke to navigator Juan Sebastián Elcano when he arrived in Spain after Magellan’s death, “You were the first to sail around me.”

Gov. Leon Guerrero presented the captain with a Khulu horn, a recreation of the traditional shell adze used in canoe-building, and a model of the Flying Proa. As she gave this final gift over, she stated, in a moment of levity, “You can take it, and figure out how you can make your ships like this.”

The ceremony ended with a send off from the Elcano’s band, and another chant from I Fanlalai’an, this time more powerful and impactful than the graceful blessing they opened with. As the ship set sail, sailors waved from the deck and islanders from the shore. The Juan Sebastían de Elcano made one final and respectful pass by Humatak Bay, Magellan’s original landing site, as they set sail for Cebu, Philippines.

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