Author Topic: Getting our Philippine history right after 500 years – Part 17  (Read 10805 times)

Joe Carillo

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Getting our Philippine history right after 500 years – Part 17

Owing to a misreading of Antonio Pigafetta’s chronicles of the Magellanic sojourn in Mindanao in 1521, this seriously garbled narrative became predominant in Europe for almost 300 years—that the Spanish Expedition led by Ferdinand Magellan was forced by bad weather to drop anchor “in the island of Butuan” and decided to hold a Holy Mass on its shore on March 31 that year.

An Italian geographer’s misreading of Antonio Pigafetta’s eyewitness account of the seven-day Magellanic sojourn
in Mazaua in 1521 set off a string of garbled and misleading historical narratives about the First Holy Mass held
in that island that has been hounding our country for over 500 years without letup until today.

This garbling of Pigafetta’s narrative of the First Mass in Mazaua was committed by Giovanni Battista Ramusio in his Italian translation (1536), and it also showed up in Peter Martyr d’Anghiera’s Latin anthology (1523). Later, it appeared in the English translation of Richard Eden in London (1555) and in even more garbled form in the English translation of Samuel Purchas in Glasgow (1625).

Recall that in 1522, the Roman Emperor King Charles V of Spain gave Pigafetta’s Magellanic voyage manuscript a devastatingly indifferent reception. This was largely because of accusations leveled by the surviving Spanish fleet mutineers against Magellan’s leadership and his alleged disloyalty to the Spanish Crown, which were further aggravated by his getting killed ingloriously in the Battle of Mactan by Lapulapu’s warriors.

Thus, even if Pigafetta obtained a 20-year copyright in Venice for his First Voyage Around the World manuscript, he found it extremely difficult to get a publisher. Ultimately the manuscript never got published until he died in 1531, and it thereafter disappeared without a trace.

Even as several translations and adaptations of Pigafetta’s chronicles got published and even became best-sellers in European cities, the only indication that an authentic narrative of his did exist came in 1601 when Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas, Spain’s colonial historian, affirmed that based on his Spanish translation of Pigafetta’s manuscript, the Magellanic fleet indeed had anchored for the First Mass in Mazaua and not in Butuan.

Still, not a single publisher of those inaccurate editions of the Pigafetta chronicles were alerted or took heed of the inaccuracies they contained. Only two Spanish Jesuit priests who had previously done missionary work in the Philippines, Fr. Francisco Colin, S.J., and Fr. Francisco Combes, S.J., appear to have bothered in the early 1600s to take action about those errors.

Having read both Pigafetta’s account and Ramusio’s, Fr. Colin tried in 1663 to reconcile the variance between the two. However, he was seriously bothered by a linguistic quirk in Ramusio’s choice of “Messana” as First Mass site, for the name consisted of the Spanish word “missa” for “mass” and the Bisaya word “na” for “already.” To eliminate the inconsistency, Fr. Colin resorted to inventing the word “Dimasaua”—meaning “not” Mazaua—for the supposed stopover first Mass island off Leyte.

Five years later, Fr. Combes had no such problem because what reached him was Samuel Purchas’ even more garbled English translation of Ramusio that made no reference at all to an Easter Mass in Butuan. It was therefore needless to use the name “Dimasaua” with the prefix “Di-“ as Fr. Colin had done. Thus, without citing any source or attribution, Fr. Combes just came up with the unnegated name “Limasaua” for the stopover First Mass island, then concocted his own account of Magellan’s entry into Philippine waters by the southern route through Siargao Strait.

The independent brainstorms of Fr. Colin and Fr. Combes over Ramusio’s garbled claims about the First Mass site would have far-reaching historic consequences. For in 1797 or 277 years later, the Augustinian priest Dr. Carlo Amoretti—working as conservator* of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan—serendipitously found the long-lost unpublished Pigafetta manuscript among a massive stockpile of printed materials acquired by the library over the previous 180 years.

This totally unexpected discovery set off a massive, even more wide-ranging historical controversy about the First Mass that still hounds the world and the Philippines in particular until today.
*One responsible for the care, restoration, and repair of archival or museum articles.

(Next: Getting our Philippine history right after 500 years – Part 18)    July 29,2021             

This essay, 2,055th of the series, appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the Campus Press section of the July 22, 2021 Internet edition of The Manila Times,© 2021 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved. 

Read this article online in The Manila Times:
“Getting our Philippine history right after 500 years - 17”

To listen to the audio version of this article, click the encircled double triangle logo in its online posting in The Manila Times.
« Last Edit: July 23, 2021, 06:36:06 AM by Joe Carillo »