Author Topic: Getting our Philippine history right after 500 years – Part 20  (Read 10549 times)

Joe Carillo

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Getting our Philippine history right after 500 years – Part 20

As taken up in Part 19 last week, the evolution of the historical narrative of the First Mass in Masaua reached a crucial turning point when Blair and Robertson’s 55-volume The Philippine  Islands 1493-1898 was published in 1905 or early during the American colonial period. With hardly any supporting evidence, the book’s English translation of the long-lost Pigafetta manuscript of the Magellanic voyage chronicles (Vol. 33) appended the following tiny footnote giving imprimatur to the island of Limasawa as the true First Mass site:

“‘MS. 5,650, Mazaua;’ in Eden, ‘Messana;’ in Mosto, ‘Mazana,’ while in the chart it appears as ‘Mazzana;’ Transylvavus, ‘Massana;’ and Albo ‘Mazava.’ It is now called the island of Limasawa, and has an area of about ten and one-half square miles.”

Less than a year after the Blair and Robertson book’s publication, Dr. Trinidad H. Pardo de Tavera (1857-1925), in his capacity as member of the colonial-period Philippine Commission, gave great credence to that dubious declaration by publishing a stamp identifying Limasawa as the country’s First Mass site. Dr. Tavera himself wrote a booklet justifying the declaration and had it disseminated nationwide. Not long after, his conferment of certainty to what simply began as Dr. Robertson’s doubt about Masaua and his Limasawa fancy would make Blair and Robertson’s  book the standard reference in English for research on Philippine history and its teaching in the country’s schools.

Dr. Robertson’s acceptance of Dr. Tavera’s thoughts  and recommendations on the Magellanic expedition and the First Mass episode was so strong that in his preface to Volume 33 of the book, he incredibly made these imagined fancy details of Magellan’s sojourn in Mindanao contrary to the firsthand testimony of Antonio Pigafetta himself in the Blair and Robertson English translation:

“March 28, anchor is cast in the island of Limasawa, where Enrique, the Malaccan slave of Magalhaes, serves as interpreter. Amicable relations are speedily entered into and confirmed by the Malayan rite of blood brotherhood… After a seven days’ stay at Limasawa, the course is laid to Cebu under the pilotage of the king of Limasawa… Mazaua is doubtless the Limasaua of the present day off the south of Leyte…”

In his 2020 book  An Island They Called Mazaua,  Fr. Joesilo Amalla made this observation about these claims that contradicted Pigafetta’s eyewitness account: “Dr. Robertson gave neither proof nor cogent explanation for these exuberant assertions, so it is indeed incredible and shocking that the academic world accepted them with no reservations whatsoever.”

The primacy of Limasawa over Mazaua as the First Mass site got even stronger two years later when the Philippine colonial government, through the efforts of Dr. Pardo de Tavera, officially rejected the name “Mazaua” and asserted that the real name of Magellan’s port was “Limasawa.” From that time onwards, this unsupported Limasawa claim was adopted by most historians, politicians, teachers, and mass media outlets in the Philippines. It allowed the tiny Blair and Robertson footnote and Dr. Robertson’s preface favoring Limasawa to erode the facts of history and overrule the long-held Church tradition about where Christianity was born in the Philippines 500 years ago.

In 1908, the then Gov.Jayme de Vera of Leyte enthusiastically hailed the Philippine colonial government’s official rejection of Mazaua as First Mass site. He became a staunch supporter of the false notion that the First Mass indeed took place in the island that was located just a few miles from his island-province.   

Finally, with both national and local politics getting into the picture aggressively in the following 50 years, the Philippine Congress by a simple show of hands in 1960 enacted Republic Act No. 2733 declaring Limasawa as the true First Mass site.

We will sum up and conclude this chronological review next week.

(Next: Getting our Philippine history right after 500 years – Part 21)    August 19, 2021

This essay, 2,058th of the series, appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the Campus Press section of the August 12, 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 - 20”

To listen to the audio version of this article, click the encircled double triangle logo in its online posting in The Manila Times.


How Mazaua Evolved Into the Present-Day Limasawa as the First Mass Site


The voyage chronicler Antonio Pigafetta recorded in remarkably vivid detail the Magellanic fleet’s anchorage and celebration of the First Holy Mass on March 31, 1521 in the island of Mazaua in the Mindanao landmass, but he found it extremely difficult to get his manuscript of the Magellanic chronicles published in his lifetime and it eventually disappeared completely.

Shortly before the mid-1500s, the Italian geographer and travel writer Giovanni Battista Ramusio misread the very longwinded Pigafetta account for the Italian adaptation he was doing; his misreading translocated the First Mass site to nearby Butuan across a narrow channel from Mazaua and started what became known as the Butuan Tradition.

In London in the year 1560, Ramusio's garbled translation of the Mazaua First Mass episode was translated into English by the cosmologist and alchemist Richard Eden.

Forty years later in 1601, the Augustinian priest Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas, the official historian of Spain, faithfully translated the authentic Pigafetta account about the First Mass into Spanish, confirming that it was indeed officiated in Mazaua rather than in Butuan.

But early in the 16th century and five years apart from each other, the namesake Spanish Jesuit priests Francisco Colin, S.J. and Francisco Combes, S.J.—they had both done previous missionary work in Mindanao—made efforts in good faith to reconcile the conflicting First Mass sites in the Pigafetta chronicles and Ramusio's translation by inventing the placenames “Dimasawa” and “Limassava” for the island where they thought the First Mass must have been really officiated, then independently documented their pure guesswork in the books they wrote about their respective missionary work in the Philippines.

In the year 1797, the Augustinan priest Carlo Amoretti as conservator of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan discovered purely by accident Pigafetta's long-lost manuscript of the Magellanic voyage chronicles; Amoretti took it upon himself to heavily revise Pigafetta’s manuscript for his own Italian edition and later his own French edition, in the process detecting and correcting the 276-year-old false narrative started by Ramusio. However, Amoretti, committed an even more flagrant and deliberate blunder by appending two footnotes in his edition of the Pigafetta manuscript equating Magellan’s Mazaua with the “Limassava” island that was invented by Fr. Combes in 1664. Amoretti did so just because he thought Mazaua must be the “Limassava” he saw on a Philippine map by the French cartographer Jacques N. Bellin that was copied from a new chart of the Philippines drawn in 1734 by the Spanish Jesuit cartographer Fr. Pedro Murillo Velarde, S.J.

In the year 1905 or another century later, Blair and Robertson appended to their 55-volume The Philippine  Islands 1493-1898 a tiny footnote to their edition of the Pigafetta manuscript equating Masaua with “Limassava” with hardly any documented proof, thus giving undeserved imprimatur to Limasawa against Mazaua as the First Mass site.

In 2020, on the eve of the 500th anniversary of the birth of the Philippines as a Christian nation, the Butuan City-based Roman Catholic priest Joesilo Amalla attempted to rectify these long-running travesties of Philippine history by publishing An Island They Called Mazaua, a book that he hopes would “end the pernicious Limasawa Theory and finally enshrine Masaua to its rightful place in the annuals of the Church and of Philippine history.”


In the evolution or defense of Masaua against Limasawa as the First Mass site, here are the principal chroniclers, history writers, translators, anthologists, advocates, revisionists, or adjudicators of the landmark historical narrative in the 500 years that followed the sojourn and death of the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in the Philippine archipelago in the year 1521. Above photos from left to right:

Antonio Pigafetta (c.1480-1491 - c.1531), the Venetian scholar and explorer who chronicled Ferdinand Magellan's voyage and circumnavigation of the globe from 1519 -1522;

Giovanni Battista Ramusio (1485-1557), the Italian geographer and history writer who started the Butuan Tradition when he inadvertently misread the Pigafetta chronicles, missing out the mention of Mazaua at the tail end of the longwinded First Mass narrative and wrongly replacing it with "the island of Butuan" in his Italian adaptation of the narrative;

The Spanish Jesuit priests Fr. Francisco Colin (1592-1660) and Francisco Combes (1620–1665), both S.J. (no available photos anywhere), who in good faith individually imagined the islands of "Dimasaua" and "Limasawa," respectively, to try to resolve the conflict between Ramusio's Butuan and Pigafetta's Mazaua as the First Mass site;

The Augustinian priest Dr. Carlo Amoretti (1741-1816), finder of the long-lost Pigafetta manuscript who also translated and edited it, then guessed in two infamous footnotes to his transation that based on its latitude, Mazaua might be the “Limassava” in a Philippine map by French cartographer Jacques Bellinwho who had simply copied it from  a 1734 map drawn by the Spanish cartographer and Jesuit prest Pedro Murillo Velarde,S.J. 

The American academic historian and librarian Dr. James Alexander Robertson (1873-1939), whose work in translating and annotating Philippine history with the American translator Emma Helen Blair (1851-1911) that in a tiny footnote, with hardly any supporting evidence, catapulted the island of Limasaua over Mazaua as the First Mass site;

The Spanish Jesuit priest Fr. Pablo Pastells (1846-1932), who annotated and republished in the late 1800s both the Colin and Combes memoirs as missionaries in the Philippines, first gravitating to Mazaua but later becoming a strong proponent of Limasawa against Mazaua as the First Mass site;

Dr. Trinidad Pardo de Tavera (1857-1925), a Filipino physician, historian, and politician of Spanish and Portuguese descent who as a member of the Philippine Assembly early in the American colonial period passionately advocated and shepherded Limasawa's replacement of Mazaua as the first Mass site; and

Fr. Joesilo Amalla of the present day, a Butuan City-based Roman Catholic priest and historian who recently published a book (2020) seeking to end what he calls the Limasawa hoax so Mazaua can get back its rightful place in Philippine national and ecclesiastical history.

« Last Edit: August 13, 2021, 06:50:20 AM by Joe Carillo »