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Enrique, the slave who won the race to Magallanes and Elcano


He survived the fury of the waves under the storm, resisted the onslaught of epidemics, famines and riots aboard a ship and defeated death as it passed through inhospitable lands,

He survived the fury of the waves under the storm, resisted the onslaught of epidemics, famines and riots aboard a ship and defeated death as he passed through inhospitable lands, but at the end of his days he was swallowed by history. Little is known today about the slave Fernando de Magallanes captured in 1511 during a Portuguese expedition through the Indian Ocean to the "islands of specimens." In the notebooks of the chronicler of the fleet, Antonio Pigafetta, he is mentioned as Enrique de Malaca, coastal city of Malaysia (point 1 in the graph) and one of the most important ports in Southeast Asia. Freedom was taken away from him, it is not known whether at swordpoint or by transaction with local merchants. Some historians suggest that it could be a Filipino prince, victim of a betrayal to definitively banish his ambitions to the throne. Noble or commoner, he did not have time to say goodbye to his family. When he got on the ship, the crew threw him no more than 15 years. Everyone called him Enrique El Negro, although his real name will never be known.

Magellan returned from Malacca with a fortune that did not last long or exempted him from the contempt of King Manuel I of Portugal when, in 1516, he tried to raise funds for a new expedition to the Americas. Accused of trading illegally with the Moors during the battle of Azamor, he tried his fortune at the behest of the Spanish Crown, just as Columbus had done. Although the House of Recruitment initially rejected his project, he finally managed to meet privately with Carlos I, whom he convinced to use a small cartographic trick in favor of Spain's interests. According to the distribution of the world that had been agreed in the Treaty of Tordesillas, the new lands that were discovered to the west would be Spanish. Magellan was convinced that Las Molucas were within that area, since they could also be reached by traveling along the western route. His plan was round, although he was mistaken for very little: the desired spices really belonged to Portugal. Luckily for him, not even the most precise spherical astrolabe could have restrained the enthusiasm of the monarch, who put at his disposal a fleet of five ships: the Trinity, the San Antonio, the Conception, the Victory and the Santiago.

In the absence of a terrestrial logbook, there is no record of Enrique de Malaca's life in those days. Most likely, he stayed with his master, who settled for several months in Seville, invited to the house of his friend Diego Barbosa, while setting up the ships and recruiting the crew. Intransitable from cultures, races, smells and merchandise, the port of Arenal was frequented by Portuguese spies trying to conspire against the Spanish Crown in a race without truce towards the last horizon. While carrying 500 tons of provisions for the 250 men who enlisted in the Magellan expedition, the slave became familiar with the names of exotic products for him (lentils, quince, vinegar, salted pork ...) and he marveled at the objects reserved for bartering with the natives: mirrors, scissors, handkerchiefs, pearls ... He knew the guns and mortars, the armor and shotguns. Already on his first trip to the Cape of Good Hope he had looked closely at the edge of the spears and breathed the acrid smoke from gunpowder. But this time he would take the road back, only in the opposite direction.


After two years of preparations, on August 10, 1519, the five ships announced their departure from the Mulas dock in Triana. The newly appointed admiral Magellan was not on board, nor was his captains or probably his slave. In the following days, the explorer and navigator dedicated himself to solve the bureaucratic obstacles imposed by the House of Contract while the boats slowly descended through the Guadalquivir to the port of Sanlucar de Barrameda, which overlooked the open sea. In an excess of prudence, Magellan made a will in Seville on the 24th of that same month. In it he named his son Rodrigo heir (fruit of his relationship with Beatriz, Barbosa's daughter) and how many offspring would result from his wife's new pregnancy.

On pages 6 and 7 of the brief, Magellan agreed to grant freedom to his slave, to whom he also granted 10,000 maravedíes of his estate: «By this letter of this saying my will, support [savings, give freedom] and give free and for I remove from all load of captivity, subjection and servitude to Enrique ».

The existence of the slave is safe. Its name appears in the will and in the inscription of navigators of the House of the Hiring. There are also references to him in The first trip around the globe of the journalist and anthropologist Pigafetta, as well as in the newspapers and subsequent letters of Juan Sebastián Elcano, Ginés de Mafra and other witnesses.

Image of also called Enrique 'El Negro'.

With all of them he sailed from Spanish lands on September 20, 1519 in search of the passage that connected the "Castilian seas" with the East Indies. Columbus had failed in his attempt to cross the New World and reach Las Molucas by sunset, but Magellan was sure of the existence of another ocean in the west of the specimens that "emptied" the waters of the Atlantic. With the hope intact, they sailed to Cape Verde and from there to the coasts of Sierra Leone, from where they set bows towards Verzino (Brazil). There the Marines had to fight strong storms and thunderstorms, during which they thought they saw the Fire of San Telmo. After leaving behind the "false passage" of the Río de la Plata, on February 6, 1520 Magallanes and his men settled in the bay of San Julián. It was the first time that a European ship arrived so far south. After months, the southern winter of Patagonia unleashed the first rebellion: with the exception of the captain of the San Antonio nao, the rest mutinied against Magellan.

In the historical novel The Shape of the World, published by Bolchiro on the occasion of the V Centenary the First Tour of the World, the writer Tato Cabal recreates the days of Enrique de Malaca as part of the Fleet of Specification. The book includes several conversations between the admiral and his slave. "And you, Enrique, what do you say about the three naos?" Magellan snapped during a conclave to stop the sedition.

"Mr. Captain General, what does the opinion of a slave matter?" Replies Enrique. "All I know is that if they gave me three spears and a man of war came to fight me with only one, before he was on his shot he would have given me up." The plot failed, Magellan ordered the insurgents to be dismembered as exemplary punishment, but he forgave the life of Elcano, who had also joined the rebellion. By the end of the year, the expedition had already found a way out of the strait (which thereafter would receive the name of its discovery) and set sail for the Mariana Islands through the waters of the Pacific.

In the Philippines, the crew could not help fantasizing about the gold with which the Indians adorned their bodies. When approaching the Island of Mazzaua, a small indigenous boat approached the Spanish ships. Then something unexpected happened, which Pigafetta picked up in his notebook: «The slave [...] came out to speak to them in the language of his country, and although they understood him and came to be located some distance from our ship, they did not want to go up on board [...]".

That Enrique could communicate with those paraos in the Malay dialect could only mean one thing: that after 10 years he had returned to a place very close to that of his origin, which remains uncertain. Malaysian novelist Harun Aminurashid places him on the Malacca peninsula and calls him Panglima Awang in his books. Although Elcano would end up going around the first documented world (and in a single trip), then the slave and his master took several thousand kilometers of advantage. Fernando de Magallanes would die several weeks later after falling into an ambush organized by the natives of the Silapulapu chief on a nearby island. Although the admiral was the only one wearing full armor, a poison arrow pierced his leg during the battle of Mactan.


In his will, the Portuguese navigator asked to be buried in sacred ground, but there was no time to pick up his body from the beach nor did the new commander at the head of the expedition, Duarte Barbosa, arrange for Enrique's promised manumission, which could well to have unleashed the desire for revenge of the Filipino.

A few days later, the indigenous king Humabón de Cebu invited the 27 surviving officers to a banquet, who were killed for treason. According to official historiography, Enrique would have conspired with the Cebuano leader to end the life of his Spanish captors, who did not respect his master's last will.

It is unknown if the slave resisted subsequent clashes with the lifeless troops of the expedition. According to the magallanistas , he managed to escape the massacre and reunite with his family in Malacca or Sumatra, thus completing the few earth degrees that he had left to circumnavigate the world and thus get ahead of the great heroic deed of Juan Sebastián Elcano, who arrived at the port from Sanlucar de Barrameda on September 6, 1522 in Victoria.

Malaysian novelist Harun Aminurashid places him on the Malacca peninsula and calls him 'Panglima Awang' in his books.

The feat of slave Enrique was ignored by history. He barely recorded his unusual passage through the world, which did not deserve tributes or tributes. Three years ago, Malaysian artist Ahmad Fuad Osman followed the slave trail at the Singapore Biennale with a traveling exhibition (which landed a few weeks ago at the emirate of Sharjah) that brings together old maps, ship models and even a fictional portrait of the apocryphal navigator. Also in the Maritime Museum Museum of Malacca you can visit a bronze statue that bears his name, but his face could be that of anyone.

According to the criteria of The Trust Project

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Source: elmuldo

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