The Legend of Henry the Black

I'm no expert in the history of the Philippine-Spanish contact but I did some research on the controversial story of Enrique of Malacca, also known as

Editor's Note: This is a reprint of my article series "Historical Controversies" on my old blog site. In this blog, I will examine the historical veracity and factuality of the true identity of Henry the Black ("Enrique of Malacca"). Was he a Filipino and the first one to circumnavigate the world?

I'm no expert in the history of the Philippine-Spanish contact but I did some research on the controversial story of Enrique of Malacca, also known as Henry the Black. He was said to be Fernao do Magalhaes' translator during his voyage around the world and his subsequent arrival to the "Philippines." I would try to be as objective as possible because I know for the fact that nationalist sentiments can play games into my head. Indonesians and Malaysians claimed that Enrique was one of their own while we Filipinos, especially Cebuanos, also claim that he is one of our own.

Even Dr. Alejandro Roces believed that Enrique is a true-blue Cebuano. The fact is, we haven't found his remains and therefore we can't determine forensically his origin. Most important primary sources were based on witness accounts of the expedition, which are not reliable because most of them may have forgotten some of the details of their voyage, some of them may have exaggerated their claims and some may have kept their mouth shut and never told their harrowing experiences at all. We tend to believe we know who he was. In reality, there are no hard 'facts' that can support his origin, thus, his origin dies with him in the abyss of history. We may never know who Enrique really was but his life is definitely part of our history. This is the first installment of my take on historical controversies in Philippine history.

During my student days, I really wondered how the early Spanish explorers interact with the natives (I'm referring to the Pre-Spanish Filipinos) when they don't know our language. They may probably have used sign language to make a point but seriously, though I'm not an expert historical linguist, there are more concepts that natives don't understand. After all the visitors came from Europe with their complex culture while the natives, though have a rich culture, are somewhat primeval by European standards. Imagine these natives amazed by the "steel clothes", when actually its armor, and "thunder staff", when its an arquebus. How did they interact? It is noteworthy to think that the Spaniards may have employed men of extraordinary intelligence, priests, and missionaries. These men are fluent speakers of Latin and various European languages. But the natives were cut off from the rest of the world and so it's impossible for them to learn such words.

What is even more interesting is that the Spaniards have very little knowledge about geography and so they embarked on their voyage to a very largely unknown destination (even though they set their eyes on the Spice Islands). They still believe that going west will bring them to Asia and so they may have assembled a group of interpreters because they never know which kingdom they will probably reach first. The fact is that Christopher Columbus even bought a Moor, who knows Arabic and a little Chinese, because he thought he'll reach Japan but in reality, they stumbled upon a new continent. Based on this obvious historical fact, I would probably say Magellan would have employed the services of a polyglot, a man who speaks different languages.

Then Enrique comes into my mind and I'm not referring to the suave Enrique Iglesias but Magellan's 'translator.' When I studied six years in the public elementary school, four years of secondary education as an "Iskolar ng Bayan" and four years of intensive university education as a History student, I am still clueless about Enrique. No one seems bothered to know who he was and no one educated us about his real story. Who cares for this man who died 500 years ago? I do. I am Filipino and being a Filipino, you need to know your past. But the dilemma now becomes, Was Enrique a 'Filipino'?

Before anything else, let's journey back to the past and picture out how the islands may have looked like five centuries ago. The archipelago is composed of scattered chiefdoms ruled by powerful chieftains like Humabon and Lapulapu. There was an extensive trading network between these chiefdoms and with the rest of the region -- with the Malays, Chinese, Indians, Arabs, and some occasional Portuguese. The religion of the islands was mainly a mix of Animism, Islam and to a certain degree Buddhism. People may have a universal lingua franca of old Malay but I assumed that the language may have varied from island to island. But I do believe that a person from Cebu can understand what another person in Sumatra spoke in those times.

From that situation, it is possible to imagine that Enrique may have a grasp for such languages that is if he was born from a privileged class. If that's the case, then the popular European accounts of Enrique being a 'slave' of Magellan may have been false. It is known that Magellan trusted Enrique with his life, thus being like a son Magellan never had. But if Enrique were to became an inseparable part of Magellan's career, then surely he would have reached Spain with him. He may have been introduced to the Spanish monarch Carlos I.

Enrique, who was named after the Portuguese monarch/navigator Henrique, the Duque do Viseu (more popularly known as Prince Henry the Navigator), has a very intriguing origin and the possibilities can be viewed as these:

(a) as a slave
 - Enrique may have been sold as a slave from Sumatran traders and was later sold as a slave to Magellan when he was still on his tour of duty at the Portuguese enclave. This was based on the assumption that Enrique knew much about the Philippines.
 - Another version was that Enrique was sold as a slave in the Malaccan slave market. He was named Henrique after the feast day of St. Henry on July 13, 1511, just a few days before the forces of Alfonso d'Albuquerque laid siege on Malacca.
 - Eyewitness documents of Antonio Pigafetta, Ginés de Mafra, the Genoese Pilot, Antonio de Herrera, Juan Sebastian Elcano, and Bartolome de las Casas and secondary sources such as João de Barros, Francisco López de Gomara referred to him as a slave.

(b) as a Sumatran
 - Enrique may have been born in that region, which was obviously near Malacca where the Portuguese were based. It is based on the fact that he learned foreign languages and awareness about the European intentions in the region.
 - He was believed to be captured from Sumatra (then known as Zamatra) at the age of 12 to 18 in 1511 and became a slave when Magellan was in the Moluccas under Diego Lopez Sequiera when the Portuguese were colonizing parts of Malaysia and Indonesia.

(c) as a privileged one
 - Enrique may have been born from an aristocratic class because of the way he handled himself when he talked with the various chieftains in the Philippines (e.g. Humabon).
 - His baptism is attested to by Magellan himself in his will where he wrote Enrique is a Christian.

 (d) as a son of a Filipino expatriate community
 - Portuguese writer and trader Duarte Barbosa mentions a community of Filipino merchants, workers, and mercenaries at Malacca at the same time that Magellan acquired Enrique there.
 - So if Enrique was Muslim by birth then it was unlikely for him to be sold as a slave to a Christian. He must have been born to a non-Muslim family -- probably from the Philippine archipelago.

In my opinion, the first version may have been the most remote possibility because at that time there was not a massive slave trade in the region like the case of the African slave trade. Slaves in the pre-Hispanic Philippines have certain rights while Europeans regard slaves as properties. If Enrique was a property of Magellan then he can't obtain privileged information from him. He may have lived in a deplorable condition under Magellan or he may simply have died during the expedition. Do you think Magellan, as head of the expedition, will entrust his negotiations with the local chief with some slave? The second and third possibilities may have been likely.

The point is that Enrique appeared in Magellan's ship as written in the chronicles of historian Antonio Pigafetta. But various versions of the role Enrique played in the expedition were downplayed by various accounts because of the mere fact that he was a "mongrel." In a way, the point that Enrique was on Magellan's ship means he reached Spain because it is where the expedition started, Enrique did not appear from nowhere.

But one interesting controversy is present, the frequency of Enrique being mentioned in the chronicles and accounts became much noticeable when they reached the archipelago so does it mean that Enrique may have been a native in the Philippines and simply hitched a ride because Magellan needed a guide/translator? If Enrique did start the expedition, did he finished the expedition itself?

According to an unknown Genoese pilot who completed the circumnavigation with Juan Sebastian Elcano, they had no interpreter, and that Enrique had died along with Magellan in the Battle of Mactan. So if it's true, then Enrique did not complete the so-called circumnavigation of the world.

When they reached Mazaua, de Mafra wrote in his account that "He [Magellan] told his men that they were now in the land he had desired and sent a man named Heredia, who was the ship's clerk, ashore with an Indian they had taken, so they said, because he was known to speak Malay, the language spoken in the Malay Archipelago."

We all know the circumnavigation of the world was attributed to Magellan even though he was killed by Lapulapu in Mactan Island. It was Elcano and the 17 remaining survivors have returned safely to Spain. But what happened to Enrique?

Since he was inseparable from Magellan, I assumed that he may have died together with his master/patron/friend. Added to the fact that some of the crew including Pigafetta openly distrusted Enrique because of the way he mingled with the locals. So does it mean, the Spaniards may have killed Enrique? Well, that's a distinct possibility since Elcano was now the head of the expedition. Did Enrique remained in the Philippines and lived an uneventful life? Or did he returned to Sumatra (if he was indeed a Sumatran)? In fact, after Magellan's death, Enrique was legally free, but his manumission was opposed by Barbosa. Enrique then plotted with Rajah Humabon and was able to escape. As Pigafetta wrote in his account that survivor, João Serrão, who was pleading the crew to save him from the Cebuano tribes, said all who went to the banquet were poisoned, except Enrique.

Whatever is the believed notion that Enrique is the first world circumnavigator, it is as hazy as his origin itself.



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Istoryadista | History Blog | Cebu Blogger: The Legend of Henry the Black
The Legend of Henry the Black
I'm no expert in the history of the Philippine-Spanish contact but I did some research on the controversial story of Enrique of Malacca, also known as
Istoryadista | History Blog | Cebu Blogger
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