COTANGENT – By Daphne Cardillo
For several days in September this year, a drama about Andres de Urdaneta, the Augustinian friar who discovered a route across the Pacific for the Spanish galleons travelling from the Philippines to Mexico, was aired at the radio program Radyo Balintataw over station dzRH. It was about this time that announcements were made of the first International Dia del Galeon Festival to be spearheaded by the Philippines under UNESCO, which declared October 8, 2010 as Galleon Day in commemoration of the journey of the galleons and their impact on world trade and cross-cultural exchange.
By the first week of October, updates were made on the celebration of Dia del Galeon by that radio program host Cecile Guidote-Alvarez who also turned out to be the festival’s director general. What was highlighted the most was the arrival of Galeon Andalucia, a replica of a 17th century Spanish galleon which left Sevilla in Spain last March, sailing eastward and making several stopovers in places that have historical links with the Spanish Crown for many centuries in the past.
On its Philippine leg of a twelve-month journey, Galeon Andalucia was scheduled to dock in Manila, Cebu, and I heard Capul in Samar. Capul was named after Acapulco and that island on the northwestern tip of Samar was sometimes moored by the Manila-Acapulco galleons that sailed annually from 1565-1815 during the galleon trade. After learning this little bit of information, I am now beginning to understand why Capul has such a strange language. Foreigners must have settled there.
But Galeon Andalucia did not go to Capul but visited Bohol where the blood compact between Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and Sikatuna was made, and then unexpectedly, Leyte. I supposed that the Spanish sailors had an interest in seeing Limasawa, an islet south of Leyte where the Spaniards were believed to have celebrated the first Christian mass in the Philippines. So luckily for the Leyteños, Galeon Andalucia docked at the Maasin pier and was open for public viewing for five days early in November. It made a few hours stopover at Limasawa before finally leaving the country.
My first sight of Galeon Andalucia was on the evening of November 2, 2010. It was All Soul’s Day and after visiting the graves in my hometown in Sogod, I had to head straight for Maasin to catch up a cousin and arrived there in the evening. That was when I learned of the galleon’s presence but it was already closed for public viewing. So I saw the ship only from afar and it was a ghostly sight with its lamplights and the faint lighting of the pier. It was like an apparition on the sea – the ancient form and structure.
The following evening I had a closer look at the ship, looking high up to the masts and the numerous ropes in the night shadows. It was only on midday of November 4 when I had a full view of the galleon, and teary eyed while gazing at its beautiful and haunting image. I said to myself “It’s small!” and “They were so daring!” for I wouldn’t ride on that ship across the Pacific or even just cruise at the edges of the Asian continent. Maybe sail from Leyte to Cebu, yes. All the while I was thinking that the original galleons were bigger in size.
But Galeon Andalucia is a replica in size and form of the Spanish galleon as relayed to me by one of its sailors. It’s a pretty replica indeed with its highly polished wooden panels. About 51 meters long and 10 meters wide with 6 decks, entering the galleon was like going inside a house of wood and more wood all over. The rope ties and knots are also replicas along with the wooden discs that look like buttons wherein ropes are secured in their holes. Our early men had ingeniously made use of the pulley to manipulate the ropes attached to the masts, the sails, the anchors, and everywhere.
The galleon evolved from the carrack, a beamy merchant ship of the earlier centuries. It was purposely built for war and transport but became very useful for trade and commerce. Of the 110 Spanish galleons, only 8 were built in Mexico while 102 were made in the Philippines. Rightly called the Manila galleons, the Spanish galleons were European only in design and technology, and were made of Philippine hardwood, Manila hemp (abaca) for the ropes, Ilocos cloth for the sails, and built by Filipino natives under the polo system or forced labor.
Seeing the Galeon Andalucia was a journey back in time – studying on the rudimentary features of that wooden vessel, contemplating on the craftsmanship of the Filipino natives, wondering at how the 16th-18th century sailors managed to brave the high seas in the Pacific, and marveling at the plain adventurousness of man. I was musing that the Filipino natives who worked as ship hands in the galleons could be the origin of the excellent Filipino seamen in our modern times. And that the Filipino natives who worked under forced labor were once upon a time great shipbuilders of the world.
21 November 2010