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Mazaua: Magellan’s Lost Harbor

A Lee Shore Stands For 1521 Safe Haven Thanks To Errors of Translation, Copying, Bad Logic, Superficial Research And An Attempt At Fraud By A Government Historical Agency



By Vicente C. de Jesús



The chance landfall at Mazaua was a fleeting episode in the 1,081-day circumnavigation of the world. The little isle (Figure 1) was the second landfall in Philippine waters of Magellan’s fleet.


Evidence points to Fernão de Magalhãis as having a direct hand in naming the isle. The place-name Massawa was familiar to the Portuguese explorer. Massawa was one of two ports of entry in the Red Sea where, since classical antiquity, Asian luxury goods including spices were disgorged then brought by camel caravans to Alexandria. From there, the goods were transferred to waiting galleys going to parts of the Mediterranean and Europe. (Cameron Appendix B) Magellan (anglicized name of the Portuguese explorer) was a minor member of the Portuguese sea borne force in the Indian Ocean theater of operation whose main objective was to block trading ships from reaching Massawa and Jidda, (Joyner 39) a futile attempt of the Iberian superpower to establish a monopoly in the spice trade. (Scammel 272)


The Armada de Molucca, now reduced to three naos from five and down to about 186 men from its original complement of 270 men of diverse nationalities, lay at anchors in Mazaua from March 28 to April 4, 1521. The visit to this mystery isle was, in the eyes of one Magellan biographer, the happiest most restful interlude (Zweig 227) to an otherwise interminable succession of physical, mental and spiritual struggle to remain afloat. In Mazaua Magellan and his men were received with warmth and cordiality, a counterpoint to the violence that marked many an encounter of cultures during the  Age of Exploration. Here no quarrel ensued, no blood spilled except in a ceremonial blood compact or casi casi between the captain general and the Mazaua king, Siaiu, to signify goodwill and eternal brotherhood.


The Mazaua landfall also saw the world encompassed linguistically when Magellan’s slave and the Mazauans spoke in Malayan, the trade lingua franca in Southeast Asia. (Zweig 226)


Two events define the meaning of Mazaua for most Filipinos, the Easter mass and the planting of a large cross atop the tallest hill. The Philippines is an isolated rock of Christianity in a huge ocean lashed by the powerful waves of Islam, Buddhism, Hindu and other beliefs. Of its 76 million people 83% are Catholics, 9% Protestants. Mazaua, therefore, is an icon to a deeply religious people, an event of overarching importance. This aspect of a signal event in world geography and Renaissance navigation has unfortunately served to distort the way the event is viewed.


Like a more famous landfall a generation before Magellan’s there is debate as to where Mazaua is although there is an official version that is almost universally believed except for a few holdouts. There is a major difference between the Columbus first landfall controversy and the Mazaua. As far as I know, no one asks, Where was the first mass held in America? In the Philippines the only question asked is, Where was the site of the first mass, Butuan or Limasawa? This question has led to a historiographical and geographical disaster where a lee shore represents Magellan’s safe haven. My paper will discuss the making of the Mazaua conundrum, how Magellan’s safe haven became a lee shore, and why an agency of government has willfully proclaimed what is fraudulent, and I lastly will locate where Mazaua is today.


Four Eyewitness Accounts


Of nine firsthand relations of the voyage around the world, four contain references to the Mazaua episode. These accounts are represented by extant manuscripts, all mere copies of originals now lost. Every account, except the one by Gines de Mafra, the last to surface, is represented by several copies. The accounts do not fully agree with each other—at the superficial level—and copies of a particular account are not exact duplicates; and the sequence of their publication dates have greatly influenced the blurred reconstruction of the event. These accounts are by:


            A. Antonio Pigafetta—there are some 30 editions in 7 languages of the three codices out of four of what is universally accepted as the most complete account. (Brand 365)

            1. Ambrosian codex (in Italian)—the first transcription by Carlo Amoretti, 1800, is seen by scholars as defective because of liberties taken with Pigafetta’s text. But it is the most critical in the making of Magellan’s port into Limasawa, (Fig. 2) the isle believed to be Mazaua. The text established by Andrea da Mosto, 1894, is the superior transcription and was basis for the authoritative 1906 English translation by James Alexander Robertson (Torodash 325) to which almost exclusively Philippine historiographers owe their view of the episode. The Ambrosian is written in 16th century chirography, certain indecipherable words have caused confusion, e.g., the king of Mazaua has been variously read as Siago, Siain, Siani, Siaui, and Siaiu. Its convoluted syntax has resulted in that king getting interchanged with the king of Butuan;

            2. Nancy-Libri-Phillipps-Beinecki-Yale codex (in French)—very likely represents the true gift manuscript that Pigafetta presented to his intended benefactor, Lord Philippe de Villiers l’Isle Adam, Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes. A facsimile edition with an accompanying volume of R.A. Skelton’s English translation was published only in 1969, when the above errors had become too deeply ingrained in the mind and would require Herculean efforts to correct. The Yale ms. has been ignored by analysts which is a pity as it probably represents the settled thoughts of Pigafetta. Our government historical agency, the National Historical Institute, deliberately ignored this codex and two key testimonies not found in the Ambrosian which, if admitted into the discussion, would by themselves compel a rewriting of the history of Mazaua;

            3. Ms. fr. 5650 (in French)—transcribed and collated with the other codices by the Belgian scholar Jean Denucé and published in 1911, and by Léonce Peillard in 1956. This like the Yale ms. has not figured in the analyses by Philippine historiographers. A good portion of Ms. fr. 5650, including the Mazaua episode, was translated into English by Lord Stanley of Alderley, 1874;

            d. Ms. fr. 24224 (in French)—the only unpublished codex. It is heavily abridged, many details of navigation, ethnography and geography have been removed (Skelton 24); it is as princely as the Yale ms. in execution.


            B. Francisco Albo

            1. Madrid ms—transcribed and published by Martín Fernandez de Navarette in Colección...1837. A wrong latitude 90 40’ N (Alboa 202) resulting from an amanuensis error has fortified a fallacious argument that has propped up the Limasawa hypothesis. Robertson translated a good part of Albo into English in many scattered notes;

            2. London ms.—transcribed and translated into English by Lord Stanley of Alderley, 1874. This manuscript has the correct latitude 90 20’ N (Albob 225) as read also by a Belgian scholar (Denucé 309). Professional Philippine historiographers are not aware of this latitude. The NHI willfully ignored it;

            3. Lisbon ms.—unpublished.

            C. The roteiro of the Genoese Pilot

            1. Lisbon copy—in Portuguese, as all the three others, was published in Lisbon in 1826, collated with the Paris ms. Amanuensis’ and transcription errors have led to faulty analysis. Robertson has translated parts of the roteiro scattered throughout his copious annotations;

            2. Madrid ms.—while unpublished is collated in the English translation by Stanley;

            3. Paris ms.—included in the annotation of the Portuguese publication;

            4. A fourth copy, supposedly bearing two signatures, Hernando and Francisco de Araujo, was being touted by a bookseller, but has not otherwise received critical study.


            4. Ginés de Mafra—written by the only seaman to return to Mazaua, (CDIU 54) published in Spain only in 1920. It is the last to surface. It has been accessed by Western navigation historians and Magellan scholars but is almost unknown in the Philippines. An unfortunate remark by a Magellan historiographer (Torodash 320) has waylaid Philippine historiographers into ignoring this most critical account in so far as solving the Mazaua issue is concerned. Torodash, quoting a noted geographer (Brand 366) asserts Mafra’s account “cannot be based on more than Mafra’s memory of what he might have read in a Tratado begun by Andrés de San Martín.” There is no way to prove the validity of this claim because the Tratado no longer exists and is known only from fragmentary references to it. This charge ironically serves to raise the value of Mafra’s work since it possibly reflects the shared observations of two masterful pilots. In the case of San Martín, he was a genius in determining longitude with some accuracy, an ability unsurpassed for 200 years. (Joyner 178). Mafra’s testimony would revolutionize the reconstruction of the Mazaua episode. The National Historical Institute, knowing fully expert acceptance of its authenticity has dismissed Mafra giving no explanation or reason.


The Ultimate Truth?


Today Mazaua is universally believed to be Limasawa, an isle in Leyte in latitude 90 56’ N and longitude 1250 5’ E. Every literature on the circumnavigation makes the ritualistic footnote that Mazaua is present-day Limasawa. Recent writings tend to omit this ritual altogether, and Mazaua is no longer mentioned.


A notable exception is French maritime historian Léonce Peillard who pays no obeisance to the ritual. In fact he locates Mazaua in the Genoese Pilot’s 90 N (Pigafettad 314) declaring outright it is in Mindanao (Pigafettad 317). These bold assertions seem calculated to directly address key points in the Mazaua controversy, which is otherwise a parochial issue unknown outside the Philippines. If Peillard’s departure from orthodoxy results from an awareness of the issue, he gives no indication, but he is the only navigation historian to hold such a maverick view. Even so Peillard gives no explanation of his operation in arriving at his conclusion that Mazaua is in Mindanao. For our purposes, therefore, his opinion while worthy of note is not all that helpful.


In any case, the belief Limasawa is Mazaua—except for a few holdouts—is total. Two Philippine laws enshrine it. Top Philippine historians, living or long gone support it. The government’s historical agency has thrice affirmed its validity. In its latest affirmation, the National Historical Institute claims it had “conclusively established” the final truth about Mazaua being Limasawa. (Gancayco 24) It even invokes the Bible for moral support in making its findings. Its top man, when this “final truth” was promulgated even advised the “unbelievers” to foreswear investigating the issue further—a strange notion for a professional historian to embrace.


There are just a number of difficulties with NHI’s “final truth”:


1)Limasawa has no anchorage. Coast Pilots and Sailing Directions describe the isle as “fringed by a narrow, steep-to reef, off which the depths are too great to afford anchorage for large vessels.” (Hydrographic 482) Local historians are unfamiliar with technical navigation and none thought of consulting either a Coast Pilot or Sailing Directions. One writer clearly spoke from unfamiliarity when he said, “[Limasawa] has a good harbor…” (Bernad 29) A notable exception was the past head of NHI who, in a little essay co-written with another historiographer, cited and quote the whole entry on Limasawa in the 1968 Coast Pilot but deliberately omit the above-quoted sentence. (Tan, Medina 35)


2) East Limasawa where supposedly Magellan’s fleet anchored is a lee shore. The 1993 Sailing Directions state: “The predominant winds are the Northeast monsoon, which prevails from October to March or April, and the Southwest monsoon, which prevails from June to September.” (Defense 197) Dumagsa is the local name for the Northeast monsoon. The phenomenon is alluded to in De Moluccis where a storm drives the fleet “to another island called Massana.” (Maximilian 121) This incident refers to the time the fleet left Homonhon and was coasting along the eastern side of Leyte.


3) No account speaks of anchoring east. An eyewitness locates the port west of Mazaua. (Mafra 198) The Yale codex map of Mazaua (Fig. 3) showing a cross atop a hill west of the isle corroborates Mafra’s testimony. All events during the week occurred in just one side of Mazaua. The east notion goes back no farther than the map of Pedro Murillo Velarde, S.J. that traces Magellan’s fleet shuttling back and forth to east Limasawa. Murillo’s east port had no historiographical basis or reality and is nullified by the fact east Limasawa is a lee shore. The difficulty this east notion presents will be seen in Skelton’s willful mishandling of the word “maestral” that throughout he translated “northwest.” In the Mazaua episode, seeing Pigafetta’s words will not fit the real world, Skelton mistranslates “maestral” as “southwest” (Pigafettaf 73) since it is physically impossible to sail northwest from east Limasawa. (Fig. 4)


The NHI affirmed the east anchorage nevertheless by dismissing Mafra and by ignoring the existence of the Yale map. In its final report of March 1998, NHI simply ignores all other Pigafetta codices except the Ambrosian as well as the Genoese Pilot account. This grotesque behavior can by no means be viewed as legitimate historiography. But the panel members may have achieved their shortsighted if foolish aim of affirming Limasawa at all cost. Never mind if it turned truth on its head. It is the kind of boneheadedness Tuchman describes that achieves the exact opposite of what it aims for.


A sober inventory of properties of Mazaua will show that outside of the fact that both are isles, there is nothing common between Limasawa and Mazaua. Figure 5 is a comprehensive list of Mazaua features, properties, and clues juxtaposed against Limasawa. This exercise comprises an analytical definition to establish the identify of Mazaua. It shows that at no point does Mazaua and Limasawa coincide from name, latitudes, shape, size, distance, direction of the isles, description of its houses, agriculture, slope of the mountains, etc. These two isles are absolutely different.


Ramusio Blunder: “Traduttore, traditore”


It may be asked how two completely different things can be seen as being one and the same, perfect, exact, total equal of each other? How could such a big foul up happen? How can historians be so deceived by their materials? The answer to this illumines the Italian saying, “Translator, traitor.”


The root of this mess goes back to 1523 with publication of Maximilian Transylvanus’ De Moluccis...a secondhand account of the circumnavigation based on interviews with the survivors of the Magellan expedition. This account was an instant bestseller that saw several reprints. It established the place-name of Magellan’s anchorage as Messana or Massana, (Maximilian 121) corruptions of the place-name Mazaua that persisted up to the 1894 edition of the Ambrosian codex. (Mosto 71-84) In navigation the words stand for mizzenmast. In religion they mean something else,  a meaning that would stump a Church historian writing in 1663 about the evangelization of the Philippines. His solution to the problem would result to the historiographical disaster where a lee shore today represents Magellan’s safe port.


De Moluccis so saturated the European market Antonio Pigafetta could not get his book printed by the time he had his manuscript ready. Pigafetta’s recourse was a Renaissance expedient open to courtiers seeking preferment. He came up with a gift manuscript now lost exemplified by the four copies earlier enumerated. This gift manuscript was copied—how many times, no one is sure— which in turn were recopied and the various texts were translated and retranslated back to its original Italian resulting in an accumulation of copyist and translation errors.


Butuan Anchorage: Mystifying Error


A profound, inexplicable, mystifying change occurred in the 1536 Italian translation of Pigafetta’s account extracted from the French Colines edition which in turn was translated from an Italian original now lost. Magellan scholars agree the 1536 edition was written (or plagiarized) by Gian Battista Ramusio since it appears under his name in his 1550 collection of travel accounts Primo Volume delle Navigationi et Viaggi. In this edition in Chapter 38 “emendations” are to be seen in a sentence that reads “In questa Isola Messana.” (Pigafettae 281) This is where the big switch occurs: the anchorage from March 28-April 4, 1521 and all events of that week—an Easter mass, planting of a big cross, war games, etc.—are made to happen in Butuan instead of Mazzaua.


How this mistake came about is hard if not impossible to explain. The mystically inclined may see a hidden hand that is discernible only when the puzzle unravels at the end. In any case, Ramusio makes things even more complicated. From Butuan, the fleet sails for Cebu and all of a sudden, without rational explanation, the Armada finds itself in an isle named Messana where Magellan and his men stayed eight days. The calendar dates of this stay are unclear and confused. The location of Messana is latitude 90 40’ N. (Ramusio 395)


Ramusio’s version of the March 1521 one-week episode will persist throughout the 16th century up to 1800. The Butuan anchorage will be the version that will be known throughout this period except in Portugal where contemporary accounts do not mention any anchorage other than in “Maçagua.” Only when an authentic Pigafetta account will surface in 1800 will the Butuan error be known and another “big switch” will occur through the ministration of another Italian hand. This switch will lead us to the present conundrum.


Ramusio Deception & The Rule Of Immediacy


Among other things the craft of history is concerned with problem-solving. Untangling the above confused story, further obfuscated  by a secondhand account that contradicted Ramusio, would in 1663 test the mettle of a missionary chronicler one hundred twenty seven years after Ramusio. His solution will lead to the difficulty we now face. His Dimasaua (later renamed Limasawa) is the sorry end of his attempt to piece together a consistent harmonious story out of contradictory versions of Mazaua. More to the point, the Limasawa mistake is the unintended result of blindly applying the rule of immediacy in evidence without regard for data from the real world. It is emblematic of the clash between idea and reality.


Francisco Colín, S.J., was a Spanish missionary assigned to the region where Leyte and Limasawa belong. He stayed there six years. In that period, it may be presumed he learned the geography of the area. Writing a book on evangelization of the Philippines, he undertook to include an epitome of the Magellan voyage which was important to his theme because of the first mass incident. It should be borne in mind he was not all that concerned about anchorage or navigation. Colín faced a dilemma when he reached the part on the mass. His two sources were in completely and hopelessly in disagreement. Pigafetta’s (Ramusio’s) account said the place where that seminal event took place was Butuan. His other source, Antonio de Herrera’s secondhand relation, largely based on notes of the fleet chief pilot-astrologer, Andrés de San Martín, (Joyner 351) said the event took place in a small isle named Muzagua or Mazagua. (Herrera 23) Ironically, as we now know, but unknown to Colín who was deceived by Ramusio, Herrera’s version was faithful to the facts.


Which version to choose? Applying the rule of immediacy, Colín rightly opts for what he assumed was an authentic eyewitness account, Pigafetta’s, and made Butuan situ of the events of March 1521 including the first mass. But his solution created another dilemma. Ramusio bound Colín to name the stopover isle Messana a name that contradicts his story of Butuan as site of the first mass on land. Massana to Colín meant the place where mass was held, (Combés cxxxiij) a meaning that would go against his choice of Butuan and would confound his readers. He resolves this dilemma with a clever invention that partly draws on Herrera’s Mazagua and his own imagination by adding his own “signature” the prefix Di probably to distance it from the source he had disprized. Dimasaua is not found in any primary or secondary account. Nor is it found in a Philippine language or dialect. It is not as one writer asserts (Bernad 3) a misspelling of Limasawa, a name that came four years later. That Dimasaua is an invention has not been detected by historiographers. Colín had ingeniously inserted it at the beginning of his book in a discussion of Philippine geography where he matter-of-factly mention Dimasaua as an isle in Leyte giving the unwary reader the impression it was always so named. (He fails in this attempt; many writers will come up with their own names.) Why he chose Di and not any other prefix we can only speculate. But others after him will.


Oral Tradition


In explaining the discrepancy between the place-name Mazaua and Dimasaua later renamed Limasawa, oral tradition is invoked since it cannot be found in documentary evidence. Was Colín’s choice based on oral tradition? That is to say, was there folk belief in 1663 that Dimasaua was where Magellan landed on March 28, 1521? In fact, Colín does not say the navigator went to this isle and stayed for a week and did all the activities that transpired in Mazaua. Colín cites only Ramusio and Herrera as his sources. How did he pick the Leyte isle as the Messana in Ramusio’s version? The one clue that could be his basis was Messana’s latitude 90 40’ N. It is not identical with Dimasaua’s, but advocates of the Limasawa theory argue this latitude proves Mazaua and Limasawa (Dimasaua) are one and the same, perfect, exact, total equal of each other. We shall discuss this issue thoroughly later.


An inspired explanation for the discrepancy in names is that the written manuscript on which Colin may have based his place-name was done in such an ornate calligraphic style that the M in Messana was misread as D and later L. (Schreurs 30) “A calligraphed capital ‘L’ at the beginning of a page or paragraph forms actually three fourths of a ‘D’ in quite a number of old manuscripts; especially if the curling end of the upper pen-stroke has become faded, both letters are at times hardly distinguishable (certainly for non-cognescenti) in some 17th century handwriting and this fact may probably explain the twin names ‘Limasawa’ and ‘Dimasawa’ among copyists.” This is a futile exercise in what is called the fallacy of the possible proof. It in effect says that somewhere out there in the realm of the imagination a manuscript exists that in some distant future, if the reader will persist in finding for himself, will prove his point. This is to abdicate his responsibility as historian, transferring to his reader the burden of proving his assertion. But he disproves himself at the end of his own monograph (more like a manifesto, really) where there is shown Ramusio’s page 357 where while severely reduced one can read clearly the word “Massana.” (Schreurs 88)


Another tale that gained currency and has yet to completely run its course is that Magellan’s query  about the name of the isle was misheard or misunderstood by the king who replied instead that he had five wives. In the Cebuano or Waray waray languages five wives is supposedly “lima” (five) “asawa” (wives). So Magellan named the isle Limasawa. This fabricated story has no relevance to the real event. It thrived largely on ignorance what Pigafetta really wrote, of the fact Pigafetta was a lexicographer and that Massawa was a familiar word to Magellan. Also, it may be noted, Siaiu, the king of Mazaua had only one wife christened Lisabeta in Cebu.


Dimasaua Challenged


Just four years after publication of Colin’s work, his nomenclature for the isle was “challenged” by another chronicler, a Jesuit missionary, who worked in Mindanao. Francisco Combés, in Historia de Mindanao y Iolo…, states the stopover isle in Leyte is named Limasaua, by which it is known today. Unlike Colín, Combés does not cite any source for his story. He could not have had any source outside of Ramusio and Herrera. And, while he does not say so, he clearly adopted Colín’s solution to the dilemma posed by the conflicting version of Ramusio and Herrera. But deviated from Colín by the simple device of changing the prefix to Li. Both words Dimasaua and Limasaua are not found in any Philippine language or dialect. These came into existence with Colín and Combés. If one were inclined to view the twist and turns of the episode from another plane, these prefixes form a cryptogram that hints at the isle’s identity. By joining the two prefixes the word “dili” is formed; in Bisaya it means “not.”


The Leyte isle came to be known by many other names, variously spelled, by resident writers who one would presume should speak from personal knowledge. One historian said it was named Simasaua. (Redondo 205) In 1744 another chronicler declared its names were Dimasaua and Limasaua. (San Antonio 85) Another Filipino historian asserts it was named “Limasaua, Masaua y Simasaua.” (Reyes 7) As late as 1914, a noted historian from Leyte itself would declare the isle was named and variously spelled “Limasaoa, Limasaua, Limasana, Limasava, Limasagua, Dimasawa, Dimasava, Simasaua, Masaua.” (Artigas 32) Giving the isle all sorts of names had become a minor cottage industry that ceased operation in 1930 only when the Philippine Committee on Geographic Names—in Manila, so far from the action—intervened and declared ex cathedra the correct name was Limasawa without giving a cogent argument. This is ironic. Between Colín and Combés, the former was the better historian who at least cites his sources while the latter leaves his readers completely at a loss where his facts and information are coming from, a serious defect that gets rewarded by adopting his invention. But the Committee’s choice was in fact based on ignorance of how Limasawa gained primacy.


How Limasawa Became Mazaua


The Ramusio-Colín-Combés exegesis finally found its way over half a century later into a map, that of Pedro Murillo Velarde, S.J., perhaps the most famous ever crafted in the Philippines. (Fig. 6) Murillo’s map of the Philippines shows for the first time Limasaua, an isle sandwiched between Bohol and Panaon, the only landmass between the two large islands. In Pigafetta’s map, it is clearly the isle named “Gatighan,” Bisayan for “outriggers.” (See Fig. 1) It is a volcanic outcrop with a young soil. Neither Colín nor Combés saw Pigafetta’s map, a corrupted representation of which came out only in 1906 in the Pigafetta edition of Robertson. It is probable they would not have picked the isle to represent Mazaua had they seen the map. But then again, who knows? Even today leading historians, seeing the authentic map of Pigafetta, see Limasawa as Mazaua not Gatighan. In the map Mazaua is spread like a sting ray, Limasawa looks like a truncated earthworm, and historians see they are perfectly, exactly and totally alike.


The choice of the place-name Limasaua rather than Dimasau was out of whim more than out of any logical consideration. This is clear from the testimony of the mapmaker himself who states in his 1752 book Geographia historica...that the isle’s names were Dimasaua and Limasaua. (Murillo 69) He had two names to choose from and picked one for no particular reason. This is not the first time that pure chance has played a trick in human history.


The very same year, 1734, Murillo’s map came out an almost exact copy by French cartographer-geographer Jacques N. Bellin was published in France. Bellin’s map differs only in his use of up-to-date meridians of longitude where Murillo partly used 1521 conceptions. To Bellin, ironically, rather than Murillo, is directly owed the complete transformation of Limasaua, Ramusio’s stopover isle, into Mazaua, Magellan’s port of March 28-April 4, 1521. This metamorphosis was the handiwork six decades later of another Italian hand, just as it was an Italian who had transformed Mazaua to Butuan.


Amoretti’s “Switch”


In Milan, 61 years after Bellin’s map came out, Carlo Amoretti made a serendipitous discovery. Lost among thousands of volumes in Ambrosiana Library, where he was chief librarian, was an authentic copy of Pigafetta’s relation that Amoretti chanced upon. This ms. is known today as Ambrosian codex. Amoretti published five years later, in 1800, his transcription and annotated edition that most scholars consider shabby because of liberties taken with Pigafetta’s text. In the context of the Mazaua controversy, however, it has played the most decisive role. It triggered the transformation of Limasaua from way station on the fleet’s traverse to Cebu into the Mazaua anchorage where the Easter mass took place.


The Ambrosian revealed Ramusio’s error and showed Messana (Mazaua) not Butuan was the anchorage of March 1521. At the specific point where this revelation is found, Amoretti expresses the probability Messana may be the “Limassava” in Bellin’s map. (Pigafettab 66) Six pages further on Amoretti states—wrongly—Limassava and Messana are in latitude 90 40’ N. (Pigafettab 72) In fact Limasawa’s latitude is 90 56’ N. This fallacy is the basis of the notion the two are identical.


It is important to analyze Amoretti’s operation because it is here that the historical conundrum takes on a decisive turn. Amoretti’s argument was that Limasaua, the stopover of the Ramusio-Colín-Combés-Murillo-Bellin exegesis,  was Messana anchorage of Magellan. As proof he cites Pigafetta’s 90 40’ N which, Amoretti states, is the common latitude of the two. Therefore, so Amoretti’s argument goes, they are identical. He has no other argument nor any other proof. No one has challenged Amoretti’s assertion. And none has seen the logical sleight-of-hand he used in proving Limasaua and Mazaua are identical. It remains undetected. Amoretti is not even known to have constructed this argument. Philippine historiographers dropped his paternity over this hypothesis, everyone claiming fatherhood.


Recall that Limasaua left Philippine soil in the form of Murillo’s map. Here it was a stopover, and unstated in the map is the rest of Ramusio’s tale that Butuan was the fleet’s port. In an instant Murillo’s Limasaua became Bellin’s Limassava. The same Limasaua came home after circumnavigating the globe as it were no longer as the stopover but this time as Amoretti’s Messana or the authentic Mazaua of Magellan. And what reasoned argument sustained this metamorphosis? Itself! Amoretti’s logical trick: Pigafetta’s Messana may be Bellin’s Limasaua, since they are in the same latitude 90 40’ N. Therefore, Messana, the port, and Limasaua, the way station, are one and the same.

Amoretti’s argument would be uncritically accepted by succeeding scholars and historians, notably, Stanley, Mosto, Guillemard, Robertson, McKew Parr, Zweig, Morison, Pozzi, Mariano Cuesta Comingo, Martin J. Noone, Skelton, etc. Not one of them traced back the notion to Colín. Not one ever looked into the reality of the Leyte isle, whether it did offer anchorage.


Amoretti’s hypothesis would become James A. Robertson’s dicta. In Vol. II of the monumental 55-volume The Philippine Islands, Robertson cites Stanley’s translation of Amoretti’s footnotes. He ends his note with an unargued and unproved assertion, “It [Massaua] is doubtless the Limasaua of the present day, off the south point of Leyte.” (BR 64) The word “doubtless” is a polemicist’s device to preface an argument borne of uncertainty and resting on the solid air of a non-existent proof. The greater the doubt, the more extreme the exaggeration. It is called the fallacy of hyperbole. Thirty-one volumes later, in note 263 (BR 330), again without offering a single proof nor one reasoned argument, Robertson would declare as self-evident fact what he earlier asserts in the context of a doubt: “It is now called the island of Limasaua, and has an area of about ten and one-half square miles.” I should point out there is no technical publication stating Limasaua’s area to be 101 n.m.2  The Coast and Geodetic Survey Department, Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources, recently estimated, using computer technology and a topographic map, that Limasawa’s size is 2.0313 n.m.2 (Feir) which is what earlier studies had established.


Limasawa’s 161-Year Sojourn


Philippine historiographers would later on build on Amoretti’s argument as cornerstone of the Limasawa hypothesis. But Amoretti would fall victim to his own success. His hypothesis would be adopted but his paternity would not be recognized.


It took some 161 years for Murillo’s Limasaua to come home this time as Amoretti’s Limassava. In 1895 a giant among Philippine intellectuals, Dr. T.H. Pardo de Tavera, who had read Amoretti, Andrea da Mosto and Navarette’s Albo, declared in an essay published in a newspaper supplement “...not only was Butuan not the piece of Philippine soil on which the first mass was celebrated, but it was not even visited by that bold navigator in his memorable expedition.” He would recast the idea in more dismissive and mordant tone: “Ha sido un error afirmar que la primera misa se dijo en Butuan puesto que piedra para conservar la memoria de un suceso imaginado.” (Tavera 91) In 1897 Pablo Pastells, S.J., in a new edition of Colin would peremptorily negate the Butuan visit and assert Amoretti’s hypothesis, “Magallanes no tocó en Butuan, sino que desde la isla de Limasaua se fué derechamente á Cebú.” (Colín 40) This throwaway remark was further reinforced by another Philippine historiographer, Jaime de Veyra, who declared, “En Limasawa y no en Butuan fué en donde se celebró la primera Misa en estas regiones.”


One will be at a loss looking for the common source of these remarks, Amoretti’s two footnotes. Indeed, nowhere in Mazaua historiography will one find Amoretti being cited as the authority for the Limasaua hypothesis. Always it is Tavera or Pastells or de Veyra. One historiographer describes the two sentences of Pastells as “apodictically” proving “the First Mass had taken place in Limasawa.” (Schumacher 14) He further declares that Pastells’ conclusion Mazaua was Limasawa was “not an arbitrary one, but one based on a wide-ranging knowledge of sources and evidence.”  (Schumacher 15) In fact it was solely based on Amoretti’s argument that the two isles had an identical latitude, reinforced by Albo’s wrong latitude, 90 40’ N, in Navarette thanks to an amanuensis error that by happenstance was the same as Pigafetta’s. I shall return to Albo’s latitude later when I analyze the fallacy of the latitude argument.


The same word, “apodictic”, would be used by another writer to describe the one sentence remark of de Veyra. (Bernad 34)


In all these, Amoretti is the uncited, unheard of, uncelebrated fountainhead of the Limasaua hypothesis. Declared a religious historian: “It was not Robertson but Pastells who shifted the tradition from Butuan to Limasawa, apparently changing his own earlier opinion. He did this on the basis of his knowledge of Pigafetta and Albo taken together. In this, he has been followed by all subsequent scholars here and abroad…” (Schumacher 19) True, it was not directly Amoretti’s Italian text Pastells read but the Spanish translation by José Toribio Medina, 1888. This confusion would have been avoided had Amoretti’s authorship been acknowledged. Other scholars came ahead of Pastells, and recognized Amoretti authorship. Stanley’s translation of Amoretti saw print in 1874, and Andrea da Mosto’s work on the Ambrosian ms. came out 1894, six years ahead of Pastells. Robertson directly traces his Limasawa notion to Amoretti and his belief may have been fortified by his reliance on Mosto whose text was the basis of his English translation. (Torodash 325) Mosto endorsed Amoretti’s footnotes.


A more sober, more critical analysis of the remarks of Pastells, de Veyra and Tavera will show they constructed an ambiguous, ill-defined, no so well thought out proposition. No so obvious but glaring is the absence of any proof in support of their proposition, whatever it was.


The Trap: The False Dichotomous Question


More decisive than the brushing aside of Amoretti, these brief, sweeping, unargued conclusions created the altered framework that entraps Mazaua historiography. Pastells et al. forged a shift in the way the question of Mazaua’s identity was being framed. Mazaua’s identity was being viewed through the lens of a dichotomous question in the context of the Easter mass. This framework is expressed by the classic question, “Where is the site of the first mass, Butuan or Limasawa?”


This question seeks to define Mazaua by the simple process of eliminating one of two choices. This is a trick question useful in polemics but not in historiography. This way of framing the question of identity is called the fallacy of the false dichotomous question. Invariably its first victim is the one who raises it.


Its basic flaw consists in assuming that either option could be correct. There is something odd or unethical here because we know Butuan is not a valid option. It was a translation error. The fatal flaw of the dichotomous question is that by excluding Butuan it automatically makes it appear that Limasawa is proven to be Mazaua. Succeeding operations after that  is just fitting things into Limasawa like a Procrustean mold. To show how insidious the false dichotomous question is, let us suppose Imelda Marcos wanted to force on us a point about her husband’s greatness a claim that every now and then emanates from her quarters. She can very well frame the question in this manner: “Who is the greater statesman, Pol Pot or Marcos?” Since it is easy enough to prove that the former was a monster, Imelda’s proposition makes it possible for Marcos to become automatically not just a statesman but a great one to boot. Yet the more valid proposition would have been, “Was Marcos a crook or just the greatest thief in history?”


The fallacy of the false dichotomous question oversimplifies and falsifies the process of discovering the true identity of Magellan’s anchorage. More to the point, it had made a basic question no longer necessary to ask, “Is Limasawa the anchorage called Mazaua?” Such would lead to a corollary question, “Is anchoring possible in Limasawa?” If these simple questions had been asked, maybe we would not have the spectacle of a lee shore representing Magellan’s safe haven.


A dichotomous question is an invitation to sloth. It yields an easy answer, seemingly valid, that makes it unnecessary to undertake comprehensive research. It caters to the human weakness of seeking the line of least resistance, and relieves the scholar the painstaking work of building one valid assumption on top of another, constructing a whole body of evidence that ultimately creates a unified, harmonious, consistent view of the past. It will be noticed historiographers have gone no further than Robertson’s translations of Pigafetta, as well as his translations of Albo and Navarette’s Genoese Pilot scattered throughout his encyclopedic annotations. Where there ought to have been an effort to assemble all the many manuscripts representing the different eyewitness accounts, this was made unnecessary because the question was easily resolved. This explains why Ginés de Mafra is virtually unknown. By the time he had surfaced, the belief in Limasawa had become orthodoxy, minds had ossified, no longer able to admit the possibility that Mazaua could be something else.


One writer states the proposition in these words: “...the question of the first Mass has de facto become an either-or dispute: Butuan/Masao or Limasawa/Mazaua: if one is right the other is automatically wrong.” (Schreurs 72) The author of this sentence fully knew how Ramusio botched Pigafetta. This would lead to an absolutist view that closes all possibilities: “There is not a single proof of any possibility that 450 years ago the topography at Masao/Butuan would have been so totally different that there would have been so much and such wide seawater around Masao/Butuan as to justify calling it a real ‘island’ in the sense in which Pigafetta used the word.” (Schreurs 54) The author of those bombastic words is a historiographer, and here he has encroached into archaeology and geomorphology for which his bona fides do not allow him to speak in so absolutist a fashion.


The “first mass” framework also draws attention away from the fact the solution to the issue is in geography, oceanography, hydrography, navigation and nowhere in religion or Philippine historiography as usual. An awareness of this would I think have cautioned one religious historian from venturing into terra incognita. He writes: “Finally there are navigational questions. There is, for example, the question of interpreting all the directions recorded in Albo, and identifying all the islands mentioned. There is also the question of how much time it would take sailing ships of the type which Magellan had to navigate the distances involved. One might wish to know the prevailing winds are at that time of the year, as well as the sea currents and tides. I confess complete ignorance on these matters.” (Schumacher 19) I might add the thing about anchorage.


Yet in the end his effort was to prove Limasawa’s identity as Mazaua based on a technical point, the issue of latitude. His argument Pigafetta’s 90 40’ N proved Limasawa rested on two errors, the fallacy of petitio principii and dismissing the Genoese Pilot’s latitude armed with a non sequitur, Martin Torodash criticism on the literary merits of the Genoese Pilot’s account. The Magellan historiographer, a non-navigation historian, consigned the Genoese Pilot to the dustbin with this throwaway remark, “Nothing very useful can be gained from a reading of this rather boring account.” (Torodash 319) I have some reservations about resolving the Mazaua landfall issue on literary grounds.


Indeed, if technical aspects were attended to earlier at the time Colín wrestled with his dilemma, perhaps we would not now have a lee shore for Magellan’s safe haven. But that is neither here nor there. Historiographers, those alive and who have an open mind, will do well to attend to the technical details. If we all desist from asking the question, Where is the site of the first mass, Butuan or Limasawa? and start asking basic questions perhaps this issue can be resolved earlier. Questions like, “What is a lee shore?” Or, “What does the Coast Pilot say about anchoring in Limasawa?” A more direct and revelatory question, I might suggest, would be “Is anchoring possible at all in east Limasawa?”


Colín-Combés Resurrected


Amoretti’s Pigafetta interred the Butuan legend. It stayed buried for 167 years. But Ramusio’s tale was exhumed in 1965. That year an old man wrote a brief history of Butuan in the local Bisayan language where he claims hearing from his parents and old folks the story of Magellan’s visit to Butuan. (Copin) This triggered a wild eruption of local pride and a feverish search for documentary validation. The discovery of Colín and Combés and many other 17th century chroniclers who retailed the Butuan tale transformed notion into belief.


In the mid-1980s archaeological finds would strengthen belief into conviction. Wooden boats called balanghais were serendipitously dug up in Butuan. Pigafetta’s account mention balanghais being used by the people of Mazaua in going around the isle. Thus, the artifacts were seen as proof Butuan was Mazaua. Ignored was the fact the balanghais found were scientifically established to have been buried at least 300 years before Magellan’s coming. No matter, the Butuanons were far gone in their belief they refused to see these were not remnants of Magellan’s visit.


A formal construct of the Butuan notion coupled to the balanghai “proof” came in the form of a mimeographed book by an amateur historian. Here the author tried to meld Pigafetta’s account with the Colín-Combés tale. He asserts Magellan visited Butuan and anchored in today’s Masao village. He quotes an entry in the 1945 Official Gazetteer of the Philippines by the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey that purports to describe Masao as an island surrounded by rivers in its north, east, south sides and a sea on its west. (Busa 32-34) This entry is non-existent; unfortunately this concoction is cited by other writers who took up the Butuan claim. But it was a futile attempt since clearly Magellan’s Mazaua was an isle surrounded by seawater.


This fraud marked the first serious breach in the controversy. Most other errors are attributable to poor research, bad logic, or plain lazy thinking.


In 1977, at the height of the Martial Law years in the Philippines, the Butuanons challenged the Limasawans to a debate. Bolstered by navigational studies of a retired maritime officer, the Butuan hypothesis focused on technical aspects like latitude, tides, currents, winds, etc. for which the other side was unprepared. Never mind that the Butuan analysis could not convince others that Masao, which is landlocked to mainland Butuan, is an isle. But in view of the seeming technical superiority of the Butuan claim, the Limasawans thought they faced a rout. Imelda Marcos had to be called by the Limasawans to save the day. Imelda comes from Leyte where Limasawa belongs, and she is the leading supporter of Limasawa.


This was a time when Imelda co-ruled with her husband in what Filipinos called the Conjugal Dictatorship. It was a time when citizens were summarily jailed for whatever reason the Dictatorship found convenient. Imelda’s displeasure would be enough to cause one’s disappearance or incarceration. So that when finally Imelda Marcos approached the site of the debate in 1977, who would be first to welcome her but the leaders of the Butuan side. And not a squeak was heard from their side from then on.


Under pressure from Imelda, the National Historical Institute gathered professional and amateur historians to a workshop in 1980 where the Limasawa hypothesis was fully ventilated. It will be recalled up until this workshop, the Limasawa hypothesis consisted of Amoretti’s two footnotes, and endorsements of those footnotes by Western historiographers, and the one– to two-sentence remarks of Pastells, de Veyra and Tavera. The Butuan monograph required more substantial response. The papers authored by professional historians, none of whom are Magellan scholars or navigation historians, were to be scholarly rebuttals.


These all dutifully concluded the evidence confirmed Mazaua is Limasawa. These papers came out in NHI’s Kasaysayan, a journal that seems to have come and gone after this initial publication. No pro-Butuan or anti-Limasawa paper was allowed. The participants passed a formal resolution affirming the Limasawa hypothesis but called for further study and research, a call that was forthwith forgotten; no further research was ever done.


Hubris: Tempting The Gods?


Armed with this unanimous affirmation by the best and the brightest of the historiographical community, Imelda Marcos had a magnificent steel and concrete church built in east Limasawa, in honor of the first mass. The entire diplomatic corps, the Catholic hierarchy, and the Martial Law bigwigs were in attendance. Airforce jets flew over the shrine to signify the occasion’s soaring intentions. It was an act of hubris. In 1984 just a few months after its inauguration, the proud structure was totally devastated by typhoon. It remains in ruin. No one ever thought to ask if this was God’s way of telling them something. East Limasawa is a lee shore, exposed to the Northeast monsoon and to at least 7 devastating typhoons yearly. Magellan could not and would never have anchored here.


Procrustean  Modus Operandi


The notion Limasawa is Mazaua rests on Pigafetta’s latitude 90 40’ N. This view was reinforced by the way the question of Mazaua’s identity was framed—through the fallacy of the false dichotomous question. This dichotomy attempts to prove the Leyte isle is Mazaua by the simple exclusion of Butuan. And the next steps are merely fitting facts to the conclusion.


By happenstance, the other eyewitness account that surfaced after Pigafetta’s was Francisco Albo in Navarette’s Colección...whose latitude, thanks to an amanuensis error, was the same as Pigafetta’s 90 40’ N. Since it is accepted fact that Albo’s roteiro is the most navigationally reliable , his latitude therefore is seen to validate the Limasawa notion. I shall explain the fallacy of the Pigafetta latitude argument later. At this point I shall merely point out that Albo’s real latitude cannot be 90 40’ N but 90 20’ N which is found in the British Museum copy of the Albo account as read by Stanley (Albob 225) and Denucé (P. 309).


Information on distances, tracks, direction, description, etc. all can be and have been manipulated to fit Limasawa. Even an odd description in Pigafetta, that clearly does not fit Limasawa, was forced fit into the Procrustean mold. After the Cebu massacre, the fleet found itself in Mindanao, in Chippit, today’s Quipit, Zamboanga. Pigafetta declares, “That [Chippit] part of the island is one and the same land with Butuan and Calaghan, and lies toward Bohol, and borders on Mazaua.” (Pigafettaf 95) Another translation puts it thus: “This part of the island is of a piece with Butuan, and Calaghan, and overlooks Bohol, and shares a boundary with Mazana.” (Pigafettah 85) Stanley’s translation is no less precise: “This part of the island called Chippit is the same land as Butuan and Calaghan, it passes above Bohol, and borders on Massava.” (Pigafettag 108) It must be pointed out that the translators—Skelton, Paige, and Stanley—all identify Mazaua as Limasawa—yet it is hardly possible to view Mindanao as having a common boundary with Limasawa.


The difficulty of fitting this to Limasawa was not so formidable that a new translation cannot solve. So it will not be interpreted as suggesting Mazaua belongs to Mindanao, one writer retranslated Pigafetta. Said the intrepid writer, “The translation of the text should most probably read: ’That part of the island belongs to the same land as Butuan and Calagan, it stretches out past Bohol [=seen from Quipit, Zamboanga and including the headland of Surigao/Calagan] and is not far from Mazaua’.” (Schreurs 74) I might add that this same writer invents a Republic Act No. 2733 which he reproduces in full that proclaims Butuan as site of the first mass. (Schreurs 44) The actual and real R.A. No. 2733 is called Limasawa Law because it affirms east Limasawa as Magellan’s port and site of the first mass.


Indeed, if one were to inventory the many inventions the Mazaua debate has produced, from both sides of the contending camps, one is justified to call for an inventors workshop. Here is one sentence supposedly from Albo that contains two inventions: “Rounding the southern tip of the latter, [Panaon] they anchored off the eastern shore of a small island called Mazzaua.” (Bernad 28) What Albo really said was, “...we coasted it, [Seilani=today’s Panaon] and went to W.S.W., to a small inhabited island called Mazaba.” Nowhere does Albo say they rounded Panaon, and the notion of an east anchorage is an invention of Murillo that runs smack against nature. It puts the fleet on a lee shore. Here is another product of an active imagination, the same one who produced the full text of a non-existent law: “One wonders how in March 1521 the Magellan fleet could have been able to ‘move their ships to the other side of the island’ as Pigafetta tells us.” (Schreurs 55) What Pigafetta said was: “In the afternoon we went in the ships [and anchored] near the dwellings of the king.” (Pigafettae 111) The main point for a circumnavigation of Mazaua was to compel the Butuanon adversaries to realize the impossibility of Butuan being Mazaua since going around Mazaua would require the fleet going around Mindanao.


This brings us to the last point about the dichotomous question. The either-or approach puts the  discussion right away on an adversarial plane. This causes participants to shed off objectivity and historiography becomes polemics. The search for truth becomes the hunt for the adversary’s weak points. Indeed, the discussion would degenerate to such depths that in 1998 the National Historical Institute itself would deliberately foist a false picture of the Mazaua episode. The NHI in its “Resolution” after almost two years of investigation—by willfully ignoring or dismissing evidence contrary to Limasawa—turns truth on its head, altering Colín’s innocent mistake into a lie. Why NHI would do such a sorry thing, I shall explain later.


Gines de Mafra, Beyond Procrustes


One of the most grotesque acts of the NHI was to dismiss the Mafra account. During its first formal deliberation, on December 17, 1996, the NHI panel that undertook the Mazaua inquiry accepted Mafra’s authenticity. I have this on the authority of two eyewitnesses, the secretary of the panel, Prof. August de Viana and Asst. Dir. Emelita V. Almosara, who both attended all deliberations and who cannot possibly benefit in any way by lying to me. It really had no choice. In the hands of the panel was a photocopy of the account from the Museo Naval, Madrid copy of Mafra’s book. (There are three copies in the Philippines, as far as I have seen, one is in the Lopez Museum, another in the University of the Philippines, and the third at Ateneo de Manila University.) Attached to this  were photocopies of what we might call Mafra historiography, everything written about Mafra, the man, and his account. This literature included writings by Henry Harisse, J.T. Medina, Juan Gil, Samuel Eliot Morison, Tim Joyner, Donald D. Brand, Charles McKew Parr, William H. Scott, etc. In the face of overwhelming testimony attesting to Mafra’s authenticity, the panel—composed of persons without any pretensions to being Magellan scholars or navigation historians—had to bow to expert opinion.


In its final March 1998 report, however, the panel dismissed Mafra. The NHI calls Mafra an “alleged primary source(s)” and thereafter completely ignores it. It gave no reason or explanation. It simply, arbitrarily brushes it aside.


By this act NHI was able to arrive at conclusions that are invalidated by Mafra’s account.


One of the ironies of Mazaua is that the man who knows it best is the least known. Yet of all the eyewitnesses who wrote of Mazaua and even possibly of the entire Armada not excluding Magellan himself, the existence of this man, Ginés de Mafra, is the best documented in terms of official records of the Casa de Contratación de las Indias. While the most famous among them, Antonio Pigafetta, is non-existent in so far as official records is concerned; his name in the muster roll is Antonio Lombardo. We assume he is Pigafetta because he comes from Vicenza which belongs to the Italian district of Lombardy; no other member of the crew came from there.


In the case of Mafra, his voluminous records was accumulated in the course of formal hearings on his petition for recovery of his material possessions which were sold by his wife who had assumed Mafra had died during the voyage; she remarried and sold off Mafra’s things. (Medina  CCCCII) He also joined a second expedition prior to his third and last when he was pilot in the Villalobos fleet. There is no way then to deny his existence and the truth of his having been to Mazaua twice.

Philippine historiographers virtually do not know Mafra. Prior to the 1996 inquiry on Mazaua, only William H. Scott, an American Protestant missionary who had become a real Filipino in spirit and intentions, had read Mafra and all the other eight eyewitness accounts on Magellan’s voyage. Scott is a historiographer’s historiographer. One of his unparalleled coups was unmasking in 1968 a historical hoax, the Code of Kalantiaw, perpetrated by a mad genius who produced what looked like an authentic account. For over half a century Filipinos were made to believe they had a pre-colonial written judicial system that governed their social relationship. Tragically, the President of the Philippines up to this writing gives out the Order of Kalantiaw Award to retired justices of theSupreme Court. The President may yet end up as the last Filipino to be informed this award honors a hoax and in effect insults the person to whom it is bestowed. The NHI has nothing to do with the hoax but I have a nagging feeling its mandate calls for it to avert something so humiliating to the Republic’s No. 1 citizen as this.


In any case, Scott, the Sherlock Holmes of Philippine historiography, completely misses out on Mafra’s testimony on Mazaua. This may be because he firmly convinced of the Limasawa theory, viewing it like all other historians from the either-or framework. He was besides the first to trace the Butuan error to Ramusio. No historiographer who views the issue through the dichotomous question can conceive of any other possibility. It will require a Herculean act of mental renewal for Philippine historiographers to be rid of this pernicious aberration of the mind.


Mafra’s account was completed after his second visit to Mazaua in 1543 as pilot in the Villalobos expedition. We know this since he mentions the king of Mazaua showing the Villalobos crew some of the gifts given him by Magellan. (Mafra 198) He stayed two months on his second visit. (Móriz 511) His testimony therefore has more weight than Pigafetta’s, Albo’s and the Genoese Pilot’s since it carries the authority of facts verified many times.


Altered Geography


Mafra’s testimony shatters many long-held beliefs about Mazaua. He locates the anchorage west of Mazaua, rendering null the east notion of Murillo. This location is consistent with the wind pattern in the area. In March-April the prevailing wind is the powerful Northeast monsoon. Thus the eastern side of islands in the region are lee shores, the western side the protected or weather shores. A west anchorage is closely correlated to the latitude and track the fleet took. Albo states the fleet went west southwest, a downward sailing, from the tip of Seilani (Panaon). All three latitudes—Pigafetta’s 90 40’ N, Albo’s 90 20’ N, and the Genoese Pilot’s 90 N—are below the tip of Panaon, consistent with the downward track. (Fig. 4) On the other hand, going to east Limasawa requires a northwest or upward track from the tip of Panaon. This will bring the fleet to a latitude above Mazaua’s three estimated latitudes. Also, let me emphasize the point again, this brings the fleet to an impossible site, a lee shore. This detail is lost on Philippine historiographers. In the case of the National Historical Institute, it challenges the notion, declaring Magellan’s ignorance of this fact made it possible for him to anchor wherever he pleased. A WSW track, needless to say, will not bring the fleet west of Limasawa either.


Another radical testimony of Mafra concerns the size of Mazaua. He states it was 3-4 leguas in circumference or 9 to 12 n.m.2  Mafra, a Spaniard from Palos, evidently used the Spanish scale of 3 nautical miles to a legua. This is based on the fact that the scale if applied to known distances would be almost precise yielding the least deviation. Hitherto, the size of Mazaua was merely described in primary accounts as “small.” (Albob 224) Limasawa is only 2.0313 n.m.2. If Mazaua were Limasawa it is not possible to explain how its mass had shrunk by 83% yet its shoreline is “steep-to” as Coast Pilots describe it. Limasawa’s shoreline should be gently sloping.


Mafra described Magellan’s anchorage as a good west port. On all counts there is no fit with the Limasawa belief: it is located in the east, the shoreline is “steep-to” and therefore affords no anchorage, and it is on the lee shore.


His fourth testimony is impossible to reconcile with Limasawa. He states Mazaua was south of or below Butuan some 15 leguas or 45 n.m. away. The first impact of this declaration is that it challenges present-day geographical conception of 1521 Butuan. It is an unexamined assumption that the Butuan being referred to by Pigafetta is the Butuan of today. Clearly Mafra’s Butuan is not present-day Butuan. If it were, Mazaua would be on top of a mountain inside Davao, in Mindanao. But Mazaua was an island surrounded by seawater. Also it could not have been in Davao because the distance between Homonhon (Humunu in Pigafetta) was only 25 leguas or 100 n.m. Putting Mazaua 15 leguas below present day Butuan would add 45 more miles to the Humunu-Mazaua distance.


Mafra’s geography puts Limasawa in an awkward location; it is 58 n.m. above today’s Butuan. But while this suggests Limasawa cannot be Mazaua, it fails to locate exactly where Mafra’s Butuan was. By locating his Butuan, we will then know where Mazaua was and where it is today. And if it is where Limasawa is located.


Where Then Was Mafra’s Butuan?


So Mafra compels us to adjust to the fact the Butuan described in European accounts does not square with the modern Butuan we know today. Where was Mafra’s Butuan then? The solution to this is so obvious, no one sees it. It is in Pigafetta’s map of Mindanao. (Fig. 8) Here Pigafetta draws a Butuan that starts from present-day Surigao and stretches all the way to Quipit in Zamboanga.


This radically altered geography is validated by a European account, the roteiro of French pilot Pierres Plin (or Plun) of the Legaspi expedition of 1565. Here Plin wrote: “We passed between Panae [ today’s Panaon] and the cabeza of Butuan four leguas from one island to the other.” (Plin 91) The distance between Panaon and Surigao’s headland, Bilaa Pt., is 11 nautical miles, short by just a mile to be exactly 4 leguas. (Fig. 9) Bilaa Pt. is in 90 49’ N and 1250 26’ E. Plin’s Butuan cannot be today’s Butuan which is 58 n.m. below Panaon. Plin gives us another clue. He states Cabalian (San Juan in today’s maps) and Butuan are separated by 7 leguas or 28 n.m. (Plin 91) Cabalian to Surigao is a distance of 31 n.m., just 3 n.m. short. Whereas the distance between San Juan and Butuan City is 78 n.m. (Fig. 10) Limasawa is therefore above Mafra’s Butuan, to be precise 18 n.m. northwest of 1521 Butuan. Mazaua was 45 n.m. below 1521 Butuan.


W.E. Retana confirms this geographical conception in his notes to his edition of Zuñiga. He states: “Butuan (Corregimiento de).—Old name of the province of Caraga. This land was the first which Magellan incorporated to the Spanish Crown.” (Zuñiga 364) And, he adds, “Caraga.—Old province of the island of Mindanao, the first to be incorporated to Spain since it was done so in 1521 by Magellan.—In the beginning it was named corregimiento de Butuan, later, Caraga and in 1849 it was called Surigao, a name which it uses at present.” (Zuñiga 368)


Thus, when the NHI dismissed Mafra, it willfully refused to allow evidence that will compel a correction of the Limasawa belief. And thus, when it affirmed Limasawa is Mazaua it is deceiving the readers by proclaiming what is untrue.

Latitude Question: Fallacy of the Circular Proof


At this point let us examine the key argument which is the sole basis for the Limasawa hypothesis. This is Pigafetta’s latitude 90 40’ N. Recall that it was the only property used by Colin to identify Dimasaua as Pigafetta’s (Ramusio’s) Messana.


Limasawa advocates argue Pigafetta’s 90 40’ N is “quite close to” or “corresponds to” Limasawa’s 90 56’ N. (Bernad 28) This idea was reinforced by an amanuensis error showing Navarette’s Albo’s latitude was also 90 40’ N. (CVD 202) Navarette’s Albo was based on the Madrid copy. In the British Museum copy, as read by Stanley and Denucé Albo’s latitude is 90 20’ N. Which is correct? Logic dictates 90 20’ N is right. Albo placed Homonhon at 90 40’ N; from here the fleet traveled three days and 25 leguas southwards to Mazaua. It could not have sailed that long and far down  and still remain at 90 40’ N. This Albo latitude has escaped attention of Philippine historiographers.


One historian based his faith in the correctness of 90 40’ N being proof of Limasawa on the fact “he [Albo] was certainly the most qualified in this [navigational] regard.” (Schumacher 15) Will this argument backfire now that it turns out Albo’s latitude is not 90 40’ N but 90 20’ N? Also, is this proof Limasawa is not Mazaua?


There are several flaws to the Limasawa “corresponds” to Mazaua argument:


1)First, it assumes Pigafetta’s latitude is correct based on the misconception that since his account is the most comprehensive and the best of all the eyewitness accounts this translates as overall authority and credibility in all aspects including navigation. One historian concedes Pigafetta is weak on navigational matters (Schumacher 15) citing as authority Torodash who is actually only quoting Brand. But Schumacher overcomes this by citing Albo’s (wrong) latitude. But the issue of who is the better navigational expert is irrelevant when proving which latitude is correct. The final arbiter of correctness is if there is an isle in the latitude, and if that isle answers to all the description of Mazaua. No isle is found in either 90 40’ N or 90 20’ N. So, both are wrong.


2) More to the point, the notion of “corresponds to” constitute the logical fallacy of the circular proof. This is a trick of reasoning that has waylaid many careful thinkers. We know 90 40’ N is wrong because no isle exists in that latitude. How much was Pigafetta’s error? To say 90 40’ N is “near to” 90 56’ N, Limasawa’s latitude, is to conclude Pigafetta erred by only 16 nautical miles. That is to assume 90 40’ N is to be applied to Limasawa. Which is to assume what one is supposed to prove. Another way of putting this is that one has to assume Pigafetta was in Limasawa “shooting the sun” to be able to say he was off by only 16 minutes. That, again, assumes what one is being asked to prove.


3) The possibility the fleet could have gone to 90 56’ N is tied to the premise the anchorage is east of Mazaua and that it sailed on a northwest track from the tip of Seilani (Panaon). Mafra invalidates the east port notion, while Albo specifically states they took a west southwest track from the tip of Panaon, a downward track the brings the fleet away from Limasawa.


4) No valid argument has been offered against the Genoese Pilot’s 90 N. Schumacher’s peremptory dismissal based on its literary merits or profound lack is silly. The fact that he merely quoted Torodash makes it doubly so. In fact 90 N is the only latitude where an isle exists. But it takes an archaeologist to see it.


It must be pointed out the three latitudes have something in common. They all point to an isle below Limasawa. This fact is consistent with and is correlated to the downward track of the fleet. (See Fig. 4) The track Albo drew makes the fleet sail downwards from the tip of Panaon at 90 53’ N. An intrepid analyst foresaw this problem which would nullify the Limasawa theory. His solution was to let the fleet coast all the way to the western side of Panaon, and at the right point where a W.S.W. track can be made, he makes the fleet sail downwards ending up in east Limasawa, the perfect illusory ending in an invented port following an imaginary track. (Ataviado Fig. 2)


One way to determine if Mazaua were in Limasawa’s latitude is through Pigafetta’s estimate of the distance traveled by the fleet from Mazaua to Gatighan on its way to Cebu. He estimated the Mazaua-Gatighan distance to be 20 leguas or 80 n.m. If Mazaua were in Limasawa at 90 56’ N, then Gatighan would be somewhere in Apale Pt. in 100 52’ N. There is no isle that answers to the description of Gatighan at that latitude. (Fig. 11)


More important, according to Albo, the fleet did not sail past 100 N at which point the fleet went west to the Camotes Islands. “We departed from Mazaba and went N., making for the island of Seilani [Panaon], and afterwards coasted the said island to the N.W. as far as 100, and there we saw three islets; and we went to the W., a matter of 10 leagues, and then we fell in with two islets, and at night we stopped; and on the morrow we went S.W. and 3 S., a matter of 12 leagues, as far as 1020, and there we entered a channel between two islands, one called Matan…” (Albob 225) Fig. 12 illustrates how Pigafetta, Albo, and the Genoese Pilot converge at this point as to conform the identity of Limasawa as Gatighan and the fact Mazaua is in 90 N where Mafra’s locates the isle at 45 n.m. below 1521 Butuan.


Ignorance Is Bliss?


It must be pointed out that most errors from both camps are not motivated by any depraved desire to deceive. In many cases, these are innocent errors that stem from a blurred understanding of the accounts or a wrong turn of logic. Without exception, participants in the Mazaua debate are not Magellan scholars or navigation historians so flawed interpretation of technical details stem from failure to completely grasp what is dimly understood. Even Schreurs’ fabrication of a law that is supposed to have proclaimed Butuan as site of the first mass was not so much out of malice as a tormented soul’s obsession to trump his Butuanon parishioners who once turned their backs on the good priest.


There are however clear attempts at deceiving the readers. As I pointed out earlier an advocate of the Butuan hypothesis concocted a gazetteer entry that is non-existent. Another instance is the deliberate suppression of a sentence in the 1945 Coast Pilot that states there is no anchorage for large ships in Limasawa. (Tan/Medina 35) This act was clearly intended to hide an awkward truth.


One of the co-authors of this questionable effort subsequently became head of the National Historical Institute and presided over the deliberations of the panel that came out with its March 1998 “resolution” that can only be described as casuistry.


As earlier related, the panel accepted Mafra’s account. No authority has doubted its veracity. There is only one question raised and this has to do with the assertion of Brand, which a Magellan historiographer repeats, (Torodash 320) that Mafra’s account is nothing more than a recollection of the Tratado and other papers of Andrés de San Martín, the fleet’s chief pilot-celestial navigator. These were entrusted to Mafra before San Martin’s demise in the massacre in Cebu. Mafra had these in his possession until confiscated from him by the Portuguese just before Mafra was released from prison in 1527.


Brand’s assertion is pointless and unproductive and impossible to prove since San Martín’s papers  were lost in the Lisbon earthquake or in Spain where these were accessed in the 17th century by historians like Herrera. But even granting the charge is valid, it does not vitiate the value of Mafra. In fact this only raises its credibility and authority since Mafra may reflect the common observations of two masterful pilots. Thus, technical details found in Mafra are all the more valuable for their accuracy, based on the acuity of San Andrés’ uncommon ability in celestial navigation.

Furthermore,  if true Brand’s charge is a high commendation of Mafra’s ability to recall and raises even more the account’s credibility.


NHI Style Of Historiography


For nearly two years the NHI panel had in their hands Mafra’s account with exhaustive documentation of expert critical analysis of it. In that period members of the panel had all the time to gather contrary opinion to nullify Mafra’s testimony. For NHI therefore to dismiss Mafra arbitrarily without reason is not just rank irresponsibility but, worse, opens to the charge of distorting truth to favor a particular point of view.


There are other deliberate suppression of facts and evidence by NHI. In the Yale codex the map of Mazaua shows a cross planted atop a hill located in the western part of the isle. (Fig. 2) This cross corroborates the testimony of Mafra that the port was west of Mazaua. The NHI willfully ignores the Yale codex, making pretense it does not exist. It does the same with Ms. fr. 5650 which contains Pigafetta’s testimony also found in the Nancy ms. that Mazaua had plenty of gold mines. “In this island there is a great quantity mines.” (Pigafettag 83, d 145, f 72) Limasawa has no gold mine and is not known to have any before. By willful ignorance NHI did not have to deal with these contrary facts.


The NHI report is replete with fallacious arguments, some so ill-informed as to  raise doubts about its worth and if it should be taken seriously at all. Let us take the issue of Limasawa’s shoreline being too deep to afford anchorage plus the fact east Limasawa is a lee shore and therefore there is no way for a sailing ship to anchor there. Here is how NHI meets these problems: “The Panel cannot discount the possibility of Limasawa being able to then provide the kind of anchorage necessary for Magellan’s ships. Given the reality that Magellan was a first timer/new-comer when he sailed into Philippine shores in 1521, he could not have anticipated up front which island had adequate anchorage for ships. There is logic in assuming that he anchored his fleet in whatever island he touched at…” This is akin to saying if a man did not know of the law of gravity, his ignorance will save him if he jumped from the top of the Petronas Twin Towers. This assertion also contains the fallacy of the hypostatized proof. NHI theorizes Limasawa could have been different in 1521, it then reifies this and thus is able to see Magellan anchoring  in east Limasawa.


Its handling of the latitude issue gives us an insight into the style of the panel, style defined by Alfred North Whitehead as the “ultimate morality of the mind.” The NHI declares: “Parenthetically, while it may be true, as alleged by the pro-Masaoans, that there is no island found exactly at latitude 9 degrees and 40 minutes N, which is the equivalent of Mazaua’s latitude as translated by Robertson, such latitude is closer to and approximates Limasawa which is 9 degrees and 55 minutes N than to Masao, Butuan which is 9 degrees and 00 minutes N (according to a Philippine Gazetteer).” After affirming Pigafetta’s latitude refers to Limasawa, it adds: “At this juncture, a word of caution is in order. Admittedly, the navigational instruments used by Magellan’s men at that time were primitive and, hence, not accurate in plotting locations at sea, particularly in determining latitude. It is safe to assume then that the delineation of distances and plotting of positions and location made by Pigafetta, Albo, et al. might well have been inaccurate or imprecise, or that Pigafetta, et al. were not beyond erring in giving latitudes. At best, these delineations should be taken as mere estimates or approximations.” (Gancayco 14)

David Hackett Fischer calls this the fallacy of the double-reversing generalization. “It is a species of bet-hedging, which in an extreme form becomes no interpretation at all but a maze of mutual qualifications or a cunning balance of casuistical contradictions, or a trackless wilderness of pettifogging detail, or a slippery ooze of substantive (as well as semantical) shilly-shally.” (Fischer 125)


Suppressio veri, assertio falsi


It is hard to imagine the dismissal of Mafra, the snub on the Yale codex, Ms. fr. 5650, the London copy of Albo, and the brushing aside of the Coast Pilot are due to inattention rather than willful ignorance. The net effect of NHI’s action is to affirm the maxim, “The suppression of truth is an assertion of falsehood.”


What NHI hopes to gain by this is unclear. Its cavalier attitude is counterproductive. Ironically in a lefthanded way NHI actually affirms the proposition Limasawa is not Mazaua by refusing to face head on the evidence that nullify Limasawa. If Limasaua and Mazaua are identical there should be no reason not to deal with contrary evidence.


What prompted NHI to behave as it did may be difficult to know but not impossible to explain. Its chief officer at the time, who presided over panel discussions, was one of the key ghostwriters of Ferdinand Marcos’ historical works. In the NHI panel, as far as I can tell, he is the only one with ties to the Marcoses. Very likely the patroness of the Limasawa hypothesis had reached out to the panel through the NHI’s chairman.


Where Then Is Mazaua Today?


The first clue to Mazaua’s identity is obvious. The word Mazaua is found in only one of 80 languages and dialects in the archipelago. In Butuanon it means bright or light. This meaning is clear from the Vicentine diarist’s description of the landfall, “ we had seen a fire on an island [Mazaua] the night before, we anchored near it.” The light amidst the blackness of night is reminiscent of Columbus’ first landfall; the Genoese mariner claimed he saw a light from the incredible distance of 35 miles.


Butuanon is a dying tongue; the generation after mine no longer speak it. But those who still speak it will invariably use the word “masawa” in the course of the day. When the moon is bright, the Butuanon will say, “Masawa ang buwan.” Or, a well-lighted street will be described by the Butuanon as, “Masawa ang dan.”


If a line were drawn under every piece of evidence and extended, these will all intersect at 90 N, the Genoese Pilot’s latitude. This spot is in Mindanao, to be precise in Butuan where Ramusio, by a mystifying error, located the events of March 28-April 4, 1521. It is 45 n.m. below Mafra’s Butuan, today’s Surigao. West of this spot is an excellent port, in a weather or protected shore. Here there are two hills, Pinamangculan and Dalindingan, just as there are two shown in Pigafetta’s map. Facing the hills are rice fields and gently rolling farms devoted to other crops, e.g., coconuts and fruit trees. The area is famous for gold and gold mines; even today, illegal gold panning is still going on although on a much smaller scale ever since the government tightened the ban against it. Stilt houses are a common sight as flooding is recurrent. Wild game, e.g., deer, wild pig, civet, crocodile, used to be plentiful here.


That Mazaua was in Mindanao, as earlier discussed, was suggested by Pigafetta in his geographical picture of Chippit, a port in Zamboanga: “That part of the island [Chippit] is one and the same land with Butuan and Calaghan, and lies toward Bohol, and borders on Mazzaua.” (Pigafettaf 95) This correlates positively with Mafra’s location of Mazaua at 45 n.m. below Surigao.

If all the hallmarks of Mazaua are found in 90 N, one big problem looms large to nullify the notion Mazaua was here. No isle can be seen!


Digging For Truth


But where the historiographer and geographer see nothing the archaeologist and geomorphologist may discern a buried fact. In 1986 27 ASEAN archaeologists, geologists and geomorphologists were poking around sites in Butuan where buried wooden boats, the balanghais, have been dug. In the Mazaua episode Pigafetta mention the balanghais many times. By accident the scientists discovered a graben had split Butuan in the past (Asean 28) probably creating an isle that I theorize was the Mazaua of 1521. But since the scientists were concerned with the balanghais, they did not study the graben in great detail.


At this point, the work of historiography is essentially complete. Discovering the whole truth of Mazaua will be the work of archaeologists, geologists and geomorphologists. They should be able to determine if the graben did create an authentic isle surrounded by seawater and if it still existed in 1521 and 1543, the year Mafra came on his second visit. The Butuan City government has decided to commission a team of scientists to look for the isle and find out when it got buried. Anytime this year work will commence.


No one knows what these scientists will find. It is possible, given all the luck, they will chance upon remnants of Magellan’s visit and Mafra’s second visit: beads, swords, scabbards, nails, helmets, etc. which will validate the Mazaua hypothesis. Hopefully they will also determine the graben had not been covered thus sustaining the argument it did create an isle.


If at the end these scientists shall recover Mazaua, they would have affirmed a geographical paradox of the Age of Exploration: Magellan’s second landfall is where it was not. This all started with a translator’s treachery to the text of Pigafetta’s account—a mistake not open to easy explanation. But to the mystical minded, and perhaps there is something of that in all of us when faced with a puzzle like Mazaua, a hidden hand had pushed Ramusio to stumble scraping the vestiges of a great truth buried by time, tide, sand and the mind’s obscured understanding.





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The author is speechwriter to a number of Filipino public figures among these the late UNFPA Director and UN Undersecretary Rafael M. Salas when he was Executive Secretary of the Philippines, Agriculture Minister Arturo R. Tanco, Senator Heherson T. Alvarez. He is recipient of the Presidential Golden Plow Award, one of the highest decorations of the Philippine Republic. He has lectured on development communication in the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Jamaica, Pakistan, Germany, and the U.S. He was commissioned by the government of Butuan City, Mindanao in the Philippines to do extensive research on the Mazaua landfall issue.


 Last Oct I attended the 41ist annual meeting of the Society for the History of Discoveries held at the Library of Congres in Washington DC.. There were 23 papers presented by various researchers from different worldwide historical events and places. Mr Vic deJusus from Butuan Center presented a correction in Magellan voyages that happen in Mar 28, 1521.


His full research (well documented and very convincing I might add) can be found at: http://



Appeal for donation of books on navigation history


In the short time I have been a member of this prestigious email list whose membership consist of the world leading historians on navigation history, most postings appeal to the intellectual generosity of its members. This appeal is of a different kind and addresses another aspect of the members' generosity.  

I wish to appeal to members of the Discovery Web email list for books, map, tract, or whatever literature on exploration, discovery, navigation, cartography, geography, etc. to the Butuan City Library.  


My hometown belongs to a Third World country that is just a notch higher than Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia. In our own country, the Philippines, we are way way below our highly urbanized centers like Manila. Ours is probably one of a very few libraries if any in the Third World that presumes to be interested in those specialized fields of study. Our interest stems from a unique accident of history tied up to Magellan's circumnavigation. On March 28, 1521 the Portuguese explorer anchored in an excellent port, Mazaua, that today is not found in any map. A large body of evidence points to 9 degrees N as the most probable anchorage; here all properties of Mazaua are found except the most important: There is no isle. Our search has moved beyond historiography and has entered the area of geomorphology and archaeology. A team of geomorphologists have determined there were islands that were existent up to the Renaissance that are now fused with Butuan in mainland Mindanao. A team of archaeologists will determine the best site where there is the highest possibility of finding remnants of Magellan's visit and a subsequent visit, virtually unknown to navigation historians except a few, by Gines de Mafra of the Villalobos expedition in 1543. As will be readily appreciated this archaeological search is akin to looking for a needle in a large haystack. But we are absolutely determined to find these artefacts if they are really there. We have approached the National Geographic Society for possible funding aid since our funds, US$10,000.00, seem unequal to the requirements of this search effort. 


In any case, together with this search, is a parallel effort to build a research resource on navigation history, etc. Thus this appeal. Whatever members of the list can donate we certainly will welcome. You may send this to:


                                                Mrs. Grace F. Montilla

                                                The Librarian

                                                Butuan City Library

                                                8600 Butuan City



Thank you all for your kind consideration. And warm thanks to those blest in life who have something to share with us by way of a donation to our library.  


Vicente C. de Jesus