Make your own free website on

Henry the Circumnavigator

By  jack tan        Aug 2005



Once upon a time, not so long ago, man first achieved the feat of going around his own planet. And the circuit was completed in a place definitely not so far away either.


Most history and reference books list Juan Sebastian del Cano of Magellan’s expedition as the first circumnavigator of the world.  Historians now are contesting that claim. Many believe it was Magellan.   Filipino historians are getting into the act and claiming that a Filipino (geo-ethnically, not geopolitically), Enrique de Malacca, was the first around the world.  Still others say it was both Magellan and Enrique.


Enrique, a.k.a. Trapobana, is also being claimed as their own by Indonesians and Malaysians.  Harun Aminurashid of Malaysia names him Panglima Awang in his novels.  So Enrique might be Malaysian since he was found in a slave market in Malacca (Melaka).  He might also be Indonesian as he was reportedly kidnapped by slavers in Sumatra (Zamatra) – though we do not know if he was born there or merely captured there. Or he might be a Filipino from Cebu because he easily conversed with Cebuanos as interpreter for Magellan. Some dispute this “nationality by language” theory arguing that he may have merely used a Malay trade language and not necessarily a Philippine tongue.  But at that time “speakers of this language (Malay) could be found in all the trading ports in the Philippines from Sarangani to Manila, either (as) professional interpreters or members of the ruling families” -- and it seems Enrique fluently conversed not only with rulers but also with the common people.


Tropabana was in his teens when he was bought from Muslim slavers in the recently Portuguese-conquered city of Malacca by Fernao Magalhaes of the Portuguese navy.  Trapobana was a smart kid with a talent to learn and speak many languages, a valuable asset to explorer-adventurer types.  Magalhaes had him christened after Portugal’s Prince Henry the Navigator, brought him to Europe and made him his trusted companion.  Enrique was faithfully at Magalhaes’ side during his battles against Moors in Africa, during his heartbreaking rebuff at the Portuguese royal court of King Manuel, during his (now as Spanish citizen Fernan Magallanes) successful raising of a Spanish fleet for his expedition, during his dangerous and troublesome voyage of discovery saddled with mutinous officers and crew while crossing the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and during his end at the Battle of Mactan.


Both Magellan and Enrique made the circumnavigation in a series of on and off travels, not in one continuous loop.  Magellan had been to the Indonesian Spice Islands (the Moluccas - not to be confused with Malacca) in 1510.  As far as I know there is no record of Enrique having been to the Mollucas (about 127 degrees east longitude).  Remember, from 0 degree longitude in England, the numbers rise going east until they reach 180 degrees.  Enrique is recorded as having been to Cebu (about 123 degrees east) and Malacca (about 102 degrees east). In other words, Magellan had traveled farther east than Enrique. 



From the Mollucas in the east, Magellan over a decade started going ever west, to Malacca taking Enrique along,  to Africa, to Europe, later across the Atlantic to America, across the Pacific sailing past 127 east longitude in 1521 at a higher latitude than previously -- but hey, Magellan had already  rounded the planet! – toward the Philippines. Upon reaching Cebu, it was Enriquez’s turn to have rounded the world ... if he was from there.  Whether he subsequently traveled to Malacca or Sumatra, I know of no record.  I hope he did, to chalk one up for the Malay race, just in case he was Indonesian or Malaysian and not Cebuano. 


After Magellan was killed in Mactan, Enrique and some other survivors managed to flee to their ships and hightailed it back to Cebu.   With Magellan gone, the Spaniards unjustly mistreated Enrique. Instead of being manumitted and given money as per Magellan’s will, he was told that he was to become a slave to Magellan’s wife.  That was a huge mistake.  Enrique’s loyalty was to his master and friend, not to the envious Spaniards who repeatedly plotted and mutinied against their Portuguese captain and never bothered to aid their comrades in peril at Mactan but just sat in their boats offshore. 


Soon however, Enrique got the chance to avenge himself and Magellan.  He decided to defect when he was ordered to palaver with Rajah Humabon.  He convinced Humabon the Spaniards treacherously planned to sail away after stealing goods from his warehouse.  So Humabon did it unto the Spaniards before they could do it unto him.  A banquet for the Spaniards was held where, except for the kindly Fr. Valderrama who was spared (and those safely on duty aboard the ships), the unsuspecting Europeans were massacred and some of the survivors made into slaves. And so Enrique was free again and among people of his race.


And what about Juan Sebastian del Cano who supposedly circumnavigated the globe first?  Well, after some more misadventures, he would return to Spain aboard the decrepit Victoria with 17 men and complete his circumnavigation --.more than a year and four months later after Enrique had done a circumglobal balikbayan trip.