During the launching of the first Montañosa Film Festival in Baguio on March 20, 2021 at the Baguio Convention Center, National Artist Kidlat Tahimik’s film Balikbayan was shown. Tahimik’s film was about the slave of Magellan named Enrique that he started filming in the late 70s. In history, Enrique, then 14, was found by Magellan in Malacca now part of Malaysia, during the time Europe was trading spices with Asia through the famous or infamous West Indies trading route. He took Enrique with him to his voyages and become his translator in the Malay peninsula.
Magellan took him back home to Europe and became one of his propaganda tools to promote his intention to circumnavigate the world as Enrique is a native of the Spice Islands and can help him on the journey. Magellan believed that the World was round and by crossing the Atlantic Ocean then only known as the Ocean Sea, and pass by the newly discovered New World by Christopher Columbus, they could reach the Spice Islands faster.
With their aim to control the Spice Islands without having to pass through many countries, Magellan presented his plan to the Portuguese government. But Magellan’s plan was rejected and he then went to the Spanish King Philip II. He was finally granted to find other faster ways to reach the Spice Islands in the name of Spain, beyond the New World, now known as the Americas. Magellan believed that the Spice Islands will be very close after passing the New World. He left Spain with five ships and 270 crew.
Unknown to them, there was a bigger Ocean to cross before they can circumnavigate the Word. They suffered much during the journey and lost a ship in the Ocean Sea. They reached New World in more than a month but their journey in the Mar Pacifico (Pacific Ocean) that Magellan named lasted longer. After passing through the tip of South America on October 21, 1520, in what is now known as the Strait of Magellan, it will take four months before they reached the island of Guam on March 1521 where they replenished their supplies. Few more days before they finally reach the Philippines on March 16, 1521, where Magellan will be killed a month later.
Kidlat Tahimik as Baguio folks fondly calls Tatay used that part of history in his film and made Enrique his main character. He could have been Malaysian or Indonesian. But for the fact he can communicate with the natives of Limasawa and Cebu where Magellan landed, he could have been a Visayan too. In the archives, Enrique should have been freed after Magellan was killed. But Magellan’s remaining Captain refused and took him with them. On May 1, 1521, he left Cebu with the presumed intention to go back home. That was the last record of him.
Meanwhile, only one of Magellan’s five ships made it back to Spain after three years and only 18 of the original crew of 270 made it home alive. Magellan never finished his journey to actually circumnavigate the World but Enrique could be the first one to succeed. If he was indeed a Visayan, then he could have already accomplished that upon landing in the Visayas. But if he was taken by Magellan’s Captain with him and brought him back passing through the Straits of Malacca, then that would have been the completion of his circumnavigation of the World. Whatever happened to Enrique, we may never know but if he made it home, then he holds the record.
Tahimik’s story made an interesting take on Enrique’s life and makes us also think of this part of history. Tatay’s film may never be as flashy and as grand as today’s blockbuster movies and productions but they will make you think and wonder about your history, culture, and origins. I guess these are the very purpose of his movies and the very reason he is now one of our National Artist for film.
Enrique is also one of Tatay’s characters in his iBagiw Festival Grand Exhibit currently on display at the Baguio Convention Center. These exhibited items will be brought to Spain this June in commemoration of the 500th year of Magellan’s arrival to the Philippines.