Magellan's Voyage and the Perspective of "Otherness"

Explore other cultural realities through the diary of Antonio Pigafetta, journalist of this first voyage around the world.

By Museo de América

Museo de América

View of the port of Seville (ca. 1600)Museo de América

The first expedition to voyage around the world, captained by Ferdinand Magellan, set sail on August 20, 1519 from the port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda (Cádiz, Spain). The larger ships could not sail the river Guadalquivir up to the city of Seville due to the sandbanks formed around its mouth.

The nationalities of the expedition's crew, which included the Italian Pigafetta, were extremely diverse. But it was only made up of men, as women were prohibited from joining the crew in order to prevent potential riots.

Cinnamon tree (1789/1794) by José GuioMuseo de América

…to seek out and discover spices in the Maluku Islands.

The aim of the journey was to reach the Spice Islands, today known as the Maluku Islands.

Spices were used to season meat and fish, enhancing flavors or camouflaging those brought about by the conditions of storage. The search for spices continued into subsequent centuries.

This image shows a drawing of the Ishpingo or cinnamon tree. This example is an Amazonian variety of cinnamon, of which the flowers—shown here—are used, unlike the Asian variety, of which the bark is used.

Pepper shaker (1600/1622) by MRMuseo de América

Some of the most sought after condiments were clove, pepper, nutmeg, and cinnamon, which were used to flavor delicious food and drinks.

This silver spice rack was found in the Nuestra Señora de Atocha shipwreck, which sunk off the coast of Florida in 1622. This type of rack is called a turret. It is made up of different elements stacked on top of each other, with this dome-shaped pepper pot placed at the very top of the set.

Scarlet macaw (ca. 1942)Museo de América

Exotic Nature

Knowledge of the natural world and the use of its resources are themes that run throughout the diary of Pigafetta, as the purpose of his voyage was to locate valuable natural produce (spices) for selling.

Tridacna gigas shellMuseo de América

The flesh of these two mollusks, respectively, weighed 26 and 44 pounds [more than 11.7 and almost 20 kilos].

Some previously unknown species caused surprise due to their giant size, such as these Pacific shells, which were first used in Spain as basins for holy water at the entrance to churches.

Scarlet macaw (ca. 1942)Museo de América

The expeditionaries exchanged various objects for food, live animals, and other products. In Brazil, they were interested in large macaws (Ara sp.) and a species of golden lion tamarin monkey (Leontopithecus rosalia).

These kinds of exotic animals became prized pets in Europe, reflecting the status of their owners. There are numerous portraits, particularly of women and children, with these animals, such as Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia and Magdalena Ruiz, by Alonso Sánchez Coello, in the Prado Museum (Museo Nacional del Prado).

Basket (20th Century) by KayapóMuseo de América

Visions of the Indigenous World

The meeting of societies that had had no previous contact had an enormous impact on the expeditionaries as well as the other cultures.

Population of the Napo River shore (1789/1794)Museo de América

Visions of the Indigenous World in America

...These people paint their entire body and face beautifully with fire and in other ways...

The corporal appearance of the Amazonian communities was admired by the Europeans. These societies totally or partially covered their bodies with paint.

The designs were not intended to look pretty, but rather were an expression of belonging to a specific group, or a protection against spiritual influences.

Canoe (1862/1865)Museo de América

They have boats carved out of a single piece of wood with stone tools, known as canoes.

The tribes that live along the banks of the Amazon basin maintain a close relationship with the river. It is the main route for communication, a fundamental part of their beliefs, and an essential source of economic resources.

The most efficient way to move along the river is via canoe. Traditionally, a tree trunk would be hollowed out using fire or hot stones, and the lack of metal meant that stone tools had to be used to carve out the inside.

Basket (20th Century) by KayapóMuseo de América

The women work and carry all the food in wicker backpacks, or in baskets placed upon or tied to their heads.

The expeditionaries saw how the Amazonian tribes organized a division of work based on gender and age. Women invested a large part of their day on gathering duties.

In order to leave their hands free, they put the food they gathered in vegetable fiber baskets that they could carry on their backs, but tied with a belt around their front.

Bow (1867) by Ona (selk´nam)Museo de América

Within the division of labor by gender, the men of the groups that lived in the region of Patagonia were mainly dedicated to hunting guanaco (Lama guanicoe).

Apart from the meat, they also used their skin and tendons for tools and clothing. The guanaco was a species previously unknown in Europe, which is why Pigafetta uses comparisons with other animals to describe it: the body and long neck of a camel, the hooves of a deer, and the tail of a horse. According to the author, it also imitates a horse's neigh.

Man from the Guam island (1789/1794) by Juan RavenetMuseo de América

Visions of the Pacific Indigenous Community

After 100 days of traveling across the Pacific, and with an urgent need for food, they had a brief encounter with the inhabitants of the island of Guam. They named it the Island of Thieves due to the theft of a skiff from one of their boats.

The absence of the concept of private property in these indigenous communities led to an unexpected clash of mindset. The behavior of these skilled navigators was not understood by the expeditionaries, and was met with violence until they were able to recover the valuable part of their vessel.

Peineta (Helu) (1775/1880) by TongaMuseo de América

These combs are one of the few elements of personal adornment that women would wear on their heads in some Polynesian societies such as Tonga. They are delicate pieces made from very thin rods obtained from the central spines of the coconut palm leaf, joined together with braided vegetable fibers, forming geometric designs.

Following contact with western societies, some elements of the material culture changed in meaning, going from common use to being considered a symbol of higher social status.

Woman of the aeta group or "negritos" from the Manila mountains (19th Century) by Juan RavenetMuseo de América

Visions of the Asian Indigenous Community

Journeying around the myriad islands allowed the expeditionaries to learn about the enormous ethnic diversity of the Philippine archipelago, which was populated by cultural groups with a wide variety of languages, customs, and physical appearances.

Some societies, such as the Aeta people, have dark skin and were therefore known as blacks. This female portrait is a delicate study of the particular characteristics of the population of the mountainous region of Manila.

Bracelet (19th Century) by KalingaMuseo de América

In many societies of Oceania and Indonesia, pigs were one of the most prized animals, used as an element of prestige in exchanges.

The teeth of the wild boar were especially valued by the men, who would use them to make bracelets, as in this case, but also pendants or even a nose adornment.

Among the tribes in the north of the island of Luzon, defending these animals was considered a symbol of affluence and power.

Swords (Kalasag) (19th Century) by BagoboMuseo de América

Different Types of Relationships

Although the preferred relationship was one of commercial exchange, contacts with other populations sometimes led to tension, conflict, and confrontation.

Mirror (18th Century)Museo de América

Commercial Relationships

All of our mirrors had broken and the few good ones were wanted by the King [King of Tidore, of the Maluku Islands].

The economic system was based on trade. The expeditionaries offered iron objects, knives, scissors, cloth, combs, bells, glass, and particularly mirrors, which were all considered curios.

Obviously exchanges were established based on precisely the difference in the valuation criteria of the items, so that each party thought they were getting a good deal.

Carrier of Manila (1789/1794) by Juan RavenetMuseo de América

Following the arrival of the Spanish, the port of Manila became one of the most important centers of commercial activity in the world.

Silver from American mines was exchanged for sought-after Asian products, which would end up in the houses of noblemen and the bourgeoisie across America and Europe.

The presence in Manila of numerous Chinese traders, or Sangleys (those that came to trade) was essential to boost economic development and facilitate the necessary flow of merchandise with the Asian powerhouse.

Headdress (Aheto) (ca. 1993) by KarajáMuseo de América

The Process of "Othering"

They wrap themselves in clothing made from macaw feathers, with large rolls on their backside made with the longest feathers; they look ridiculous.

The Amazonian cultures used feathers from various birds to make headdresses, bracelets, and skirts. These elements were used in special ceremonies, though not always understood or valued by western cultures.

The feather objects were not held in high regard by the expeditionaries. Societies were categorized based on the complexity of their material culture, which marked the relationship established with them, and was used as a criterion to legitimize their domination.

Sword (19th Century) by Moros de MindanaoMuseo de América

Throughout this voyage around the world, the expeditionaries made contact with different populations, and each required different types of relationships and exchange of different goods.

In the text, distancing is justified with regard to these groups, marking them as "other" based on their religion (moors, pagans, and gentiles), their clothing, their economy, their way of life, and even their size (giant Patagonians).

This sword, made by the moors of the Southern Philippines, and called kalis tulid, is an emblem of power and prestige for the chief, used both in battle and on parades.

Figure (Bulul) (19th Century) by IfugaoMuseo de América

The expeditionaries observed the beliefs of the cultures that they came across along their voyage, but most were dismissed as idolism, and their representations burned.

These types of anthropomorphic sculptures by the Ifugao culture, made from wood, represent the ancestral spirits, guardians of the granaries and houses, and invoke the protection of harvests, health, and prosperity.

Swords (Kalasag) (19th Century) by BagoboMuseo de América

Conflicts and Confrontations

Weapons were highly valued objects by the western expeditionaries when they made contact with other cultures. They were used to profile a scale of value between societies, and to estimate the potential relationships that were possible between the parties.

Wooden swords similar to these (kalasag) could have been used by the indigenous people who clashed with Magellan on the island of Mactán, which ended with the death of the captain. They stuffed hair from their defeated enemies around the edge of the ancient kalasag in order to appropriate their power and courage.

Spear (19th Century) by Malayo-filipinoMuseo de América

Bows and arrows with poisoned tips were common weapons among the Filipino indigenous communities. It was precisely one of these that caused the death of Ferdinand Magellan.

In the Muslim communities of the Southern Philippines, known as moors, lances as well as swords were essential elements for face-to-face confrontations.

They would use lances made from a metal sheet shaped into a lance, that could be finished with extended blades, and a handle made from a thick piece of bamboo or wood.

Morion (helmet) (19th Century) by Moros de MindanaoMuseo de América

Filipinos had their own collections of arms, but they also started adapting new weapons following the European influx. For example, this bronze helmet is similar to the Hispanic morion, a military helmet typical of the second half of the 16th century. It may be an imitation, but is a version made by the moors of the Philippines.

The differences that the expeditionaries found between other populations were an excuse for the violent interaction which took place: attacks, battles, and even kidnapping men and women considered different and "other."

Hammock (1862/1865)Museo de América

Cultural Influences

Contact with different groups led to the adoption, on both sides, of new customs, and the use of previously unknown objects.

Some Amazonian communities with a nomadic or semi-nomadic way of life required light tools that could be easily transported. A hammock is a lightweight netting made from vegetable fiber. It is hung at each end from two strong posts, to allow a person to rest while preventing contact with the floor.

The position of the body in the hammock avoids any pressure points, and aids venous return. The relaxation of the soft swinging, and the sensation of weightlessness, led to these items being distributed to other cultures in warm environments, or regions of high humidity.

Cockfight (1789/1794) by Tomás de SuríaMuseo de América

They have large, domestic roosters, but they do not eat them; rather they worship them, although they also make them fight…

Hens are not native to America, and so it is surprising that these domestic birds have been described there from very early dates. The breeding of European chickens spread from the Antilles to many indigenous groups in Brazil.

However, another route that these birds took to America was via the Pacific, from Asia and Polynesia, where white-feathered hens were bred for rituals, and in some cases for cock fights; a tradition that made its way to Mexico.

Credits: Story

Curation and texts: Beatriz Robledo Sanz, Andrés Gutiérrez Usillos

Coordination: Susana Alcalde Amieva

Photographs: Joaquin Otero, Gonzalo Cases

Museo de América

This exhibition is part of the First Voyage Around the World project.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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