Friday, December 26, 2008

manila extract

This should have been a November tale. 544 years ago, one of the world's great expeditions began. And it began on my little piece of beach -- or just south of it -- in Barra de Navidad.

The year was 1564. The Spanish Empire had expanded over the Americas, Africa, and Asia. Magellan, in the service of Spain, was killed in the Philippines 43 years earlier. Philip II (not yet chastened by the defeat of the Armada) decided that Magellan's discovery needed to be incorporated into the Catholic Empire. Where better to launch the expedition from than Mexico?

And that is exactly what happened. With no Panama Canal, the Spanish "enlisted" the services of Indian slaves to build roads and transport supplies from Vera Cruz to the west side of Mexico -- at Barra de Navidad. The Spanish built a fleet of five ships from local timber, and, with 500 soldiers, Miguel López de Legazpi set sail for the Philippines on November 21, 1564. Four months later, he landed in the Philippines, named them for his king, and set out to successfully conquer the islands for Spain.

The relationship between Mexico and the Philippines was enduring. Politically, the Philippines were ruled by the viceroy of New Spain from 1565 to 1821, of which Mexico was the crown jewel. (Of course, after 1821, other political arrangements had to be made, Mexico having decided that it could be a jewel in its own crown.)

Mexico and the Philippines were bound within the Spanish economic sphere, as well. Every year, the Spanish would ship silver from Mexico to Manila, and silk, spices, ivory and porcelain from Manila to Mexico in the famous Manila Galleon.

What made the trade routes work was a military secret. The Spanish had discovered that they could easily catch trade winds by sailing contra-intuitive courses. Francis Drake discovered the same trick and was able to use it to his advantage in attacking the Manila Galleon.

Barra was not easily defended, and pirates took great advantage of that fact during its decade of being Mexico's port of entry for Philippine goods. The Manila trade then slipped away to the more easily-defended Acapulco. (We can now be assured that Babs will not be spirited away by pirates during her post-Navidad holiday in Barra.)

Older guide books refer to the expedition being commemorated by "a simple monument in Barra de Navidad's small plaza." That is no longer the case. The Phlippine-Barra connection is now recalled at the end of Barra's malecón with a rather grand monument, celebrating a truly grand chapter in Barra's past.


Islagringo said...

When I saw this Memorial and took pictures of it, I had no idea of its' political significance. Thanks for enlightening me!

Steve Cotton said...

Wayne -- One of the banes of my existence (and those who exist around me) is my infatuation with history. I am glad you enjoyed the post. And I am glad you have seen the monument. Whoever situated it had a French eye for placement.