Magellan, now there’s a guy.

He was an explorer, back when there were those globe-sweeping explorers (back in the 1500s). He was from Portugal. He was a naval officer who, long story short, sailed to the Philippines.

That’s the story, Ferdinand Magellan making it to the Philippines. King Charles I of Spain sent him out to find a way to get to the so-called “spice islands” by traveling west. Good money to be made in spice, and better money for Spain if you took a west route.

Magellan found the route, traveling through the Straits of Magellan (get it?) to the Philippines in 1521. He’d left on the voyage in 1519.

The need for the voyage was of the word being divided into two spheres. A line was drawn (in effect) through the Atlantic Ocean and to the east of it, that was Portuguese, and to the west, that belonged to Spain. The idea was Magellan (and by then everybody who cared understood the Earth was round) would find a western passage and “prove” that Portugal did not have the only claim to the spice islands.

The line that divided the globe into two spheres giving cause to Magellan’s voyage was based upon an agreement reached by Pope, at the time Alexander XI, between Spain and Portugal.

It was a pretty rough trip, but on April 27, 1521, Magellan was standing on Philippine ground. He was there assisting a tribal chieftain, a fresh convert to Christianity, in attacking a rival tribe on an island. As this all went on, Magellan was shot by a poisoned arrow and died.

The fleet sailed on, and one of the five ships made it home to Spain in 1522, traveling through the Indian Ocean. It was the first circumnavigation of the globe by ship. While Magellan was in command, it was the first trip by ship from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Okay, here’s where we get into the fine print, as it were. Traveling with Magellan was Antonio Pigafetta who kept a journal and otherwise recorded the affairs of the fleet’s journey. Pigafetta made note of a type of sword fighting the non-warrior classes of the islands studied, which he labeled “Calis” from the Spanish word for fencing.

Calis is more commonly pronounced “Kalis” these days and you’ll hear it discussed in various terms, the one I favor is “Eskrima” which somebody once told me means “Philippine stick fighting” but honestly I have no idea if that’s true or not. Still, back when such things were important to me I studied Eskrima; I studied Philippine stick fighting.

It uses a baked rattan stick, usually with a clear finish on it to prevent wear, and you swing around with the things. There’s an art to it – sword fighting after all – and I still like to get out and beat a heavy bag from time-to-time with one of the various sticks laying around the garage.

William Howard Taft, the only man to every serve as both President of the United States and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (and a man so big they had to put a larger bath tub in the White House during his term, famously) made on of his first marks as a politician on the way up when he was appointed head of the (American) government commission of the Philippines by President McKinley in 1900.

The Philippines had been in revolt, first against the Spaniards (Remember Magellan? It was the start of a long relationship) which evolved into the Philippine-American war. American troops there were commanded by a General named Arthur McArthur Jr. McArthur would go on to have a son named “Douglas,” who would go on to be appointed five-star general in the course of World War II. (They were the first father and son to be awarded the Medal of Honor.)

Taft’s cause was to create self-government for the Philippine people.

The thing blocking it was based upon an idea Taft had that Philippine farmers would have a stake in the new government through their land holdings. The problem there was most of the land was held by orders of Roman Catholic religious priests. Taft was sent to Rome to negotiate out of this with Pope Leo XIII and was not successful, although ultimately an agreement was reached the next year.

Alex Kienlen is editor of the Van Buren County Democrat.

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