History Teaches Us to Empathize

Posted on 06 April 2021
By Anthony Gerard Gonzales

The story of Baybay in the first circumnavigation of the world should be seen with utmost care. If you will read the account of Antonio Pigafetta, the chronicler of the Magellan-Elcano expedition, and the logbook of pilot Francisco Albo, Baybay was described as a separate island from Leyte. Pigafetta was not clear whether the expedition approached Baybay, but Albo observed how contiguous the land area was, with highlands seen from afar.

This kind of impression was not isolated to Baybay. Pigafetta, from which we rely upon much of our story in 1521, also mistakenly recorded that Hinunangan, a town in Southern Leyte province, was a separate island from mainland Leyte. Nonetheless, we cannot accuse Pigafetta or Albo of being erroneous for what they thought was true at that time for them. But how do we know? This can be answered by the science of History.

History details what actually happened based on credible sources like written accounts or recollections recorded straight from those who witnessed the event as it unfolded before their eyes. These materials known as primary sources need an expert to make sense out of them, on top of establishing their origin and understanding them, because Pigafetta’s original accounts are in Italian and French, while Albo’s logbook is in Spanish. Here, the expert, which we call historian, provides us a semblance of what actually happened: like when Pigafetta and Albo thought Baybay was a separate island from Leyte. But in processing what actually happened, History reminds us to be emphatic: that at that time, these people, like Magellan, had no idea of the islands of our ancestors primarily because these weren’t yet included in the world map. So, here, we realize how fortunate we are to have precise Google Earth on our iPhones or Android phones. The fact of the time was that Magellan, Pigafetta, and Albo helped improved map-making in the last 500 years. It is tantamount to 500 years of understanding our home planet, and as a Filipino we will mark every place and site in the Philippines, like Baybay, to remind us and the whole world how we contributed to moving the human race forward.

On the other hand, History teaches us to think and feel like Filipino. In these quincentennial milestones, we struggle to locate ourselves in this global commemoration. Previously, when we hear Magellan and the year 1521, we always look down on ourselves as a people ‘discovered’ by the Europeans. This 2021, the National Quincentennial Committee aspired to enliven that Filipino in each and every one of us—that we already have culture, society, and history thousands of years before Magellan came. Our territory may be absent in the European maps, but that does not mean we are nothing. When Jose Rizal wrote Philippine History from our own lens and voice in 1889, he reminded us that “The first thing noticed by Pigafetta, who came with Magellan in 1521, on arriving [in] the Philippines… was the courtesy and kindness of the inhabitants and their commerce.” Pigafetta recorded how our ancestors exhibited compassion and kindness to the starving, undernourished, dehydrated, and dying crew of Magellan during their first meeting in Homonhon. If they ignored these foreigners, maybe the Catholics have nothing to celebrate like the 500 Years of Christianity or even having this occasion in Baybay or as a nation, we cannot identify a towering event that partly inspired the founders of the Filipino nation in 1896-1899: the 500th anniversary of the Victory at Mactan, or up until now, a lot of us still believe that the earth is flat, or global network and exchanges will not come into fruition.

Let me emphasize that we can still commemorate the achievement of humanity and science in circumnavigating the earth for the first time while celebrating the memory of our ancestors and educating our own people and the foreigners of our history and identity.


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