Gines de Mafra

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Ginés de Mafra (b. 1493 - d. 1546) was a Spanish explorer who explored the Philippine Islands in the 16th century. De Mafra was also a member of Ferdinand Magellan and Ruy López de Villalobos expeditions in 1521 and 1542.


The explorer with the secret key to a geographical mystery

The Magellan expedition in 1519-1522, solved the question of earth's sphericity. It also left an enduring mystery, one of the greatest geographical enigmas, which started in the anchorage of Magellan's fleet in March-April 1521, in an island named Mazaua that is no longer in today's maps but is universally believed to be an isle in the Philippines called Limasawa. Limasawa is a word invented by a 17th century Spanish friar, Francisco Combés, who had not read a single true eyewitness account of the circumnavigation. He read a secondhand account by Antonio de Herrera which gave a faithful account of the Mazaua incident, Combés disregarded Herrera. He instead adopted the false account of Antonio Pigafetta by Giovanni Ramusio, Renaissance travel writer, that replaced Mazaua with 16th Century Butuan. Following Ramusio, Combés changed the island's name of Mazaua into Butuan, which is a part of the large island of Mindanao in the Philippines. He also named an island called Limasawa, which in Pigafetta's map is identified as Gatighan. Geographers, historians among them Andrea da Mosto, F.H.H. Guillemard, Lord Stanley of Alderley, James Alexander Robertson and Tim Joyner, have been trying to locate this mysterious isle. Limasawa, which has no anchorage, became Mazaua, the island-port with an excellent anchorage, through a mistaken notion of Carlo Amoretti, the Augustinian discoverer of the Italian manuscript of Antonio Pigafetta's account of the Magellan circumnavigation.

Portuguese capture

The story of de Mafra is written in the book of José Toribio Medina, El Descubrimiento del Océano Pacífico: Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, Hernando de Magallanes y Sus Compañeros, which is partly translated in Tim Joyner's Magellan. Much of what follows up to de Mafra's engagement by Guatemalan Governor Pedro de Alvarado is from Medina. The rest is from eyewitness accounts of the Ruy Lopez de Villalobos expedition, 1542-1546. De Mafra was a native of Jérez de la Frontera, southwest Spain, in Cadiz, Andalusia but a resident of Palos de la Frontera site of the church where Christopher Columbus and his men heard mass on the night before their departure for the New World. He was one of the earliest entries in the pilot roll of Magellan's fleet. He started as an able seaman in the flagship Trinidad and was in that ship when the Portuguese seized it at Ternate in the Moluccas. By that time he had been promoted as master's mate. He was imprisoned there for 5 months, transferred to a jail at Banda where he remained for 4 months, and sent to another jail in Malacca for 5 months, then brought to Cochin, India where he languished for two years. He was finally brought by the Portuguese to Lisbon together with his crew members, including Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa and Hans Bergen. Upon their arrival in portugal in 1526, he and his two mates were thrown in Limonejo Prison. Bergen died in jail while Espinosa was later released that same year. De Mafra himself was detained due to his possession of important documents, which included the books and papers from the Trinidad. The manuscripts included priceless navigational notes of Andrés de San Martín, who was the fleet's chief pilot and astrologer (cosmographer). It was later taken and mined by Portuguese historians. These manuscripts were later transferred to Spain during the union of Lisbon and Madrid in 1580. The letters were accessed by several Spanish chroniclers, including Antonio de Herrera. These papers have been lost and now exist only in quotes, references, and citations by these historians.

Finally freed only to find his wife had remarried

After numerous pleas by de Mafra to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V of Spain to have him released, he was freed in early 1527 and immediately proceeded to Spain. He was given an audience with the Emperor after which he went straight to Palos only to discover his wife, Catalina Martínez del Mercado, believing he had died during the voyage, had remarried and sold their personal fortunes and land properties. De Mafra wrote to the Emperor complaining of his marital trouble and asking for his intercession for the return of his possessions. The Emperor agreed and ordered an investigation be made by officials and to have the matter resolved.

The New World expedition

De Mafra goes back to the sea in 1531, and sails to Central America|Central and South America. The Governor of Guatemala, Pedro de Alvarado, in a letter dated November 20, 1536, tells the Emperor he had hired the services of Ginés de Mafra as pilot, who is considered as one of the best reliable sailors due to his experiences with the Magellan voyage. It's not clear where the expedition went but most scholars believe the fleet went to Peru.

The Villalobos expedition (1542-1546)

De Mafra joined the expedition under Ruy López de Villalobos as pilot of San Juan, one of six ships. Thus it is a mystery that many scholars have been trying to solve, when we find him as one of the men of the galleon San Cristobal who made it to the port of Mazaua in 1543. The galleon was separated from the fleet during a terrible storm as the ships sailed between Eniwetok and Ulithi. While stranded in that port, he writes an account of the Magellan voyage, he talks about meeting once more Rajah Siaiu the king of Mazaua. De Mafra wrote, "This same chief [Rajah Siaiu] we saw in the year fifteen forty-three by those of us in the fleet of General Ruy Lopez de Villalobos, and he still remembered Magellan and displayed to us some of the things he [Magellan] had given him." According to Pigafetta, "Magellan's gift consisted of a garment of red and yellow cloth made in the Turkish fashion, a red cap, knives and mirrors". De Mafra and his crew members stayed in the island for 5 to 6 months. This long stay suggested they had to repair the San Cristobal as it must have been damaged by the fierce storm. De Mafra was one of 117 survivors of the failed Villalobos expedition who made it to Malacca. There De Mafra, age 53, elected to stay together with 29 other crew members. The other survivors left for Lisbon in a Portuguese ship. De Mafra handed his handwritten manuscript to an unnamed sailor; this eventually reached Spain where it survived for many centuries, and transcribed in the Archive of the Indies in Madrid by an unknown editor. It was eventually discovered and published in 1920, after centuries of silence.

Geographical mysteries

De Mafra's account has been scorned as inconsequential by the famous geographer of Texas University Donald D. Brand. Brand dismissed it as nothing more than what de Mafra recalled of what Andrés de San Martín had written in his papers which de Mafra had with him until these were confiscated in Lisbon. "It should be pointed out here that the previously unknown, Descripción de los reinos, Libro que trata del descubrimiento y principio del estrecho que se llama de Magallanes, por Ginés de Mafra, published in Madrid, 1920 in Tres Relaciones could not be based on more than Mafra's memory of what he might have read in a Tratado begun by San Martín." This dismissive charge unargued and unproved, was echoed by Martin Torodash and Philippine religious historian John N. Schumacher, and influenced the thinking of many other scholars including the ethnographer historian William H. Scott. This explains why a "secret" key to the geographical mystery of Mazaua has remained buried in his little read account. Laurence Bergreen gave due recognition of de Mafra's account in Bergreen's 2003 work titled Over the Edge of the World, Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe but failed to decipher the Mazaua "code". It's this "code" that makes his account an incomparably important geographical testimony that unlocks the mystery of Mazaua.

De Mafra wrote that Magellan's port was an isle with a circumference of 3-4 leagues or 9-12 nautical miles. "Y otro dia luego partió [Magallanes] de esta isla, y navegando su viage llego a otra isla que tendra de circuito de tres hasta cuatro leguas". ("And after another day he [Magellan] left this island [Homonhon], and sailing on his way arrived at another [Mazaua] three or four leagues in circumference.") Because the shape of the isle is almost circular, 3-4 leagues translate to an area of from 2,214 up to 3,930 hectares. In contrast, Limasawa is only 698 hectares. He also said they anchored west of the isle: "Esta isla tiene un puerto bueno a la parte del poniente della, y es poblada." ("This island called Mazaua has a good harbor on its western side, and is inhabited"). Mazaua is officially, by Philippine law, declared Limasawa, an isle without anchorage, and the port is officially located east of the isle. De Mafra's most clarifying testimony is that Mazaua was 15 leagues, roughly 45 nautical miles, below Butuan of 1521 which in Pigafetta's map and text is a larger geographical conception than present-day reality and starts from today's Surigao and extends all the way to Zamboanga del Norte. De Mafra writes in Spanish: "De este Señor de Maçagua" [Rajah Siaiu] "supo Magallanes que en una provincia que se llamaba Butuan que es en la isla de Mindanao que es de la parte del norte della quince leguas de Maçagua habia gran cantidad de oro." ("From the chief of Mazaua" [Rajah Siaiu] "Magellan learned that a province called Butuan, on the island of Mindanao, which is somewhere fifteen leagues to the north of Mazaua, possessed a large quantity of gold.") This puts the port of Mazaua at 9° N, the exact latitude for it by the Genoese Pilot, one of those who wrote an eyewitness account. All these revolutionize geographical conception of Mazaua. Limasawa, which has been affirmed thrice by the Philippines' National Historical Institute, to be Mazaua is rectangular in shape, 698 hectares in area, and is reached by a track that is not drawn by any of the accounts. What is most telling is that Limasawa has no anchorage! As stated by the Coast Pilot, "Limasawa is fringed by a narrow, steep-to reef, off which the depths are too great to afford anchorage for large vessels."

The Mysterious isle

Armed with the insight from De Mafra's account, a team of geologists and archaeologists led by a geomorphologist went to work to validate the hypothesis Mazaua is in 9°N. In January 2001 an incredible discovery met the earth scientists: the geo-political entities composed of Pinamanculan and Bancasi inside Butuan in northern Mindanao was in fact an island. From that point on the archaeologists went to work to find artefacts that would identify the isle as the port of Magellan. Age of Contact ceramics, Sung ceramics, disarticulated human bones have been found that show the isle was inhabited before the Spanish entry. Corroded iron, metal bracelets, and a brass pestle have been dug up that however have yet to be dated. All the diggings however were done in places outside the suspected village where the Mazauans lived.

However scientists have not yet examined the entire isle including it's ocean waters and coastal regions. At the moment no physical evidence of Magellan and De Mafra landing in the isle has been found. As of today, geologists and archaeologists are still digging and investigating the site.


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--Vicente Calibo de Jesus 20:09, 17 August 2007 (Pacific Daylight Time)

Category:Geography Category:Explorers of Asia Category:Age of DiscoveryCategory:Explorers of the Pacific

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