Enrique of Malacca

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Panglima Awang, better known as Enrique of Malacca or Henry the Black, was a Malay member of the Magellan-Elcano expedition, also known as the first circumnavigation of the world. Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan acquired him as a slave and took him to Europe in 1511 at the age of 14. Having returned to Southeast Asia where he came from, Enrique is believed by some historians to have been the first person to circumnavigate the world.


The truth about Enrique’s origin has not been established. Magellan stated in his written will and testament that Enrique was a native of Malacca. However, according to Antonio Pigafetta’s The First Voyage Around the World (1519-1522), Enrique came from Sumatra. On the other hand, Maximilianus Transylvanus, who authored the earliest account published on the Magellan-Elcano expedition, Enrique hailed from Moluccas.

Enrique became Magellan’s slave when the latter conquered Malacca in 1511. He was enlisted in Magellan’s fleet which was set to voyage around the earth between 1519 to 1522. According to Ginés de Mafra, Enrique was taken on the expedition because of his ability to speak the Malay language. He served as an interpreter for the Spaniards. His language skills helped Magellan forge an alliance with the leaders of Cebu, especially in the mass baptisms that followed.

Following Magellan’s death in the Battle of Mactan on 27 April 1521, the remaining men held an election to select a new leader for the expedition. Duarte Barbosa and Juan Serrano were chosen as co-commanders. In his will, Magellan called for the liberation of Enrique. However, Barbosa and Serrano demanded that Enrique continue his duties as an interpreter for them. Enrique secretly had communication with Rajah Humabon, which caused him to betray the Spaniards.

Main article: May 1 Massacre

On 1 May 1521, Humabon invited the Spaniards for a great feast. Thirty officers, including Serrano and Barbosa attended it. Towards the end of the meal, armed Cebuanos came and murdered the men. Twenty-seven were killed. Serrano, who was left alive and brought to the shore facing their ships, begged the men on board to pay a ransom to the Cebuanos. However, the Spanish ships left the port, and Serrano was presumably killed. Antonio Pigafetta speculated in his account that João Carvalho, who became first in command in the absence of Barbosa and Serrano, left Serrano so that he could be in command of the fleet.

Sources say that Enrique either settled down in Cebu or returned to Malacca or Indonesia as his name was not included in the list of Magellan’s surviving crew that returned to Spain.


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