Today in Philippine History, March 16, 1521, Magellan sighted the eastern coast of Samar

Sunday July 28, 2013 ()

On Saturday March 16, 1521, Ferdinand Magellan, after leaving the islands of Canoyas, later called the Landrones, named after the thievish propensities of its inhabitants, (now known as Marianas Islands) sailing westward looking for the Moluccas, sighted an island which has very lofty mountains. Soon after they learned that it was Zamal (Legaspi's account called this island Cibabao), the present day Samar Island, a distant three hundred leagues from the islands of the Ladrones. On the following day the sea-worn expedition, landed on a little uninhabited island south of Samar which Pigafetta called Humunu, which is known today as Homonhon a barangay in Guiuan, Eastern Samar.

   Ferdinand Magellan after a painting by Velasquez
   (Ferdinand Magellan after a painting by Velasquez)

On March 17 while still anchored, they were visited by several canoes or praus, carrying the principal chiefs of Suluan named Inaroyan, Limbas, Bucad, Layong, Calipay, Badiao, Cabuling, and the Datu, Garas-Garas. Suluan is an island about 20 kilometers off to the east from Homonhon facing the Pacific Ocean.

These men came aboard and Magellan explained to them through an interpreter, that the King of Spain had sent them not to do any damage, but to spread the Faith of Christ and convert them to the True Religion. As they were so well received, they called Homonhon "Nueva Providencia". The next day was stormy and nothing was done until March 19, when most the Spaniards disembarked, leaving only enough men to guard the vessels. Mass was celebrated and after the ceremony a tall cross was raised near the shore. Datu Garas-Garas, Iranoyan, and the others then entered into a treaty of friendship with Don Hernando Magallanes (Ferdinand Magellan), representing His Majesty, which was drawn up by Leon de Espeleta, Secretary and Notary of the expedition.

Antonio Pigafetta (chronicler of Magellan) said that they stayed on the island of Homonhon 8 days but had great difficulty in securing food. The natives brought them a few cocoanuts and oranges, palm wine, and a chicken or two, but this was all that could be spared, so on the 25th, the Spaniards sailed again, and near the south end of Leyte landed on the little island of Limasaua. Here there was a village, where they met two chieftains, whom Pigafetta calls "Kings", and whose names were Raja Calambú and Raja Ciagu. These two chieftains were visiting Limasaua and had their residences one at Butúan and one at Cagayan on the island of Mindanao.

   Antonio Pigafetta
   (Antonio Pigafetta, photo credit: Wikipedia Commons)
On the island of Limasaua the natives had dogs, cats, hogs, goats, and fowls. They were cultivating rice, maize, breadfruit, and had also cocoanuts, oranges, bananas, citron, and ginger. Pigafetta tells how he visited one of the chieftains at his home on the shore. The house was built raised on posts and thatched. Pigafetta thought it looked "like a haystack".

It had been the day of San Lazarus when the Spaniards first reached these islands, so that Magellan gave to the group the name of the Archipelago of Saint Lazarus, the name under which the Philippines were frequently described in the early writings, although another title, Islas del Poniente or Islands of the West, was more common up to the time when the title Filipinas became fixed.

Magellan’s people were getting desperately in need of food, and the population on Limasaua had very inadequate supplies; consequently the natives directed him to the island of Cebu, and provided him with guides.

Leaving Limasaua the fleet sailed for Cebu, passing several large islands, among them Bohol, and reaching Cebu harbor on Sunday, April 7. A junk from Siam was anchored at Cebu when Magellan’s ships arrived there; and this, together with the knowledge that the Filipinos showed of the surrounding countries, including China on the one side and the Moluccas on the other, is evidence of the extensive trade relations at the time of the discovery.

Cebu was a large town and it was reported that more than two thousand warriors with their lances appeared to resist the landing of the Spaniards, but assurances of friendliness finally won the Cebuanos, and Magellan formed a compact with the Datu of Cebu, whose name was Hamalbar, identified in Philippine history today as Rajah Humabon.


  1. A History of the Philippines, by David P. Barrows, page 78-80, American Book Company, New York, 1905
  2. The Philippine Islands 1493 - 1803, Volume II, 1521-1569, pages 169-171. Translated from original document by Blair and Roberston, 1911, University of Michigan Special Collection (digital) Library.
  3. A Hitherto Unpublished Document on the Landing of Magellan at Homonhon, Percy A. Hill, May 1931


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