The Philippine Embassy in Madrid, in cooperation with Tahanan Books and the Magellan-Elcano Studies Center of Partido State University, held an online discussion on 31 October 2020 on “Reimagining Enrique: Inspiring Historical Fiction Beyond the First Encounter.”
The webinar’s two-hour panel discussion centered on Enrique of Malacca, the slave/translator of explorer Ferdinand Magellan who joined the latter’s globe-spanning journey five hundred years ago. The event, which was part of the Embassy’s countdown activities for the 2021 Quincentennial Commemorations in the Philippines, explored the myths and the historical facts surrounding the first person said to have circumnavigated the globe, and attracted seven thousand views within just twenty-four hours of its release.
What makes Enrique relevant today? How did he become a subject of interest among scholars, historians, writers, filmmakers, and other artists? These questions were fleshed out by award-winning authors, Reni Roxas and Carla Pacis; National Artist for Film, Kidlat Tahimik; and historian, Prof. Danilo Gerona.
After presenting a five-minute video produced by Tahanan Books from their picture book, “First Around the Globe,” author and publisher Reni Roxas shared her fascination with Enrique and why his story made for such compelling reading. She noted that the first material she read on the historical figure was the essay by historian Carlos Quirino which suggested the possibility that our protagonist could be a Filipino.
For her part, author Carla Pacis expressed how Enrique’s story presents us with an unlikely hero — someone who did not have to die in a grand manner but who nonetheless significantly contributed to how our history played out. Both writers agree that what we know of Enrique has left a lot of gaps open to creative interpretation.
Filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik identified Enrique as an indigenous person of the region, noting that he could not be called a “Filipino” as the Philippines did not even exist as a country at that time. He shared a clip from his experimental film that was shown at the Berlin Film Festival in 2015 which won the prestigious Calgari Film Prize. In this film, Kidlat portrayed Enrique as a bahag-wearing adventurer who had a humorous first encounter with Magellan at the market. Kidlat is a self-proclaimed member of the “Enrique fan club” and extensively discussed the possibilities he considered for his material. He hopes to finish his film in 2021 in time to celebrate the 500th year of the historical account.
Historian and professor Danilo Gerona then laid down all the available historical evidence on Enrique. After a decade of researching primary historical documents in Spain, Portugal and Italy, he concluded that it was unlikely Enrique was from the islands forming part of the modern Philippines. He believed the misconception that Enrique was Filipino can be attributed to his ability to communicate with natives from islands in the Visayas. Professor Gerona noted that Enrique was well-versed in classical Malay, which was the lingua franca in the region at that time due to its use in inter-island trade.
The panel then proceeded to a lively discussion on the value and importance of Enrique in forging and cultivating a strong mixed culture in the islands that would soon come to be known as the Philippines.
The experts at the webinar agreed that much about who Enrique was and where he finally settled in Southeast Asia is subject to speculation. Webinar viewers also shared their comments on Enrique, with one noting that he was apparently an experienced seafarer, having sailed the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans. Because of his qualities, Enrique was instrumental in making the Spanish expedition to Southeast Asia successful. Whether Enrique was a Cebuano or a native of islands of the Philippines, he will continue to be a subject of interest and imagination among Filipinos.