Friday, August 13, 2010

16th Century Visuals of the Philippine Archipelago

Old Time Mapmakers Coming Across As Novices:
16th Century Visuals of the Philippine Archipelago

Penelope V. Flores and Manuel G. Flores
San Francisco State University and
Educational Multimedia Resources


Sorting out the 16th and 17th century chaos of visual maps of the Philippines has been like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle where there is no picture board as a guide. In our research study, old time cartographers come across as novices. The conceptual framework used in this study is based on the world-system’s origins of the knowledge of Southeast Asian portolans (pilot books) and maps through the geographic thought of sixteenth to eighteenth century chroniclers, explorers, and cartographers. We analyze the pre-Pedro Murillo 1734 Philippine visual map. There is a general confusion of the life and subsequent deaths of phantom peninsulas and dragon-tail-like promontories that metamorphose into America. To this navigation of Philippine seas, we get entangled with Terra Orientales and ensnared by that infamous shifting linea—Treaty of Tordesilla’s demarcation line. The discrepancies and the various published rendering of Pigafetta’s text and account of Maximillian are full of ambiguities. We find the Zooloo string of islands called Samal scattered all over the Marianas. We document several transliterations and corrupted various ways of copyists. Knowledge of how medieval Europe depicted the Philippines is crucial to our understanding of Philippine culture and history.

1. Introduction

No understanding of the Philippines within Southeast Asia could be complete without reference to cartography—particularly at the time when a veritable revolution took place in map designs and projection during the sixteenth century.

Maps of Southeast Asia and the Philippines in the early 16th century was a mad confusion of peninsulas that was like dragon tails, and islands that dotted the Insulis or inland seas. First there was an archaic geography of Southeast Asia perpetrated by Ptolemy showing the Golden Chersonesus which corresponds to modern Malaysia. Medieval maps show the mythical Southeast Asia where the Indian Ocean was a closed ocean with no outlet and was a place of the gold and silver islands called Chryse and Argyre. According to the bible, Paradise was located in the East. Even now, Sri Lanka is believed to be the fabled garden of Eden.

It is in this setting that we locate the Philippine archipelago using Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, German, and English mapmakers. Each generation of maps incurred serious location errors mirrored by other mapmakers. Even with the voyage of discovery, many chroniclers were often mistaken. Copyists conflated some islands and corrupted name places. The effect was a complicated jumble of interpretations.

But are we not anachronistically viewing maps from contemporary eyes? In the 16th century, these maps were the ultimate in new world information.

2. Southeast Asia in the 16th century

2.1. Mythological Southeast Asia
Medieval thought commonly envisioned the area of the Philippines and Southeast Asia as “three Indias”, India Gangem, India Extra Gangem, and India Orientalis. This probably arose from the Biblical account of the three eastern kings who visited the infant Jesus. This notion of three Indias took literal form on world maps in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century. Renaissance mapmakers felt they had made better sense out of “three Indias.” Soon the belief that Asia possessed three peninsular sub continents took on a life of its own, culminating with the belief that America was the easternmost “India”. Hence, Columbus sailing westward believed that he had reached the southeastern outskirts of Asia represented as Indus Externalis and so named the indigenous people of his new discovery “Indians.” A most symbolically rendered map of Asia as the mythical horse Pegasus is presented by a theologian Heinrich Bunting as a rich allegorical figure. The horse’s two hind legs form the supposedly double peninsulas based on Asia and America as mapped by Giacomo Gastaldi in 1546. The Pacific is roughly interpreted as the same size of the Atlantic Ocean.

Fig 1. 1581 H. Bünting Pegasus map of Asia

The Chinese, Arabs and later the Portuguese knew about Southeast Asia, but very few maps existed. In addition the Portuguese were so secretive about their new discoveries in the Spice Islands that under penalty of death no mapmakers dared subvert the order. So, in the 16th century a devise was made to represent Southeast Asia: the hand map.

2.1 Barros’s Hand Map

The Portuguese João de Barros in 1522 offered a hand map of Southeast Asia. It was to form the human hand into a map. He instructed his readers to point their left hand toward their body, palm down, index finger straightened and separated from the thumb, with the remaining three fingers also separated from the index finger, these three are curled so that they extend out only to the knuckle. The thumb represented India.The index finger is the Malay peninsula, and the flesh between them Myanmar. The space represents the Indian Ocean. The three curled fingers are Cambodia and Vietnam with their natural shape approximating the land’s true southwest-northeast contour. The space between the index finger and the third finger bent at the knuckles represent the Gulf of Siam. The natural indentation of the hand visually represented Chao Phraya river; that between the third finger and the fourth fingers is the Mekong River. The contour of the hand goes up the wrist and shows the curve of Indochina. Chiang Mai is represented in the wrist. This Barros hand map is more accurate than any other maps of the period. (Suarez, 1999: 123.) And then we have the numerous islands of the Inland sea.

3. The Philippine’s 7,488 islands.

It is interesting to note that in a map below Java Minor there is an inscription which refers to an archipelago of precisely 7,448 islands. Marco Polo got this number from the testimony of seamen that sailed the China seas that “according to the testimony of experienced pilots and seamen that sail upon the China sea, they are well acquainted with the truth that it contained 7,448 islands, most of them inhabited.”

Fig.2. Ruysch’s 7,448 8 Islands Archipelagus 7448 Insularus, by Sebastian Münster,1540 in Suarez: 128.

This figure is approximately an allusion to the 7,100 islands of the Philippines. It could have been low tide when Marco Polo’s pilots chanced upon these islands. Several mapmakers make the same claim: Father Odoric, in reference to islands of the eastern seas estimated it as “at least 5000” While Mandeville repeats the same, speaking of “Inde and the isles beyond the Inde, where be more than 5,000 isles” (Suarez, 1999: 107).

Sebastian Münster’s Cosmographia (1540) called a treatyse of the Newe India, (Lach, 1965: 209) gave the literate public of Europe its first clear cartographic glimpse of the “marvelous fruitful island of Puloan, (Palawan, Philippines) located due north of Porne (Borneo).” Poloan in Münster’s (1540) map is oriented east west horizontally.

Fig. 3. Münster

The Caroline Islands is found off Samar’s Guirayan point. And this is the reason why in many old time maps, the Caroline island group is called New Philippines. The Philippine island of Samal is dutifully reported in Guam. The Jesuits’s letters contributed to this confusion.

Fig.4. Nueva Filipinas:The Caroline Islands

The Italian mapmaker Giacomo Gastaldi’s 1548 reconstruction of the Philippines is frustrating. Luzon does not appear. It is on Gastaldi’s map of 1550 that the word “Giapam”(Japan) appears in place of Marco Polo’s “Zipangu” for the first time.

The German cartographer, Martin Waldseemüller was the one who prepared a new set of world maps of an edition of Ptolemy”s Geographica. In Waldseemüller’s 1507 map of the New World, he indicated the new continent between Europe and India as “America” after the Florentine navigator Amerigo Vespucci, who retraced Columbus voyages and realized that there was a vast continent between India and Europe. In Waldseemüller’s 1510 map of the Malay Peninsula, we find the Zooloo string of islands scattered all over (now) Singapore and Indonesian seas.


We document several transliterations and corrupted various ways of copyists.

Diogo Ribeiro, a Portuguese in the employ of Spain was the chief instrument maker in Seville. He was the master map charter of all known seas: the Eastern hemisphere and the Pacific region (Lach, 1965 : 221.) His Padron Real had for the first time the Philippines’ longitudinal axis correctly oriented after the Magellan voyage.

Oronce Fine’s (1531),

The Venetian humanist and civil servant Giovanni Batista Ramusio’s 1554 three-volume Della Navigationi et Viaggi first appeared in 1550, to aid in correcting Ptolemy’s maps of Asia and Africa based on voyages and crews who sailed around the world. (Lach, 1965: 207). His 1550 volume included Pigafetta’s Primo Viaggio intorno al Mondo published in 1524 and was translated to French and then to Italian which according to William Scott (1994: 283) “has given rise to the modern Philippine controversy over a supposed Magellan visit to Butuan.”

The Dutchman, Jan Huygen van Linschoten’s maps are contained in his Itinerario which gives the best descriptions derived from Portuguese maps. What caught our attention is one of his digressions about the “relationships between the Portuguese in Goa and their native wives, the Christian Luso-Indians (mestiços) [Luzon natives who of course were Christianized by the Spanish, underscore ours] indulging in a few snide comments on miscegenation (Lach, 1965: 482).

Gerard Mercatur’s 1569 maps of early Philippines was very limited.

The Portuguese, Dutch, English, and Spanish maps from the Spanish voyages of 1525 to 1700 are enlarged in full detail and in color, much like the vellum specimen of the originals.

A woodcut from Pigafetta’s Primo Viaggio shows Mattau (Mactan) island off Zyubu presented as more than a third the size of present Cebu.

Fig. xx Cebu and Mactan, Pigafetta 1525, Primo Viaggio Intorno al Globo Terraqueo, Milan 1800. P125.

I note several errors. Tandaya is the name of the chief of Samar. The map names the island Samar as Tendaya.

We find the island of Camiguing in the northern coast of Mindanao where they were told are the towns of Butuan, Surigao, Calagan, and Caraga were located. Masagua, Sarangani, Mactan, Cabu were mistranslated words and are subsequently mutilated in many maps of the archipelago.

5. Conclusion

Knowledge of how medieval Europe depicted the Philippines is crucial to our understanding of Philippine culture and history. Many Filipino scholars at present have done scant studies of the several islands depicted in modern maps. There has been little analysis of the mistranslations, misnaming, misspelled, misidentified and mislocated islands. Early errors perpetuated are persistently used today. This is a travestry of the highest nature. Somehow, things must change.

1 comment:

meyerprints said...