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I aspire to write well-informed historical fiction that shines light on less-recognized perspectives of familiar events. Mixed Fil-Am Tisoy He/They/Siya🇵🇭🇺🇸

Retelling Magellan’s Southeast Asia

“Fight with the Prahus” in Mate of the Lily by Kingston, WHG (1878)

500 years ago on July 29th, 1521, Magellan’s survivors in a Spanish armada reduced to 2 ships were engaged with 2 fleets of the Brunei Empire of the island Borneo. The following short story retells those events based on firsthand accounts and contextual archaeological data of the era.

Additional notes on sources and broader connections follow after the narrative.

This is the first of a 2-part chapter.

Juan of Acurio leaned over the quarterdeck rail of La Victoria as it turned downriver. Back upriver he saw La Trinidad leaning to one side. It was moving too slowly. Beyond the familiar…

Retelling Magellan

Sarapong Beach, Eastern Samar, Visayas, PH. Photo taken by the author, 2019

500 years ago, Magellan passed through Leyte Gulf. My ancestors were already living off those waters, to the best of my knowledge. I have no idea what they were up to that day, but here’s a short story imagining the possibilities…

(the name Waray is said to mean “nothing”)

The sun hadn’t yet risen over the sea. The sky to the left was beginning to glow like a quiet fire. The rest of the sky was a soft blue broken by a mountain of rain clouds. And directly beneath that the wide sea was broken only by the broad outline…

Retelling Magellan

image source: Enrique De Malacca Memorial Project

500 years ago, the first person known to have traveled around the world was not Magellan — it was the Malay man he had kept as a slave for 10 years, baptized as Henrique. It’s unclear whether he was originally from Malaysia (Malacca city), or Indonesia (Sumatra island). On the 28th of March, 1521, he spoke to Visayan Filipinos in Malay off the coast of Limasawa. Based on firsthand accounts and other historical data, here’s my imagination of his experience of that day…

Henrique peered over his master’s shoulder at the island ahead of them. The Captain-General stood nearly motionless…

Retelling Magellan

Image from the Boxer Codex aka The Manila Manuscript, late 1500’s, accessed at Indiana University’s digital library: actually a galleon sailing through Guam 70 years after Magellan’s voyage

500 years ago, Magellan and the first known voyage around the world stopped in Homonhon, in Leyte Gulf, in the same waters where my Mom’s family lives. And as far as I know, where some of my ancestors have been living this whole half-millennium. Having been in that place, I like to think about what it was like in that time. I like to read history and then rethink events like short stories. So here’s my fictional retelling of Magellan meeting the Visaya people of what would become the Philippines.

The knight found himself staring at the remnants of his…

Retelling Magellan’s Southeast Asia

Burne (Sultanate of Brunei on the island of Borneo)

500 years ago, a Portuguese man sailing under Ferdinand Magellan’s command in a Spanish fleet returned to Brazil, where the man had previously managed a lumberyard. He reunited with a native Tupi woman and discovered he had a son. The boy joined his father in the expedition, which would become history’s first journey by Europeans across the Pacific Ocean. The following is a fictional story of that mestico boy in the Magellan-Elcano Voyage based on firsthand accounts and other historical knowledge.

A bell rang through the air. A moment later, a cabin boy turned over the sand clock on deck…

Retelling Magellan’s Southeast Asia

汶萊 / Wèn lái, still the modern Chinese name for Brunei.
Upper left corner: 崑崙 / Kūnlún, possibly generic name for a far place

500 years ago on July 15th, 1521, Magellan’s crewmen received the audience of a wealthy Muslim monarch. It would be half a century before any monarch so far East would actively practice Christian culture and ritual. The following short story retells an Italian man’s firsthand account of the experience. It also draws inspiration from additional anthropological sources on the era.

Brief notes on modern connections and broader history follow after the narrative.

The party of voyagers passed under the jowls of the cannons shaped into monsters’ heads that leered out from the wall, its towers, and its gate. …

Retelling Magellan’s Southeast Asia

Elephant watercolor in The Manila Manuscript aka The Boxer Codex, source: Indiana University’s Lilly Library Digital Collections

On July 15th of 1521, 500 years ago, a Venetian friend of Ferdinand Magellan was escorted on elephants to meet the Sultan of the Brunei Empire in its Golden Age. In this moment in history, travelers, traditions, and technologies crossed paths from distant corners of the world. The following is a fictional narrative based on historical documents, archaeological artifacts, and other anthropological data.

[notes on language and other details follow at the end, including the connection to “White Elephant” gift exchanges]

Cool water trickled into the garden pool of the royal stables. From the shade of a fig tree, Ting…

Retelling Magellan’s Southeast Asia

500 years ago in the early Summer of 1521, Magellan’s surviving voyagers wandered to an island that is still one of the most popular travel destinations in the Philippines. At that time it was already hosting frequent international visitors from China, Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia, to say the least. Though these were traders, not tourists. And the Europeans of Magellan’s Armada de Molucca fancied themselves explorers, though at this point they were more like survivors. The following is a fictional short story informed by real historical accounts and other anthropological data. …

Retelling Magellan’s Southeast Asia

Manila MS p71 via Indiana University

This story takes place 500 years ago. But if you’re an American, the people of this story were later colonized by your government only 75 to 120 years ago. The same government we vote in. The same military that employs our family and friends. Just 9 years ago the first American drone strike in Southeast Asia killed 15 of them. 4 years ago armed American soldiers were in the Battle of Marawi, Mindanao. This is a distant history. But then again, is it really? Here’s a glance at what these cultures’ lives were like before any Western empire touched them.

Retelling Magellan’s Southeast Asia

吕宋王城 — Lǚ Sòng Royal City

500 years ago, before any European had set foot in them, the cities that would become the Manila metropolis were already busy with international traders. Among them were the Wakō pirates of Japan’s Ryukyu islands. Here’s an imagined encounter between them and local Tagalog-Filipinos based on historical documents and other anthropological data.

Note: Tagalog has a non-gendered pronoun: “siya” [sha] for he/she/they. This narrative will adhere to singular they.


“Halika dito!” big brother ordered to Mabilis as they pushed through the crowd. As Mabilis caught up, Kuya leaned in and pointed to a man holding a well-decorated kampilan sword and…

Joseph CMW

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