Monday, March 7, 2016


The Naval Governor of Guam at the Magellan Monument in Humåtak, erected in 1926

March 6th is the day in 1521 when Magellan first sighted land after spending a long time at sea, his men sick and starving. He was the first European to travel in the then-unknown Pacific Ocean. He had no maps to tell him where he was nor where he was going in this part of the world.

So when he sighted our islands that day in 1521, neither he nor anyone in his crew could say what islands they saw. They speak of seeing two (sometimes three) islands and that they sailed in between two of them and headed down the western coast of the larger one, which would be Guam.

So the question is : where did Magellan anchor on the western coast of Guam, where he had that brief but violent encounter with our Chamorro ancestors?

Tradition has it that Magellan landed at Humåtak. There is a monument there that states that. This tradition has been unquestioned till modern times. Why has it been questioned?


Scholars who doubt that Magellan landed at Humåtak offer the following reasons for their doubt.

1. No one who was actually there at the landing says it was Humåtak. They couldn't have if all they had to rely on were maps. No maps of Guam or the Marianas existed at the time. Someone could have asked the islanders what their village was called, and maybe they did, but it was never recorded, as far as we know.

I think it would have been unlikely that someone from Magellan's crew would have asked the islanders what name their village was. Why bother? It wasn't as if they knew that Spain would come back and claim, much less settle, these islands. They weren't looking for small islands. They were looking for a way to travel from Spain to the Spice Islands in modern-day Indonesia where they could make a lot of money. The Magellan crew didn't even give us a name for the island, much less a name for a village of limited and immediate value to them only and where they fought a battle!

Without a name, it's possible that Magellan landed somewhere else on the western coast of Guam.

2. The first descriptions of the landing do not even say they landed at a bay. Pigafetta's narrative does not mention a bay. He only says that they stopped and that there was a village nearby, where they battled with the islanders who had taken Magellan's skiff. Albo's fewer lines about the stop at Guam also do not mention a bay. If a bay is not clearly described, in order to narrow down our list of possible locations, then it is possible that Magellan stopped anywhere along the coast, bay or not.

3. The distance between the northern tip of Guam (Litekyan), the first place Magellan saw on Guam, and Humåtak is so far (perhaps 6 to 8 hours of further travel by sea) that we can wonder : would it be likely that a captain with starving men add another 6 to 8 hours of travel, rather than stop at the earliest safe place to get water and food? Would they have passed Tomhom (Tumon) and Hagåtña Bays, which were highly populated and where provisions could be obtained? Would they have gone around Orote Point? Would Magellan have by-passed Apra Harbor and Cetti (Jati) Bay? Remember that Magellan had no idea what they would find farther down the coast, as they had no map of Guam or earlier reports of prior European explorers. Magellan was the first. Would he have risked possibly wasting time poking his nose down an unknown coast when northern bays clearly offered him what he needed?

4. Immediate encounter with the Chamorros. Pigafetta's writing suggests that the Chamorros went out to meet the Europeans very quickly, if not immediately. And why not? And wouldn't these quick encounters with the islanders, and perhaps the fruits and fish they may have shown the Europeans entice Magellan to make a quick landing?

The 6 or 8 hour route from the north of Guam to Humåtak by ship in the days of Magellan


1. No reef. While Tomhom and Hagåtña bays did offer Magellan quicker sources of food and water, those bays are fronted by reefs, while Humåtak Bay is free of reefs and makes an excellent port of entry for ships.

2. Later arrivals. Practically every other Spanish ship that came to Guam in the early years after Magellan's arrival make their landing at Humåtak.

3. It's the old tradition, acknowledged by the government and earlier histories.

The people of Humåtak and visitors at Magellan's Monument in the 1920s or 30s


Some scholars suggest that it was the later arrival of other Europeans after Magellan at Humåtak Bay, and the later significant role of Humåtak as the port of call for the Acapulco galleons, and of Humåtak as the Spanish Governor's frequent residence and commercial center of Guam in those days, that created the tradition that Magellan landed here.


We may never be able to answer the question, with no shadow of doubt, where Magellan made his stop along Guam's western coast in 1521. But, in my opinion, if, at this point, any place will do, then I say let's stick with Humåtak.

Even if we could prove that Magellan landed elsewhere, do we really want yet another festival in crowded Tomhom or Hagåtña? Isn't it a much more pleasant experience to drive through the scenic and bucolic south and enjoy the beauty of Humåtak? We have only two main reasons to visit Humåtak every year - its fiesta - but that's in October, and Discovery Day, or Chamorro Day. Let's keep a reason to visit the village in March, even if we don't like Magellan, or his arrival, wherever it was, or if we change the name of the holiday.

1 comment:

  1. Inuagana = probable first name provided by Chamorros for Guahan