Friday, October 15, 2010

A galleon visits Manila

The galleon trade enhanced Manila's importance as a trading center in Southeast Asia from 1565 to 1815 during which a total of 108 galleons plied the trans-Pacific route between Manila and Mexico. During those two and a half centuries, 30 galleons were reported shipwrecked, 10 in the treacherous currents of San Bernardino Straits, and four were captured by British pirates like Francis Drake (later honored with knighthood.)

An incredible range of products from Asia and the Americas were traded for Mexican silver which became the standard of exchange-- silk and cotton, porcelain ware, ivory carved religious images, coveted spices, sturdy metal grills to filigree jewelry, rice, tea, mangoes, exotic flowering plants, gold dust, wax, cordage, textiles from Manila, Ilocos (for galleon sails), embroidery from Lubang and Cebu (in lieu of Belian lace), carpets, furniture, tapestries, lacquer, etc, the bills of lading were mind-boggling. (Legarda, Benito, 1999)

So, when the galleon "Andalucia" dropped anchor at Pier 13 last Wednesday (October 6), I was disconcerted at how small it looked. How could they have tucked into the hull all the items in the above-mentioned inventory? Leaving Manila in July, the "habagat" season, the galleons would arrive in Acapulco in December, greeted by" ferias" and festivities during which merchants competed for the goods that would be distributed to other Spanish colonies and on mules across Mexico to the port of Vera Cruz and on to Europe.

The "Andalucia" is supposed to be a faithful replica of the Nao de Manila; I asked the captain who explained that the "Andalucia" is a medium-sized galleon with only 35 crew members but centuries ago, even these were manned by 225 sailors and officers. The Fundacion Nao Victoria based in Seville, Spain, also owns galleons with heavier tonnage and they sail around the world where they are welcomed by throngs of curious people; it took them 18 weeks to get to Manila from Seville.

Below the deck is the artillery room where I counted 10 cannons and spotted a keg of Tio Pepe jerez (sherry) tied securely to a post. I could not stand straight in the Admiral's room without bumping my head, but of course, people then were shorter. It was delightful to take the breeze on a kind of upper deck, in the olden days, the area was strictly for officers only. The weather cooperated, it did not rain for two days so the welcome cocktails hosted by the Spanish ambassador and the "sunset cocktails" of the Mayor of Manila the day after, were very well attended. During the day, there were long lines of people waiting for their turn to board and get a feel of the galleon, some were jokingly looking for slaves, others for Johnny Depp.

Vice-President Jejomar Binay came and so did Senator Loren Legarda. Mayor Lim invited the principals and heads of public and private schools in Manila and most of them trooped to Pier 13 for a blast from the past, while sipping cocktails and practicing their Spanish aboard the "Andalucia", the galleon that came to Manila.