BEIJING – The Manila galleons, or Spanish ships that traversed the trading route that connected Mexico with the Philippines, China and the rest of Asia since the 16th century, is a historical inheritance that Spain and Latin America should recognize, according to an anthropologist and researcher from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).
Speaking to EFE, Leticia Mayer lamented that the odyssey, the pioneer of globalization, is now forgotten.
The Manila galleon, which started in 1565 and connected New Spain – current Mexico – and the Philippines and East Asia, was the focus of discussions organized by Instituto Cervantes in Beijing and UNAM.
Mayer explained that history has been “narrated to us by the Anglo-Saxons and it appears as if everything took place after the 18th century,” following the travels of Britain’s James Cook.
However, two centuries earlier, the Pacific was full of sailors, almost exclusively from the Spanish empire, although initially they were not able to manage a round trip back to the Americas.
When Augustinian Friar Andres de Urdaneta, who had circumnavigated the Earth along with Juan Sebastian Elcano, was told nobody could return from Asia to America by crossing the Pacific Ocean, he planned a round trip along the route.
With permission from Viceroy Luis de Velasco, the expedition led by Urdaneta and captained by Lopez de Legazpi set sail in November 1564 from La Navidad, which currently falls in the Mexican state of Jalisco.
The first half, with known trade winds in their favor, lasted two months, but the challenge lay in the return.
If Urdaneta’s calculations were correct, the expedition would return safe and sound in a little over four months and if not, the ocean would have claimed them.
Fortunately, the friar got his planning right and, aided by the Kuroshio Current, to the north of Japan, discovered a return route to Acapulco, which until today continues to be a major shipping route.
Urdaneta died in 1568 and was buried at his monastery in old Tenochtitlan.
In 1575, another noted Augustinian, Martin de Rada, became the first Spaniard to arrive in China with official permission, eight years before the well-known Jesuit Matteo Ricci, considered one of the major evangelical missionaries in the Ming Empire.
The story of Rada’s invitation relates to the pirate Limahon, who was running riot along the Chinese coasts and who, on being pushed to the south by the royal navy, attacked a Manila galleon.
The Spanish recovered from the pirates’ attack and helped capture them, which pleased the Chinese authorities and led them to extend an invitation to Rada.
Hence, the first Manila galleon voyages served to bring closer two major empires of the era, namely the Chinese and Spanish, with Spanish settlements in Taiwan as a bridge, and which laid the foundations of what in the 20th century came to be known as globalization.
Recent archaeological finds too, have confirmed Hispanic presence in northern Taiwan, from 1624 to 1642.
In 1815, 250 years after the first opening of the route, the last Manila galleon set sail from Acapulco before the Mexican War of Independence finally brought an end to it.