First-ever map to use ‘Filipina’ up for auction

John Silva - The Philippine Star
First-ever map to use âFilipinaâ up for auction
An image of the first-ever map to have the name ‘Filipina’ engraved on it, by Venetian cartographer Giovanni Batista Ramusio, will be auctioned at Leon Gallery in Makati City on Feb. 22.

MANILA, Philippines — The first-ever map to have the name “Filipina” engraved on it – called the “Ramusio Map” after the Venetian cartographer Giovanni Batista Ramusio – will be up for auction at the Asian Cultural Council Auction 2020 at León Gallery on Saturday, Feb. 22.

The sale includes this and other maps, including the legendary “Spice Map” of Petrus Plancius of 1617.

Our country would be named not by Ferdinand Magellan but by a subsequent explorer, Ruy Lopez de Villalobos. To name the islands after King Philip II was out of his gratitude and even obeisance to the Spanish crown (the Philippines is the only nation in the world which takes its name from a monarch.)

History’s fickle fate, however, would later transform that same name into a declaration of independence.

The outfitted fleet of Ruy Lopez de Villabos was impressive: six ships and 400 men with strict instructions on trade, booty and evangelization from Antonio de Mendoza, the first colonial administrator of New Spain.

The fleet arrives in the western islands January 1543 and Villaobos, the toponymist, names every island he casts his binoculars on. The first string of names were innocuous; an island with vegetation was anointed Los Jardines.

Another with corals, Los Corales. And yet another with reefs, Los Arrecifes.  

As they wandered further in, around Cebu, they headed south and were met by hostile natives, most refusing to provide food and livestock or, in a few cases, fought against them.

Diaries of that period say that the Portuguese colonizers had badmouthed the Spaniards. More probably, word got around about the earlier battles on Mactan and Cebu and had spread among the islanders. In addition, self-subsistent communities had food and livestock just enough for them and couldn’t spare more for the Spanish fleet.

An island south of Mindanao (later Sarangani) was named Antonia after the administrator Mendoza who chose Villalobos to lead the fleet. Later, one of the ships surveyed and rounded the island of Mindanao. Concluding it was a large island, Villalobos named it Caesaria Karoli, after King Charles as befitting of the King’s vast rule.

Along the way, it is unclear when the fleet lands on an island (Leyte or Samar) with generous and kind natives. For that, Villalobos anoints the Island “Filipina,” after Phillip II of Spain.

The distinguished historian Fr. H. De La Costa sarcastically writes that Villalobos’ island naming seemed less the actuations of an explorer and more that of a palace courtier toadying up to the monarchy. Perhaps, having heard how previous explorers like Sebastian Elcano had a hard time getting the rewards promised, Villalobos wanted to make sure he proved his loyalties and services.

Villalobos and his remaining fleet found it difficult to catch the winds to sail north and east to reach the California shores and south back to New Spain.

Instead, they headed south to the Moluccan islands, surrendered to the Portuguese with heavy-hearted Villalobos dying in a prison cell on the island of Ambon.

Fortunately, documents, diaries and maps belonging to the crew including that of Villalobos managed to be taken with the Spanish crew allowed to return to Spain.

Eventually these materials reach Venice and to the hands of Giovanni Batista Ramusio, the leading travel writer and cartographer of the period. Venice, the most important trading nexus between the east and Europe at the time, was closely watching the rise of the Iberian empires reaching the east via the Indian and Pacific Oceans. 

In a matter of a decade, Ramusio with his sidekick and cartographer Giacomo Gastaldi completes the monumental three-volume book containing maps of the various parts of the world and edited texts of known explorers like Marco Polo, Antonio Pigafetta, Niccolo Da Conti, Alvar Nunez de Cabeza and Tome Pires, among others.

In its second edition, there appears a wood block map by Gastaldi showing the newly explored part of the globe, from Japan (then named Cympagu), China, Cochinchina, Thailand (then Syam), Cambodia (Camboya) and the sought after islands of the Moluccas.

On the upper left of the map beside an island that mistakenly fronts Vendanao (Mindanao), is the engraved name FILIPINA.

Of all the names bestowed on the various islands, Filipina is the sole and foreign standout in that part of the world.

The map is “upside down,” one of the last maps of the 16th century to follow the Arabic mode of the Southern Hemisphere being on top. 

Villalobos’ astuteness in naming an island for the king-to-be Phillip probably resonated with Ramusio too, who knew to engrave the “Filipina” name for the purpose of selling his three-volume book to the Spanish monarchy and the many other royalties in the kingdom.

“Filipina” was pluralized (Yslas Filipinas) given Spanish settling on to the neighboring islands.  Eventually, “Filipino” would extend past Spanish ownership and become the name for Spanish inhabitants born and raised on the islands.

Around three centuries later, the name expands further, encompassing the local elites and mestizos who were the mainstay for the reform and later revolutionary movement.

As the majority population with a Filipino identity imbedded in the national psyche, newspapers, revolutionary tracts, a constitution, a national anthem and love poems were developed.

By the 20th century and with the granting of independence, Filipinos had waged numerous wars, shed much blood and created a national history.

Villalobos would not recognize, in the least, the transformation of the name he had cast on an island. 

John Silva is the executive director of the Ortigas Foundation Library. His 1565 Ramusio copperplate engraving with “FILIPINA” is included in the upcoming Leon Gallery auction to be held at 2 p.m. on Feb. 22. Their website is https://leon-gallery.com


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