Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Crusade or Commerce

By: William Henry Scott

It has often been said that Spanish relation with Muslim Filipinos was dominated by a crusading spirit. By this is meant an unrelenting drive to stamp out Islam, characterized by a fanatical hatred to which any considerations of politics and economics were either secondary or incidental. Extreme opponents of this view, commercial competition a mere tactic of this Crusade: as Dominican Fray Francisco Antolin put in 1973 “The best means of waging war against an enemy’s power is to deprive him of most profitable commerce.”

But it is possible to interpret the same relations from precisely the opposite point of view – that is, that the Cross followed the commerce rather than vice versa. In this view, commercial competition would be seen, not as a means of waging war, but for the purpose of doing so. Kings and emperors would accordingly outfit expensive expeditions and sacrifice their subjects’ lives not out of religious fanaticism but out of hope of gain. Spanish-Muslim relation would therefore be characterized not by hatred of Islam but by love of profit.

This study looks into the historic circumstances under which the first Spanish-Muslim contacts were made in the Philippines to test these two theories.

When Ferdinand Magellan offered to sell his services and the secrets of Portuguese spice trade to Spanish King Charles I in 1517, Charles was a 17 year old boy who had arrived in Spain the month before and could not speak a word of Spanish. He had neither a crown nor a living allowance, and before Magellan set sail had inherited a multi-million dollar debt from his grandfather Maximillian who died in such penury. His grocery bills were literally paid by his banker. For all practical purposes, therefore, it was not Charles who made the decision to sign a commercial contract with Magellan, but a German banker by the name of Jacob Fugger. And Jacob Fugger’s motives were admirably unmixed – he wanted to realize some return on the 9 million dollars he had loaned Charles’ grandfather.

Magellan’s agreement with the King was straightforward businesses contract with stated what each party was to contribute and to receive. His instructions specified the precise amount of deck space and cabin stowage each member of the ship’s company was to be allotted for carrying his own merchandise and the percentage of the spoils of war to be enjoyed by everybody from captain to cabin boy. Reports were to be made of all unknown lands and people, with details on anything that could be dug up, cut down, harvested, plucked, seized or bought and solf for profit. Natives were to be treated kindly so as to pave the way for future trading relations, while special articles dealt with any Moro who might be encountered. If they were on the Spanish side of the Papal Line of Demarcation their ships were to be hauled and taken in fair fight, important persons ransomed off, others sold as slaves as quickly as possible to avoid the expenses of feeding them, and treaties made with their overlords. If on the Portuguese side of the line, they were to be firmly sent away and bidden never to return. Those who tried to resist might be treated with enough cruelty to serve as a warning to the others. But under no circumstances was Magellan to leave flagship himself or set foot ashore. Thus, all those mass baptisms in cebu and heroics in mactan were in direct disobedience on his orders.

By the time Magellan’s survivors returned to Spain, Charles had borrowed another $3 million from the House of Fugger to buy the title of Holy Roman Emperor. The voyage had produced a half-million dollars’ worth of spices – every once had been purchased from Muslims, and cost more than 200 Spanish lives – not one of which had been taken by the Muslims. Charles and Fuggers therefore sent out a second expedition with even more business like instructions: Article 33, for example, ordered cooperation with Moros in Timor and Borneo to hire local vessels and man them. Two years later, Charles was fighting on three fronts in Europe with his war chests emptier than ever. He mounted a third expedition to the Spice Islands. While it was outfitting in Mexico, imperial armies full of German Protestants subjected Rome to the most destructive sacking it had ever suffered and took the Pope prisoner. Not for another decade was Charles ready to try again. He then borrowed another half million from the Fuggers to fight the Turks, sold all claims to the Philippines for still another half million, and waited a decent 24 months before sending orders to the Viceroy of Mexico to start preparations for the occupation of that archipelago. So thick-skinned conscience of a bankrupt monarch who recognizes his duty to preserve and expand a Christian kingdom.

Ironically, all these attempts to tap the spice trade may be very well have figured in the accounts of the Royal Exchequer as Crusades. One of the main sources of the royal income was the – Bula de Cruzada – the Crusade Bull. This was a privilege granted by every Pope since the 13th century for the sale of indulgences to compensate Iberian monarchs for their expenses in fighting infidels. By the time Charles’ son Philip II managed to bring Spain an unaccustomed few years of peace and send Legazpi out to make his father’s dream come true, it amounted to more than six million pesos a year.

The documented records generated by these expeditions show them to have been business like undertakings. Every one of their five commanders prohibited his men from buying Philippine gold so as not to inflate its price. And when Charles graciously returned three slaves sent him by the Sultan of Tidore, he retained a fourth who had spent too much time in the marketplace comparing the price of spices and currency exchange notes. A document still exist in the Archives in India which records the ransom the “Governor of Palawan” captured in 1521 paid for his freedom, and so does another which attests to the amount of his majesty’s copper wire delivered as indemnification for a Muslim ship taken in 1565.

And if any survivors of the Cebu massacre nursed a hatred for Islam so fanatical it could interfere with business, they were able to control it long enough to kiss a Moluccan sultan’s hand, slaughter all their pigs so as not to offend his Muslim nostrils while he repaired their ships and loaded them with spices.

Nor was the profit in the spice trade and respecter of race or religion. The Muslim vessel captured in 1565 belonged to a Portuguese businessman living in Borneo, but its cargo belonged to the Sultan of Brunei. And when the Spaniards encountered the Portuguese in Ternate, they fought their Iberian brothers from the deck of Muslim warships.

Indeed, the case can be made that whatever the success the Spaniards enjoyed during the first 50 years in the Philippines was obtained through cordiality with the Moros. It was a Muslim merchant who introduced Saripada Humabon of Cebu to receive Magellan without demanding harbor fees. It was the Sultan of Tidore who sent two boats to ransom off Spanish captives in Leyte and Samar during the Villalobos expedition, and the Sultan of Brunei who rescued three others who had been sold to the King of Maguindanao (probably Sharif Kabungsuwan himself). It was a Bornean pilot who acted as adviser of Legazpi in dealing with the Boholanos, and an old Muslim who married in Cebu who acted as his interpreter in that port. And mirabile dictum, it was Manila Muslims who saved his whole expeditionary force from being starved by Cebuanos who left their fields unplanted for two years for just that purpose.

As Legazpi’s chronicler says:

Truly, had God not mercifully provided for them, they would have been in greater trouble and need than they were, or two or three times when they were in dire and absolute want, some ships of Moro merchnats from Luzon arrived at the camp without their knowing where they come from or why, whom the Governor received very well and paid what they wanted, so the camp was supplied and enough to eat, whereas, had they had to maintain it by making war on the natives they would certainly have been lost and perished.
But the most faithful Muslim service to Spanish invasion was that rendered by a talkative Bornean pilot the Spanish account calls a “chatterbox” who gave Legazpi a description of Moro trade within the archipelago. The Spaniards already knew the patterns in the Southern Philippines from their ill-fated predecessors – that is, the Mindanao connection with Malacca, Borneo and the Moluccas. But what about all those Chinese goods? And the reports of the actual Chinese junks anchored in ports like Butuan? The talkative Bornean supplied the key to this puzzle.
Since what they carry are goods from China, boats from Borneo and Luzon are called Chinese junks in these islands and even the Moros themselves are called Chinese but in fact Chinese junks do not reach there (i.e. Butuan) because they are very big and not fit for sailing between these islands.
Now the picture was clear. Chinese goods that were brought to Manila in seagoing junks were carried into the archipelago in shallow-draft Moro outriggers, and Moro outposts on the north coast of Mindoro guaranteed this monopoly on domestic distribution. Then an east-west trade route carried Indian wares from Portuguese Malacca along the coast of Borneo direct to the international entrepots of Butuan and Cebu, while a Moluccan branch of the same route crossed the Sulu archipelago, passed through the Basilan Strait and veered south at Sarangani.

With this information, the conquistador’s work was out for him. First, Mindoro must be neutralized tio give access to Manila. Then, Manila must be taken to capture the China trade. Next, Borneo must be reduced to break the Malaccab connection, and lastly, Jolo and Maguindanao must be neutralized for direct access to the Spice Islands in the south. Of course, it is unlikely that Legazpi or any other Spanish commander ever envisioned this grand strategy which was actually carried out in series of Spanish acts of aggression Mindoro in 1570, Manila in 1571, Borneo and Jolo in 1578, Mindanao in 1579 and the Moluccas in 1582. These were the real opening engagements of the 300-year Moro wars.

In view of the historic events which have been just surveyed, it hardly seems necessary to invoke religious bigotry of fanatical hatred to account for the Moro Wars. True, Spanish military efficiency was no doubt enhanced by a piety that eased kings consciences and a prejudice which released conquistadors’ adrenalin. No doubt, too, their victims’ religion was as much a target as their trade; after all any community wealthy and cohesive enough to build a mosque was probably strong and determined enough to defend both its religion and its trade. Yet it is hard to doubt that the same war would have been fought under the same circumstances and the same motives even if those Muslim targets had been Portuguese or Chinese – or Hotentot.

    Crusade the Moro wars may well have been, and true crusading zeal may have been fired them. But if so they were crusaders for commerce, not for Christ.

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