A closeup Ramusio map shows Filipina, the island where Villalobos was met with generosity, and which he named after Prince Phillip II of Spain.
Culture Spotlight

The story of how the Philippines got its name is attached to this soon-to-be-auctioned map

On February 22, Leon Gallery will put this rare Giovanni Battista Ramusio map under the hammer. The map shows the beginnings of the evolution of our country's name. 
John L. Silva | Feb 12 2020

In 1543 the Spanish explorer Ruy Lopez de Villalobos reached the cluster of islands where Magellan had wandered two decades earlier. Villalobos had instructions from the Admiralty in Mexico to find a return route via the Pacific Ocean. 

The explorer was a toponymist, one who likes naming things around him, in this case, islands. He named the various Pacific islands he came across and named them for their topography like "Isle of Corals," "Isles of the Gardens," and "The Reefs," or after personages like "Isles of the Kings." 

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Wandering the central and southern islands he named one island, "Antonia," after Don Antonio Mendoza, the first Viceroy of New Spain who chose Villalobos to head the expedition. (Antonia was later named Sarangani.)  When he rounded and surveyed a fairly large island nearby he decided to call it "Caesaria Karoli," after Charles V since it was “big, and seemed as the majesty of the name suited it.” (It would be later known as Mindanao.)

The fleet had to move about the islands, the natives ungenerous with with food and livestock, oftentimes hostile, or outright attacked them. The natives may have heard about the bloody Mactan and Cebu battles of years back and the European reputation for demanding more food provisions which their self-subsistent villages couldn’t supply.

Ramusio's three volume Navigazione et Viagg, with edited accounts from Marco Polo, Antonio Pigafetta, Niccolo Da Conti, Alvar Nunez de Cabeza and Tome Pires, contains the upside down map that shows Southeast Asia.

One island though had friendly natives offering food supplies which Villalobos named Filipina, after Prince Phillip II of Spain. (It is now probably Leyte or Samar.) Naming the island after the prince, later fated to be king, was an astute move. His loyalty to the Crown was sealed, and his part of the conquest booty and compensation assured.  He didn’t have a figment of a clue as to the evolution and transformation of the appendage Filipina 350 years later.

The winds were absent for Villalobos to sail north to Japan, catch the easterly winds and make it to the California coast heading back to New Spain (later Mexico). He had no recourse but to sail south, surrender to the Portuguese, jailed and later died on the island of Ambon in the Moluccas. Fortunately, the crew were allowed to return to Spain taking along journals, maps and testimonies. Villalobos’ penchant for naming islands including one, Filipina, reached Lisbon and eventually Venice to Giovanni Battista Ramusio.

Ramusio was the leading travel writer and geographer at the time. Working under the Venetian Doge Lorenzo Priuli, he had access to all explorer documents, journals and maps on routes to the Americas, to Africa to the Indian subcontinent and the much coveted route to Southeast Asia. Venice, long and important trading center, needed to know what new routes and opportunities to engage in. Through much of the 16th century, thousands of ships headed south rounding the tip of Africa, rushing across the Indian Ocean to reach the Moluccas, the fabled Spice Islands, where even a returning sailor with just a bagful of peppercorns could retire quite comfortably.

In 1550, Ramusio, with the cartographer Giacomo Gastaldi published the three-volume Delle Navigationi et Viaggi, a first of its kind filled with edited accounts by Marco Polo, Antonio Pigafetta, Niccolo Da Conti, Alvar Nunez de Cabeza and Tome Pires among others. It is in the 1554 second edition of Volume 1 of Navigationi that a map appears containing India, China, Japan, and Southeast Asia. On the map’s upper-left is an island, small and upright with the word Filipina. Of all the names bestowed by Villalobos, Filipina would be the only one prominently cited by Gastaldi’s engraving.  

It’s curious for the map to be “upside down.” In early mapping days, the orientation was to follow the Arabic southern orientation, that is, the bottom of the map be on the top. By the latter part of the 16th century with the ascendancy of European maritime exploration, maps would be right side up.  

The Ramusio Upside-down map, 1565 copper plate engraving will be up for auction at Leon Gallery on February 22.

Filipina was initially a geographical name for a Visayan island. By the end of the 16th century, maps had the plural designation Yslas Filipinas and engraved over a few more islands including Luzon. Spaniards born on the new settlements in Manila were called Filipinos citing their birthplace. The local natives were still the mistakenly called Indios along with various names for intermarriage gradations and a growing Chinese population.

By the 19th century, there developed an Indio and mestizo educated middle class appropriating the term Filipino as their identity of choice. In the reformist and, later, the revolutionary period, the name became indissoluble with a population invoking the name to assert independence and sovereignty. King Phillip’s birth name would be used to publish seditious newspapers, compose patriotic songs and even a national anthem. 

By the middle of the 20th century, after being granted independence by the United States, the whole country had undergone painful wars, practiced democracy, rewritten history, and composed sonnets and love poems to the island archipelago.

This rare Ramusio Upside-down map, invaluable to appreciating the origin of Philippine identity, is to be auctioned at the upcoming Leon Gallery auction, February 22, 2020 at 2 P.M. This map is from the collection of this writer, John L. Silva. For further information please go to the Leon Gallery website.