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Imp't Role of Paete In Spanish Galleon Trade

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 25, 2010 5:31 am    Post subject: Imp't Role of Paete In Spanish Galleon Trade Reply with quote

Filipinos show their mettle on high seas

Homesick but not seasick after battling pirates
By Winston A. Marbella
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:47:00 12/24/2010

Filed Under: Sea piracy, Overseas Employment, Waterway & Maritime Transport, Hijacking (General), Heroism, history

THE TRIUMPHANT homecoming of three wooden sailing boats two weeks ago after agrueling 15-month voyage across the South China Sea visiting six Asian countries recalls not only how early Malay settlers reached our shores but also the maritime ingenuity we now find in modern-day Filipino sailors.

The courage of the sea flows in the blood of Filipino seafarers, but their hearts are always homeward-bound. After a dangerous brush with pirates off the coast of Africa, eight intrepid Filipino seamen—homesick but not seasick—have expressed a typically Filipino wish: They just wanted to be home for Christmas to be with their loved ones, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

In a stirring story of courage on the high seas, the Filipino sailors and their fellow crewmen aboard a German cargo ship evaded capture by Somali pirates by quick thinking and outsmarting the brigands.

Foreign Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Esteban Conejos said in a report the “adoption of best practices by the Filipino seafarers saved them from being held captive by the pirates” who boarded their ship last Oct. 24 near the Gulf of Aden while en route to South Africa. “They sent out a distress call to American and British naval vessels in the area, cut off the ship’s fuel supply, shut down the power in the bridge, and hid in a safe room before they could be overwhelmed by the pirates,” Conejos said. They stayed below deck for two days. “Unable to take charge of the ship or hold any crew member hostage, the pirates were forced to abandon the vessel after stealing some personal belongings of the crew which were left inside the cabins,” the DFA official reported. For the Filipino sailors, it was just another day at the office – at sea. Having done their duty at minimal risk to ship, cargo and fellow crewmembers, they continued to work until they reached port in South Africa, hoping only to be with their loved ones when they come home for Christmas.

The bravery of the Filipino seafarer is legendary.It has been there since he braved the stormy waters of the Bering Sea to catch Alaskan king crabs for the famous seafood restaurants of the Embarcadero in San Francisco, the City by the Bay. It has been there since he saved shipwrecked sailors off the storm-tossed coasts of southern California, graveyard of many Spanish galleons. It has been there since he crewed for the Spanish tall ships that sailed the Pacific from Manila to Acapulco, and then from Veracruz for the Atlantic crossing to Spain—the famous Galleon Trade that brought exotic products from the East to rich European markets. A replica of one of those legendary Spanish galleons docked near the equally historic Manila Hotel at South Harbor recently. There the Andalucia sat in full glory for a few days in October after sailing from Spain for six months to celebrate Unesco's “Dia del Galeon,” reliving the glory days of empire when the Spanish armada ruled the seas and most of the known world.

What the known world didn't know was that many of those wooden ships were built in the shipyards of Cavite by expert Filipino woodcarvers from Paete in the neighboring province of Laguna and shipbuilders from Mindoro recruited by Chinese contractors.
The woodcarving tradition persists in Paete and the shipyards survive in Cavite, but the glory that was Spain flickers only in memory, rekindled occasionally by the visit of a proud galleon like the Andalucia.

In colonial times, the Philippine territory was administered by the Spanish crown through authorities who also ruled Mexico, which explains why Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patroness of both Mexico and Las Islas Filipinas. The galleons often stopped over in Guam and other Pacific islands to replenish supplies for their long ocean voyages--so the Catholic saint Pedro Calungsod must have boarded one of those ships for the mission in Guam, which continues to be part of the Archdiocese of Cebu's ecclesiastical responsibility. At a certain time of year, the prevailing trade winds of the Pacific would blow the galleons higher up north to the coast of California, from where they would sail southward to Acapulco, hugging the coastline. Violent storms caught many of those ships, and today the California coast is a graveyard to many galleons.
Steinbeck's PH sailors

Many stories of heroism at sea survive in the oral history of small Filipino communities along the California coast, and farther inland at the vegetable farms of Salinas Valley, the setting of John Steinbeck's famous East of Eden. Steinbeck's son, Thomas, preserved many of those heroic tales of rescue at sea by brave Filipino sailors in a breathtaking book, “Down to a Soundless Sea.”

One story tells of a Filipino sailor who swam in heavy seas towing a lifeboat full of survivors tied to his waist with abaca rope. If the galleon was blessed with good weather, it would continue on down to Mexico to disgorge its precious cargo in Acapulco. From there the cargo was packed on mule trains for the dangerous trek along mountain trails across the tropical rainforest to Veracruz on the Atlantic coast, and finally loaded onto ships bound for Spain.

To this day, descendants of Filipino sailors who settled down with Mexican maidens live in small barrios along the mountain trails, proud of their brave seafaring heritage high up in the mountains. Their dialect is still laced with Filipino words.

North to Alaska
Other Filipino sailors found ships that sailed north of California to the rich fishing grounds of Alaska and scattered their progeny there. Some of their exploits, both nautical and historical, found their way into the stories of the Filipino novelist Bienvenido Santos, who settled in the area and penned award-winning literature about Filipino immigrants in the Pacific Northwest. But enough of the productivity and proclivity of the intrepid Filipino sailors.
On its recent trip, the Andalucia departed Seville for Shanghai and then stopped over in Hong Kong on the way to Manila. It visited Cebu and Bohol before embarking on the Pacific crossing to Acapulco.
In the years of the galleon trade (1565-1815), the voyage took all of 200 days, more or less, depending on wind, storms, occasional pirates, and brief stopovers for rest and supplies.
On the trip from Shanghai to Manila, the cargo holds of Chinese junks which brought Chinese goods would be partly loaded with stones for ballast to keep them on an even keel in the worst of typhoons. Many of those stones were unloaded in Manila to give way to cargo for the return trip to Shanghai. The stones were cut to small squares to pave the streets of old Manila and survived to the early 1960s until cultural barbarians replaced them with concrete.
The centuries-old piedra china are all but gone. But in the veins of every Filipino seafarer still flows a precious legacy of the sea: the craftsmanship and diligence of Paete shipbuilders, the swashbuckling derring-do of the Spanish conquistador, the enterprising spirit of the Chinese merchants who plied the galleon trade, and the audacity of seafaring datus who braved the high seas in wooden boats called balanghay to establish their first settlements here.
Those historic journeys are replicated everyday by brave Filipino seafarers, eight of whom, fresh from a brush with modern-day pirates near the Gulf of Aden, are coming home to spend Christmas with their loved ones. Home from the sea, they will soon go back to their home at sea, to make a living away from home, sailing dangerous oceans away from loved ones who make it all worthwhile for them. It just may be the brave seafaring tradition that flows in their veins. But all of them are national treasures.

(Editor's Note: The author is chief executive of a think tank specializing in transforming social, political, cultural and historical trends into public policy and business strategy. Comments are welcome at Marbella International
Business Consultancy, email: mibc2006@....)
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