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The Story of Enrique: First Around the Globe

The Story of Enrique: First Around the Globe

By Milena Mataac ‘26

Sources for photos above: thefilipinochronicle.com, en.wikipedia.org

When you think of the first person to travel all the way around the globe, what name comes to mind? Maybe Ferdinand Magellan, the leader of the first expedition to circumnavigate the world? Or possibly Sebastián Elcano, the man who is often considered the first to have actually completed a complete circumnavigation of the globe? But what if the real answer was a much less prominent historical figure: a Malay slave called Enrique?

After being taken from his homeland in Southeast Asia, Enrique spent a decade of his life working as a slave for the famous Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan. While working as an envoy and interpreter on Magellan’s expedition to the Spice Islands on the western sea route, the slave encountered a group of men who spoke his native language. Enrique had traveled around the entire world. This is his story.

Ethnicity

Enrique was a slave bought by Magellan in the Moluccas (modern day Malaysia), but there is no definite proof of Enrique’s specific ethnicity. 

According to accounts written of Magellan’s expedition, Enrique was “a Malay speaker who could…communicate with other Malay speakers in the Philippines during the voyage.” Due to the widespread trading between nations in Southeast Asia, Malay was used as a sort of trade language at the time. Therefore, the fact that Enrique was able to communicate with natives in the Philippines, while suggestive, may not be definitive proof that he had returned to his homeland. 

There is frequent dispute over Enrique’s true home country, as historians in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines all claim to be the birthplace of historical figure.

Image Source: nqc.gov.ph

 

According to William Manchester’s book, A World Lit Only By Fire, Enrique was born in the Visayan Islands in the Philippines, sold into slavery in Sumatra (Indonesia), and sent to the Moluccas, where Magellan bought him in the early 1500s. Additionally, Duarte Barbosa, a Portuguese writer on the journey, “mentions a community of Filipino merchants, workers, and mercenaries [in the Moluccas] at the same time Magellan acquired Enrique there,” so there is a strong, though not fully confirmed, argument that Enrique was of Filipino origin.

Sold Into Slavery

Before his more famous expedition, Ferdinand Magellan sailed to the Moluccas on a known eastern sea route in 1511. During his stay there, he bought a Malay slave boy and brought him back to Europe on the same eastern sea route. The boy’s real name is unknown, but he is referred to in many accounts as “Enrique el Negro,” or in English, “Enrique the Black.”

On the journey back to Europe, Enrique accompanied Magellan throughout many parts of the world such as India, Africa, Portugal, and Spain. He learned many languages and became very useful to Magellan as an envoy and interpreter, so he was chosen to travel with Magellan on his expedition in 1519.

Magellan Expedition

    Image Source: britannica.com

In September 1519, Ferdinand Magellan set sail from Spain in an effort to find a western sea route to the Indonesian islands of the Malay Archipelago known as the Moluccas. These islands were known as the Spice Islands because of the nutmeg, mace, and cloves found there. 

In the spring of 1521, Magellan’s fleet reached the Philippine Islands. At first, Enrique was unable to communicate with the natives they encountered. However, after leaving the Homonhon Islands in Guiuan Philippines, the members of Magellan’s expedition saw a small boat with eight natives on it off the coast of what was referred to in the journals of Antonio Pigafetta, the chronicler of Magellan’s voyage, as “Mazaua” (near present-day Mindanao, Philippines).

According to Pigafetta’s account, Magellan once again instructed Enrique to attempt to converse with the natives. So, Enrique shouted a greeting to them in his native language, Malay. To his great surprise and delight, the men replied in the same language in which he had spoken. 

Magellan gave gifts to the natives, who returned to advise their king. When the king came back to Mazaua later in a large boat, Enrique spoke to him in Malay. The king was able to understand Enrique, which helped Magellan and his crew establish a good relationship with the native people. 

Image Source: en.wikipedia.org

 

For the first time since he was taken from his home and sold into slavery over a decade previous, Enrique was able to speak in his native language with the Islanders. They could understand him and he could understand them. Assuming this account is accurate, this is the first recorded time that a man had circled the entire planet and returned to his homeland. 

Enrique continued to help Magellan communicate with the leader of the native people. However, in April 1521, a tribal leader named Lapu-Lapu led a group of men to defeat the Spanish forces in the Battle of Mactan. Magellan and many of the other Spanish explorers with him were killed in the battle.

Unknown Fate of Enrique

After Magellan’s death, Duarte Barbosa replaced him as captain and became Enrique’s new owner. He treated the slave cruelly. Although Magellan had written in his will that Enrique was to be freed after his death, Barbosa instead decided to keep him as a slave. He commanded Enrique to return to his duty as an envoy and interpreter, but the slave refused to obey the new captain, choosing instead to lay in a fetal position in protest.

Supposedly, Enrique suggested to the chief of Cebu, another province in the Philippines, that “they invite the Spanish to a feast and slaughter them there.” A banquet was held and almost all of the Spanish who attended were killed.

Image Source: thejakartapost.com

After this event, it is unknown what happened to Enrique, although it is known that he survived the natives’ attack. Assuming he had truly made it back to his homeland, Enrique may have returned to live on the land in which he was born, without ever knowing that he may have been the first to travel around the world.

After Magellan and Barbosa were killed in the Philippines, Sebastián Elcano successfully sailed the only remaining ship from the expedition back to Spain. Because of this, Elcano is widely considered the first to circumnavigate the globe, and Enrique’s story is forgotten.

 


 

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About the Writer

Milena Mataac '26
Milena Mataac '26

Staff Writer

Milena is a sophomore and will be part of the CCHS graduating class of 2026. She is a writer for the Raider Review.

Milena's favorite subjects are math and history. She enjoys drawing, reading, and playing piano in her free time. She usually likes to write about historical topics. Milena plays soccer, basketball, tennis, and karate. She has an older sister and three guinea pigs. She participates in clubs such as Art Club, Student Alumni Association, and Liturgical Band. Milena is from Newbury, Massachusetts, and she attended the Immaculate Conception School in Newburyport from elementary to middle school.

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