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CARLOS SALINAS: The Manila Galleon and globalization

The Manila Galleon and globalization
CARLOS SALINAS September 04, 2019

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) defines globalization as “the increasing integration of economies around the world, particularly through the movement of goods, services, and capital across borders.” Globalization entails the broadening of local and nationalistic perspectives toward an interconnected and interdependent world with free transfer of capital, goods, and services across national frontiers. It is the product of centuries of bilateral relations among nations and multilateral agreements between world economic blocs.

Contrary to popular belief, the word “globalization” was not invented nor coined in the 1980s. Oxford Dictionary traces the first use of the word in 1930,and Merriam-Webster Dictionaryincluded it in its new words list in 1951. Economists and social scientists began using it in the ‘60s. It achieved greater prominence in 1983, when Theodore Levitt of Harvard Business School wrote a powerful essay for the Harvard Business Review entitled “The Globalization of Markets.”

But it wasn’t until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the end of the Cold War, that the word “globalization”really caught on and became a buzzword.

And yet, the concept and practice of globalization really began 500 years ago, when Spain’s King Philip II conceived of establishing a route to Mexico, an east-west route across the Pacific. Maritime historian Lincoln Paine recounted this expedition in his book The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World:

Five years later, five ships and 350 men sailed from La Navidad, Mexico. The pilot in fact, though not in name, was Friar Andres de Urdaneta, a veteran of the 1525 rescue mission who had since become an Augustinian missionary. Ineligible to serve as captain-major, he was asked to name the head of the expedition and chose Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. The fleet sailed west at a latitude of between 9°N and 13°N. stopping at Guam before going on to claim the Philippines and establish Spain’s only colony in Asia.

That’s how the Manila Galleon came about. Spanish ships from Acapulco and Mexico came to Manila, connecting Asia, America, and Europe for the first time in a single commercial route. The Galleon Trade went on for 250 years, from 1565 to 1815, every year, without a break, resisting pirate attacks, storms, and other dangers. The majority of goods from the Philippines that were brought to Mexico and Europe came from China. They included silk, porcelain, furniture, fans, paintings, and other fine goods; in return, the Spaniards brought silver and spices to the Chinese. Later, the exchange would involve not only goods but also ideas, technology, science, and culture.

So yes, as history professor Dr. Evelyn Hu-Dehart asserted in her lecture “Spanish Manila: A Trans-Pacific Maritime Enterprise”: “The history of the Chinese in Manila and the trade with Mexico of the Spanish American empire was the first real globalization in world history.”

In all this, Manila became the entrepot to which goods are brought for import and export, and for collection and distribution. For 250 years, the Philippines was at the forefront of globalization and flourished. We had already been engaged in trade relations with Borneo, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, the Moluccas, and Siam even before the Spanish came. Filipinos had been using the balanghai or balangay, the oldest Pre-Hispanic watercraft in the Philippines. The balanghai, measuring 15 meters long and three to four meters wide and large enough for 60 to 90 people, were made without blueprints, using a technique still used today by boat makers of Sibutu Island in Tawi-tawi.

Although Filipinos had been known traders themselves before the coming of the Spaniards, it was the Galleon Trade that cemented the Philippines’ vital role in the growing global commerce arena. It also established the country’s reputation as a trading hub, which strengthened our capability to become a world-class shipbuilder; which in turn promoted the Filipino’s standing as a top-notch seafarer.

In the Trade’s early years, the ships sent here were made in Mexico, but from the 1570s onward, we began building them. Out of 181 Manila Galleons that set sail over 250 years, a great number were built here. The galleons were the largest possible seagoing vessels to have been built anywhere at that time—typically measuring on the average 65 meters in length and 20 meters in breadth. Visualize this: a basketball court is 28 meters long; so the length of one galleon is equivalent to two and a half basketball courts or about the length of a Boeing 747.

These galleons were proudly built in shipyards in Cavite, Pangasinan, Marinduque, Albay, Camarines and Masbate, using Philippine timber and indigenous skill.

The galleons on the Manila-Acapulco trade route had a crew consisting mainly of Filipinos—50 percent to 80 percent. Filipinos rightfully earned the reputation “Ablest Asiatic Seamen” or Asia’s most able seafarers—a reputation that, based on current statistics, we still hold. In the early years of shipping, seafarers had to be able bodied, given the perils of the seas, frequent shortage of supplies, harsh working conditions, exposure to the elements, scurvy and other diseases, even the threat attacks from pirates. In fact, the Magellan and Elcano expedition, which was composed of five ships with a crew of about 250 when it left Spain, returned with only one ship and 18 men.

To be concluded next Wednesday