“On May 3, 1493, Pope Alexander VI, to prevent future disputes between Spain and Portugal, divided the world by a north-south line (longitude) 100 leagues (300 miles) west of the Cape Verde Islands.”
“In 1494, by the terms of the Treaty of Tordesillas, Spain and Portugal agreed to move that line to a meridian 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands.”
On November 28 1520, Ferdinand Magellan entered the “Sea of the South” (which he later named the Pacific) and thereby open up to Spain the possibility of an alternative route between Europe and the spices of the Orient.” (Lloyd)
Then, almost 50 years after the death of Christopher Columbus, Manila galleons finally fulfilled their dream of sailing west to Asia to benefit from the rich Indian Ocean trade.
“The Spanish Galleons were square rigged ships with high superstructures on their sterns. They were obviously designed for running before the wind or at best sailing on a very ‘broad reach.’”
“Because of their apparently limited ability to ‘beat their way to windward’ (sail against the wind), they had to find trade routes where the prevailing winds and sea currents were favorable.” (Lloyd)
Starting in 1565, with the Spanish sailor and friar Andrés de Urdaneta, after discovering the Tornaviaje or return route to Mexico through the Pacific Ocean, Spanish galleons sailed the Pacific Ocean between Acapulco in New Spain (now Mexico) and Manila in the Philippine islands.
Once a year, gold and silver were transported west to Manila in exchange spices (pepper, clove and cinnamon), porcelain, ivory, lacquer and elaborate fabrics (silk, velvet, satin), collected from both the Spice Islands and the Asian Pacific coast, in European markets.
They also carried Chinese handicrafts, Japanese screens, fans, Japanese swords, Persian carpets, Ming dynasties and a myriad of other products. East Asia traded primarily with a silver standard, and the goods were bought mainly with Mexican silver. (Pascual)
The galleons leaving Manila would make their way back to Acapulco in a four-month long journey. The goods were off-loaded and transported across land to ships on the other Mexican coast at Veracruz, and eventually, sent to European markets and customers eager for these exotic wares. (GuamPedia)
In 1668 a royal decree required the galleons to stop in Guam in the Mariana Islands on their westward voyage from Acapulco to Manila. This allowed ships to replenish supplies and was the only means for communication between Spain and the Marianas colony.
More than 40-Spanish galleons were lost during this 250-year period. (Lloyd) The Manila Galleon Trade lasted for 250 years and ended in 1815 with Mexico’s war of independence.
“‘The voyage from the Philippine islands to America may be call’d the longest, and most dreadful of any in the world; as well because of the vast ocean to be cross’d, being almost the one-half of the terraquous globe, with the wind always a-head; as for the terrible tempests that happen there, one upon the back of the other …”
“… and for the desperate diseases that seize people, in seven or eight months living at sea, sometimes near the line, sometimes cold, sometimes temperate, sometimes hot, which is enough to destroy a man of steel, much more flesh and blood, which at sea had but indifferent food.’” (Dr. Gemilli, Popular Science, 1901)
“The Spanish captains normally made their eastbound Pacific crossings between 31o N and 44o N latitude to insure that they would remain in the zone of the westerly winds. They would want to avoid the ‘horse latitudes’ (around 30o N) and they would certainly want to remain well north of the northeast trade winds that would drive their square rigged ships back to the Philippines.”
“This northerly route back to Acapulco would normally keep the galleons at least 1,000 miles north of Hawaii and it would not be surprising if little or no contact with the Hawaiian Island occurred during these difficult eastbound crossings of the North Pacific.”
“The westbound route from Acapulco offers an entirely different set of navigational considerations. Friar Urdaneta’s route involved sailing down to 13° N latitude (or 14° N) and following that parallel all the way to Guam and on to the San Bernardino Strait in the Philippines.”
“Unknown to the Spanish navigators, the very favorable ocean currents mentioned above would position their ships much further along their westbound course than indicated by using their ship’s mechanical ‘log’ to measure their ship’s speed through the water.” (Lloyd)
In 1778, Captain James Cook made contact with the Hawaiians Islands. However, was he the first foreigner? Some suggest the Spaniards came to the Islands a couple of centuries before Cook saw them.
One suggestion is they did not: “The Spaniard, Quimper, was on the Princess Royal, a ship seized from the British at Nootka Sound. When the Spanish authorities at Nootka learned from traders about these Islands, they sent Quimper to see whether a settlement could be established here, so that ships could get supplies on their voyages from Mexico to Manila.”
“He reported favorably, but the expense was deemed too great. This evidently shows that Cook’s discovery gave the Spanish their first knowledge of Hawai‘i, for they had been searching for a place of call for many years. Quimper wrote that sixteen ships had visited the Islands since the death of Cook.” (Restarick)
However, “Old Spanish charts and a 1613 AD Dutch globe suggest that explorers from Spain had sighted Hawaiʻi long before Captain Cook. When Cook arrived in 1778, galleons laden with silver from the mines of Mexico and South America had been passing south of Hawaiʻi for two centuries on annual round trip voyages of 17,000 miles between Acapulco and Manila.” (Kane)
“It seems to be almost certain that one Juan Gaetano, a Spanish navigator, saw Hawaii in 1555 AD. A group of islands, the largest of which was called La Mesa, was laid down in the old Spanish charts in the same latitude as the Hawaiian Islands, but 10 degrees too far east.” (Hawaiʻi Department of Foreign Affairs, 1896)
“There are undoubted proof of the discovery of the Hawaiian Islands by the Spaniard, Juan Gaetano. This is the first known record of the islands among the civilized nations. There are evident references to this group in the legends of the Polynesians in other Pacific islands.” (Westervelt 1923)
La Perouse noted, when he briefly visited the Islands (1786,) “In the charts, at the foot of this archipelago, might be written: ‘Sandwich Islands, surveyed in 1778 by Captain Cook, who named them, anciently discovered by the Spanish navigators.’” (La Perouse, Fornander)
“By all the documents that have been examined, it is demonstrated that the discovery dates from the year 1555 and that the discoverer was Juan Gaetano or Gaytan. The principal proof is an old manuscript chart, registered in these archives as anonymous, and in which the Sandwich Islands are laid down under that name, but which also contains a note declaring that he called them Islas de Mesa”. (Spanish Colonial Office letter to the Governor of the Philippines, The Friend May 1927)
“It is true that no document has been found in which Gaytan himself certifies to this fact, but there exist data which collectively form a series of proofs sufficient for believing it to be so. The principal one is an old manuscript chart … in which the Sandwich Islands are laid down under that name…” (The Friend May 1927)
“(H)e called them “Islas de Mesa” (Table Islands.) There are besides, other islands, situated in the same latitude, but 10° further east, and respectively named “La Mesa” (the table), “La Desgraciado” (the unfortunate), “Olloa,” and “Los Monges” (the Monks.)”
Gaetano passed through the northern part of the Pacific and discovered large islands which he marked upon a chart as “Los Majos.” The great mountains upon these islands did not rise in sharp peaks, but spread out like a high tableland in the clouds, hence he also called the islands “Isles de Mesa,” the Mesa Islands or the Table Lands. One of the islands was named “The Unfortunate.” Three other smaller islands were called “The Monks.” (Westervelt 1923)
Fortunately, however, the Spanish made no use of this discovery, thus permitting the Hawaiians to escape the sad fate of the natives of the Ladrones and Carolines under Spanish dominion. (White 1898)
Juan Gaetano may not have been the first Spaniard, here. Stories suggest an earlier arrival of shipwrecked Spaniards at Keʻei, Kona Moku (district,) Island of Hawaiʻi.
There is fairly complete evidence that a Spanish vessel was driven ashore on the island of Hawaii in 1527, it being one of a squadron of three which sailed from the Mexican coast for the East Indies. (White 1898)
“A well known Hawaiian tradition relates that in the reign of Keliiokaloa, son of Umi, a foreign vessel was wrecked at Keei, South Kona, Hawaii. According to the tradition, only the captain and his sister reached the shore in safety. From their kneeling on the beach and remaining a long time in that posture, the place was called Kulou (to stoop, to bow,) as it is unto this day.” (Alexander 1892)
“The natives received them kindly and placed food before them. These strangers intermarried with the Hawaiians, and were the progenitors of certain well known families of chiefs, as for instance, that of Kaikioewa, former Governor of Kauai.“ (Alexander 1892)
Jarves expanded on the story, “In the reign of Kealiiokaloa, son of Umi, thirteen generations of kings before Cook’s arrival, which, according to the previous calculation, would bring it near the year 1620, a vessel, called by the natives Konaliloha, arrived at Pale, Keei, on the south side of Kealakeakua bay, Hawaii.”
“Here, by some accident, she was drawn into the surf, and totally wrecked; the captain, Kukanaloa, and a white woman, said to be his sister, were the only persons who reached the land. As soon as they trod upon the beach, either from fear of the inhabitants, or to return thanks for their safety, they prostrated themselves, and remained in that position for a long time.”
“The spot where this took place, is known at the present day, by the appellation of Kulou, to bow down. The shipwrecked strangers were hospitably received, invited to the dwellings of the natives, and food placed before them.” (Jarves 1843)
One more thing, the first Hawaiian word written is ‘Hamaite’ – it was spoken to Captain Cook at the time he made contact with the Islands and he wrote it in his journal.
It was made in reference to iron. Some suggest it refers to Hematite (ferric oxide – a mineral form of iron oxide – that is Hematita in Spanish.) However, others suggest ‘Hamaite’ is actually a Hawaiian expression of He maita‘i – good. (Schutz)