Men without women, 1

When Ferdinand Magellan came to our shores  in 1521 and Miguel Lopez de Legazpi followed in 1565,  the native indios were baffled that they did not come with their women. Although both showed how determined they were to stake territory in name of the King of Spain, our forebears believed that they did not come to stay because  they came alone, without their womenfolk. They did not know that it was forbidden to bring women along those voyages of conquest. l

Antonio Pigafetta, the Venetian scholar who accompanied Magellan and recorded  the ill-fated voyage wrote:  “Every day we went ashore  to hear Mass in a village called Nostra Dona de Baremeda  near San Lucar. Before the departure, the captain-general wished all the men to confess, and would not allow any woman to sail in the fleet for the best of considerations.” To think that Chinese admiral Zheng He had a boat of concubines in his fleet! That would have been impossible for Magellan and Legazpi and the conquistadores who came after them because their avowed  mission was to Christianize pagans, turn them into subjects of the King of Spain.

So, when did the first Spanish woman arrive in the Philippines? I really don’t know. In the Annuae Litterae, Dilingae (1610) of the Jesuit order, there is mention of a woman from Spain who was looking for her son,  so she sailed to Mexico and then to the Philippines where she finally found him. However, the joyful reunion was short-lived because the son was slain in a quarrel,  “pierced with many wounds” of which he died. The unfortunate mother decided “to turn her grief to good use and give herself wholly to the praises of God.” She prayed, mortified the flesh by scourging herself and wearing hair-shirts. Nothing more was said of her.

An official document written in Mexico on September 1. 1564 about the expedition of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi  states that the flagship “San Felipe”  was placed under his command. The document emphasized: “Great care must be exercised  with regard to the provisions and they must be apportioned in set quantities as the voyage is of long duration. To this end, no useless person should be taken and no Indians or negroes (male or female) or women (married or single) shall accompany the fleet.”

In the case of the Americas, Spanish women began to arrive in 1502, a decade after the arrival of Cristobal Colon (Christopher Columbus). According to  chronicler Fernandez de Oviedo, they came with Fray Nicolas de Ovando who first landed in La Espanola (now the Dominican Republic). Oviedo described them as coming from “familias principales” which implies that the women were most probably mothers travelling with their children.  In 1509, more Spanish women attempted the perilous sea voyage with Diego Colon who had been appointed viceroy of Nueva Espana (Mexico). His wife, Dona Maria Teresa de Toledo, travelled with an entourage of ladies-in-waiting,   an assortment of handmaidens and girl servants. Most of them  eventually married wealthy and eminent men as there was such a dearth of European women. One of them, a certain Catalina,   married Hernan Cortes, the conqueror of Mexico;  another, Maria de Cuellar became the wife of  Diego Velasquez, the conqueror of Cuba.

Between 1509 and 1519, 308  Spanish women immigrated to the Americas and by the end of the 16th century, there  were approximately 5,700 of them  from various social classes. The majority came from Andalucía and the rest from Extremadura, Castilla , Gipuzkoa, and Leon.

The Catholic monarchs were in favor of this wave of female migration  because they believed their colonies would be more stable with the creation of Spanish families. Besides, they constantly received  complaints from wives abandoned by their conquistador  husbands or by traders who constantly travelled and left them without any means of support. By 1515, the conquistadores and colonial officials were obliged to return to the mother country, reunite with their wives and take them to the colonies should they want to return to the Americas. You can imagine how unhappy the  men were! In the colonies, they lived merry lives of debauchery, scandalously flaunting their concubines. (more)