The Elephant Wars, Part 1


Normally I upload new episodes on the 1st and 16th days of each month, but because February is the shortest month, the latest one is going up a day early. This time we will return to the conflict on the mainland that started at the end of Episode 10. Special attention is given to the two most important Burmese kings of the sixteenth century, Tabinshwehti and Bayinnaung. I call this episode and the next one “The Elephant Wars” because most of the fighting was either ON elephants, or OVER elephants.


(Transcript, added 01/26/2020.)

Episode 15: The Elephant Wars, Part 1

Greetings, dear listeners! While I was recording the last episode, I went to see the new Star Wars movie, “Rogue One,” and boy, was it action-packed! Likewise, today’s episode is going to be an action-packed one, too, with hardly a dull moment. I was inspired to call it “The Elephant Wars” because most of the wars covered here were either fought over elephants, or on elephants. The setting for all this is the Southeast Asian mainland, and since we have been talking about Southeast Asia’s islands for the past four epsiodes, I will begin with a recap of sorts, listing the nations that are participating here.

1. Cambodia. Back in Episode 7, Cambodia was Southeast’s Asia’s most impressive nation, but since the Thais captured and looted the great city of Angkor in 1431, Cambodia has only been a shadow of its former self. The Khmers abandoned Angkor to the jungle, and moved to the other end of Cambodia’s great lake, the Tonle Sap. Here they built more than one capital city, including the present-day one, Phnom Penh, and in the 16th century the capital was usually at Longvek, also called Lovek or Lavek. Cambodia is in this episode because it attacked Siam many times, but it no longer was a threat to anybody else.


2. Siam. We met the country that would one day be called Thailand in Episode 10. Now with its capital at Ayutthaya, Siam is coming off some good years in the fifteenth century, but it is surrounded by rival states that do not want its success to continue.


3. Hanthawaddy. This is the Mon state, in Lower or southern Burma, with its capital at Bago. We met the Mons earlier in this podcast; these are cousins of the Khmers who settled in Thailand and Lower Burma, more than 2,000 years ago. The Mons never built an empire, but they played an important role, by being the first to accept Indian civilization, and spreading it to their neighbors, especially the Burmese. Currently they are the richest faction in Burma, thanks to trade with India. However, their star is now setting; the Mons living in Thailand have already been absorbed into the Thai communities that moved in later, and this is the last episode where they will have an important state in Burma.


4. The Shan states. The Shans are a Thai tribe that settled in eastern Burma, so they were too far away to come under Siamese rule. They were never united into one kingdom, and played a precarious game of diplomacy, acting as a vassal to one of their stronger neighbors, and sometimes more than one neighbor, to avoid being conquered outright. There were at least six Shan states in the early sixteenth century, and five of them got together to sack Ava, the Burmese capital, in 1527.


5. The Burmese states. For most of the previous two hundred years, since the fall of Bagan’s empire, the most important city in northern Burma has been Ava. See Episode 9 for Ava’s story. However, as we just noted, Ava was sacked by the Shans in 1527, so the Burmese are now leaderless. The Burmese cities to watch now are Prome, modern Pyay, and Toungoo, also called Taungoo. Which one will take Ava’s place?


6. Arakan. This state on Burma’s northwest coast was isolated from the Burmese states by a mountain range, the Arakan Yoma. We were introduced to Arakan in Episode 5; today it is called Rakhine. Although the people of Arakan are closely related to the Burmese, they have manged to stay independent for most of their history. We will mention them more than once today, but Arakan’s best days are yet to come; I plan to do an episode all about Arakan in the future.


7. Lan Xang. This is the first Laotian state; the name means “One Million Elephants.” Besides modern-day Laos, Lan Xang ruled the Khorat plateau of northeast Thailand, making it twice as large as Laos is today. It was also much stronger; in the 1470s it defeated a Vietnamese invasion, something I don’t think Laos could do today, because it is poorer and has only a fraction of Vietnam’s population. At the end of Episode 10 we saw Lan Xang win the first round, in a fight between the Thai states for control of Chiangmai. Which brings us to . . .


8. Chiangmai. In Episode 10 Chiangmai was the capital of another Thai state, called Lan Na. In the thirteenth century Chiangmai and Siam were friends, but later they became rivals who fought frequently over a city between them, Sukhothai. This went on until 1543, when the last king of Chiangmai died without leaving an heir, and Siam, the Shan states and Lan Xang all fought to add Chiangmai to their kingdoms. The king of Lan Xang, Phothisarat, won the first round, and then died shortly afterwards, so his son, Setthathirat, inherited both the Laotian and Chiangmai thrones.


One final disclaimer. Those of you who listened to Episodes 5 & 9 will know that Burma, also known as Myanmar, has two names for almost every place in the country, thanks to the 1989 decree that ordered foreigners to use Burmese language names only, so whenever I introduce a place in the country, I will give you both the name I learned when I was a youngster, and the name used in atlases and news reports nowadays. You will also remember that a lot of Burmese names are almost unpronounceable in English, so I will warn you up front that I will probably misprounce them again. My Southeast Asian listeners may get a few laughs from my unintentional mistakes here.


Now that the stage is set, let’s jump into the action! What you hear after this will be all killer, no filler.


The Toungoo Dynasty


With Ava eliminated from Southeast Asia’s game of thrones, the fortunes of Toungoo rose rapidly. This city was located in southern Burma, halfway between Ava and Bago, and it took in Burmese refugees fleeing the Shan raids. After it declared independence from Ava in 1510, it made Prome an ally, and it would also ally itself with either Ava or Bago, switching sides whenever it looked like it would be conquered by the Burmese or the Mons.


In 1530 fourteen-year-old Tabinshwehti became king of Toungoo, and he saw the current situation as an opportunity to unite all of Burma under his rule. He started with an attack on Hanthawaddy in 1535, because if he conquered the Mon kingdom, he would gain the wealth of the Mons and direct access to the sea, through control over the Irrawaddy delta. The Mons had a larger army, and their kings in the fifteenth century had been very good rulers, but the current Mon king, Takayutpi, was twenty-four years old, totally incompetent, and had no interest in running the kingdom. The British author G. E. Harvey wrote this about Takayutpi in 1925. Quote: “never looked at a book; he gave himself up for sport in the woods with elephants and horses; he searched for shellfish and crabs; he was like one witless.” End quote. On the other side, the Toungoo armies were led by an excellent general, Bayinnaung, who was also Tabinshwehti’s brother-in-law and a friend since childhood.


Bayinnaung started by capturing Bassein, a city at the mouth of the Irrawaddy that is now called Pathein, but a lengthy siege followed when he reached Bago, because a Portuguese ship full of mercenaries aided the defenders; the mercenaries introduced muskets and cannon to Burma. Bago finally fell in 1539, and Takayutpi fled to Prome. To prevent long sieges in the future, Tabinshwehti hired some Portuguese mercenaries of his own, and used them to conquer the rest of the Mon kingdom. By 1541 they had taken Martaban (modern Mottama), Tavoy (modern Dawei), Moulmein (modern Mawlamyine), and the Tanintharyi or Tenasserim coast. The recruitment of those mercenaries proved to be a good decision when he marched on Prome in 1542. Thohanbwa, the king of Ava, and Min Bin, the king of Arakan, sent troops to support the defense of Prome, and the Arakanese navy took Bassein on the coast, but Bayinnaung prevailed against them all, and took Prome in five months. The Toungoo army advanced as far north as Bagan, and Tabinshwehti celebrated the taking of the ancient Burmese capital by staging a double coronation in 1544. First he had himself crowned in Bagan, with the same ceremonies that had been used for the Bagan kings. As soon as that was done, he went to Bago and staged a matching Mon coronation ceremony. Afterwards he chose a Mon woman, Khay Maw Na, to be his queen, got his hair done in the Mon style, and announced that Bago would become his permanent capital.


Because Arakan had supported Tabinshwehti’s opponents, Arakan was the next enemy that needed killing. Burmese forces overran most of Arakan, and were on the verge of taking the capital, Mrohaung. However, at that point Tabinshwehti heard news about a Siamese invasion from the southeast, and this invasion captured Tavoy in January 1547. Why did Siam do this? Well, Siam had held the land southeast of the Irrawaddy delta in the fourteenth century, and this gave Siam a port on the Indian Ocean. For reasons I wasn’t able to find out, the Siamese kings didn’t want to take it back while the Mons had it, so they waited until it fell into Burmese hands. Big mistake; big, stupid mistake! This marked the beginning of one of history’s long-time rivalries; you can compare it with the more famous rivalries between England and France, or between Rome and Carthage. In Episode 8 of this podcast we covered the rivalry between Vietnam and Champa, which ended in 1471; now the Burma-Siam rivalry will work the same way. Between 1547 and 1855, there were no less than twenty-four wars fought between Burma and Siam. The conflict ended when Britain conquered Burma and spared Siam, so you can say that Siam won, but not through its own efforts.


Tabinshwehti and Min Bin agreed to a truce, and the Burmese withdrew from Arakan so they could deal with the greater threat from Siam. Tavoy was retaken as soon as a Burmese army arrived on the scene, and then in 1548 came a fullscale invasion of Siam. Believe it or not, the Burmese excuse for the invasion was two white elephants. In modern English, “white elephant” is a slang term, meaning something that is unwanted and not useful, but here we’re talking about the real animal. Among Buddhists, white elephants were very special, either seen as reincarnated members of a royal family, or as very good omens, a sign that the kingdom they were born in had an especially virtuous ruler. We also saw in Episode 10 that white elephants were in such demand among Southeast Asian kings that Vietnam and Laos fought a war over one; now it would happen again. The new Siamese king, Maha Chakkraphat, had seven white elephants in the royal herd of 300 elephants, and Tabinshwehti asked for two of them. Most of the Siamese king’s advisors recommended that the request be granted, but Maha Chakkraphat refused, agreeing with those who said that handing over the elephants would be seen as a sign that Siam was subservient to Burma. To the Burmese king, this refusal was an insult, a message that Siam didn’t think he was good enough to have such an animal.


Anyway, the Burmese army marched from Martaban through the Three Pagodas Pass, on the main road between Burma and Siam, and headed stright for Ayutthaya. However, at the walls of Ayutthaya, the 180 Portuguese gunners brought by the Burmese could not beat the 50 Portuguese gunners hired by Siam. One month after the siege began, Siamese forces broke through the Burmese line surrounding the city, forcing a Burmese retreat. According to Thai legends, at the height of the battle, there was a duel fought on elephants. Maha Chakkraphat was riding an elephant, and he was charged by a Burmese leader, the viceroy of Prome, who was also on an elephant. But then Suriyothai, the queen of Siam, saved her husband by riding a third elephant, and putting herself between the two combatants, so the viceroy killed her instead of the king. Supposedly the queen disguised herself by wearing a man’s armor, and the viceroy didn’t know he was fighting a woman until he struck her down and her helmet fell off, revealing her long hair. The queen’s daughter also died fighting in that battle. Unfortunately the Burmese have no records of this duel, so we can’t verify if any of it is true.


After the siege of Ayutthaya failed, the thwarted Burmese went home with nothing to show for their trouble, harassed by the incessant attacks of the Siamese. Two unsuccessful campaigns in a row were too much for Tabinshwehti. A Portuguese mercenary introduced him to wine, and he took such a liking to it that he quickly became an alcoholic. From 1534 to 1548 he had launched military campaigns every year, but now he refused to go on any more campaigns, and went hunting and drinking instead. He wouldn’t handle his royal duties either; the king turned them over to his brother-in-law Bayinnaung. And because he still got his wine from the Portuguese mercenary, he gave his new friend a royal handmaiden for a wife, to make sure the mercenary would come with him wherever he went. In that way, Tabinshwehti lost control over both himself and his kingdom. Bayinnaung had the mercenary arrested and put on a ship leaving the country, but that didn’t cause the king to sober up. One day in 1550, Tabinshwehti went on a hunting trip in a part of the Irrawaddy delta where a white elephant had been spotted, and two of his Mon courtiers beheaded him while he was sleeping in his tent.


Bayinnaung the King


Several provinces promptly rose in revolt when they heard of Tabinshwehti’s death, and five princes claimed the empty throne. So did Smim Htaw, a half-brother of the last Mon king. Among the princes, Bayinnaung had the advantage, since he already controlled both the central government and the army. Within two years Bayinnaung eliminated his rivals and put the kingdom back together again. His 31-year reign, from 1550 to 1581, was an amazing time; G. E. Harvey called it, quote: “the greatest explosion of human energy ever seen in Burma.” End quote. By 1553 the south had been reconquered, and Smim Htaw was captured and executed, so in 1554 Bayinnaung launched a great northern campaign, which conquered Ava. Then he turned east to conquer the Shan states, and finally in 1558, he took Chiangmai, the city the Thais had been fighting over. These victories encouraged him to follow them up with a matching campaign in the northwest, where he conquered the Indian state of Manipur in 1560.


Between campaigns, Bayinnaung promoted Buddhism. All Burmese kings were expected to do this, but he may have also done it in atonement for all the lives lost in his wars. Wherever he went he built pagodas, made and distributed copies of the scriptures, and fed monks. He outlawed animal sacrifice, a common practice among Moslems and the animist Shans. Often he sent offerings to the Sri Lankan temple where the Tooth of the Buddha was kept; once he sent brooms to sweep the temple with, made from his own and the chief queen’s hair.


In 1560 he got an awful shock when the Portuguese raided Sri Lanka, to punish a local ruler for persecuting St. Francis Xavier’s Catholic converts. Among the treasures brought back to Goa was a tooth, presumably Buddha’s tooth. Bayinnaung sent envoys with an offer of 300,000 ducats for it, about $45 million in today’s American dollars. The viceroy of Portuguese India was interested in the offer, but the Inquisition and the archbishop of Goa declared the tooth a dangerous idol, and had it destroyed. Here is how G. E. Harvey told the story. Quote: “While the Burmese envoys gazed in frozen horror, the archbishop placed the Tooth in a mortar, grounded it to powder, burned it in a brazier, and cast the ashes into the river.” End quote. Back in Sri Lanka, it was announced that the destroyed tooth was really a pig’s tooth, and not long after that, two more holy teeth appeared in Sri Lanka, the backers of each insisting it was really the original. One of them is enshrined in the Temple of the Tooth today; the other was sent to Bayinnaung as a gift, along with a Sinhalese bride.


Burma could have begun a golden age if Bayinnaung had known when to stop marching. But the king had ambitions even greater than his talents. Chiangmai opened the way to Laos, and provided an alternate way to invade Siam, since the Three Pagodas Pass had turned out to be a place where the Siamese could easily ambush the Burmese army. His reason for going to war against Siam was the same as Tabishwehti’s reasons: white elephants. At this time, Maha Chakkraphat had four white elephants; Bayinnaung asked for one of them, and Maha Chakkraphat refused. Boy, the Siamese king didn’t learn anything from the last time a Burmese king asked for an elephant!


Bayinnaung mobilized his entire army, knowing that Siam was his strongest opponent; he sent part of the army through the Three Pagodas Pass, and the rest of it to Chiangmai. Only the first force reached the Siamese capital, because the one in Chiangmai had to put down a Shan revolt, but still, the Burmese captured Ayutthaya easily in 1564. Bayinnaung took away all four white elephants, and to make sure everyone knew he was the man, he gave himself two new titles he had just earned. The first title was “Victor of the Ten Directions,” and the second title was “Lord of the White Elephant, the Red Elephant, the Mottled Elephant, and All Other Elephants.” Is that clear, everyone? Meanwhile, when the army in Chiangmai was finished with the Shans, it invaded Lan Xang, captured Vientiane, and installed a son-in-law of Setthathirat as the new Laotian king. But the puppet king only controlled the area around Vientiane, where he had Burmese occupation troops, while Setthathirat still had the rest of the kingdom on his side. In 1567 Setthathirat took back Vientiane, two years after he had lost it.


In Siam, Maha Chakkraphat hadn’t given up yet, and revolted as soon as the Burmese troops left Ayutthaya. In 1568 he attacked Phitsanulok, a Siamese city under the control of a pro-Burmese prince, forcing Bayinnaung to return to Siam in 1569. Maha Chakkraphat died while Ayutthaya was under siege, and then the Siamese capital fell a second time. Bayinnaung installed the prince of Phitsanulok as the new king. The son of the new king, Naret, had been held hostage at the Burmese court since 1564 to ensure his father’s good behavior, so Siam stayed loyal to Burma for the rest of Bayinnaung’s reign, but remember that prince! He will grow up to become Naresuan, the next important character in our narrative.


Siam may have been pacified at last, but conflicts continued to spring up elsewhere. Cambodia attacked, seeing an opportunity to even old scores with the Thais; between 1570 and 1587, six Cambodian raids (1570-87) were defeated. The raids forced Bayinnaung to rebuild Ayutthaya’s defenses, though he knew that could come back to bite Burma someday. In the northeast, Lan Xang became a constant source of trouble because it never accepted the loss of Chiangmai. Bayinnaung invaded Laos in 1569, 1572 and 1574. He took both Laotian capitals, Luang Prabang and Vientiane, but never captured Settathirat; the Laotian king died in the countryside in 1571, and after the last invasion Bayinnaung appointed a younger brother of Settathirat as the new king. Because this king’s legitmacy was beyond dispute, the Laotians gave the Burmese no more trouble.


Five years of peace followed, from 1575 to 1580. Now that everyone had seen what Bayinnaung could do, no potential enemy, inside or outside of Burma, wanted to mess with him. During this period Bayinnaung ruled the largest empire ever seen on the Southeast Asian mainland. He held all of present-day Burma except for Arakan, all of Thailand and Laos, and Manipur in India. On the podcast’s Facebook page, and on the page where this episode is hosted, you can see a map from Wikipedia, showing Burma’s borders in the late 1570s. Check that out for a visual image of what we are talking about. Wikipedia also suggests that Vietnam and Cambodia paid tribute to Bayinnaung, but I have not heard any evidence to believe that. Besides, Vietnam had its own problems at this time, which I will explain another day.


For most of Bayinnaung’s reign, Arakan escaped his attention, but in late 1580 he finally prepared a campaign to conquer Burma’s western neighbor. The fleet assembled for this purpose captured the port of Sandoway, modern Thandwe, but then the Burmese forces halted because Bayinnaung, now sixty-five years old, fell ill, and he was expected to personally lead the army. Instead he died in the following year; the campaign was called off, and Arakanese independence lasted for two more centuries.


Okay, we’re going to end this episode a bit early. The squabble between Burma and Siam is by no means finished, but if I tried including it all in one episode, it would run for more than an hour, maybe two hours, and while that may be fine for podcasters like Dan Carlin and Daniele Bolelli, I’m not ready to do such a marathon yet. Also, this is when Naresuan takes over in Siam, and because the people of Thailand now consider him their greatest king, I don’t want him and Bayinnaung competing for the top spot in the same episode. So join me next time as I tell you how Naresuan liberated Siam, and how a few Europeans tried taking advantage of all the chaos on the Southeast Asian mainland during this time.


If you enjoyed this episode and think it is worth at least a dollar, you can make a donation to support the podcast, using the Paypal button on this episode’s page. And if you haven’t left a review on iTunes yet, consider reviewing the podcast on the iTunes page, too. If you are on Facebook, “like” the History of Southeast Asia Podcast page, so you won’t miss a new episode when they go up. And tell your friends while you’re at it. Again, thank you for listening, and come back when the monsoon winds are blowing right!






The Spanish Philippines

Episode 14 is now available!  Recording this one was a special challenge due to sound problems, from me getting over a minor cold to static on the microphone.  Nevertheless, I strained every nerve to get it done on time, so here it is.  This time you will hear how Spain conquered the Philippines, making it a Spanish colony for more than three hundred years.


(Transcript, added 01/19/2020.)


Episode 14: The Spanish Philippines


Greetings, dear listeners! Or as they say in Tagalog, Mabuhay! On January 16, 2017, the same day that the previous episode went online, this podcast reached a milestone — 10,000 downloads. Counting from the day when the Introduction went up, it took exactly six and a half months to get to this point. Yes, other podcasts have gotten more downloads in less time, but this one is tackling a subject that can be both difficult and obscure, for people who don’t live in the Far East. I suppose when every podcaster gets started, he or she wonders if anyone outside the family will be listening. Well, that has definitely happened here. 60 percent of the downloads came from outside the United States, and in Southeast Asia itself, we have listeners in every country except East Timor. Also, the podcast has gotten popular enough that when you do a Google search for “History of Southeast Asia Podcast,” it will show up on the first page.


I can’t thank all of you enough for listening! The podcast has gotten as far as it has because of all of you. To paraphrase a famous line from the movie “Field of Dreams,”


If you record it, people will come.


Before we get into this episode’s material, we need to brush up on geography, because in this episode, I will be mentioning several places, all of them in the Philippines. The Philippines are one of the world’s largest archipelagoes, with more than 7,000 islands. Officially the figure is 7,107 islands, but in 2016 a government agency called the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority announced that new mapping techniques had revealed 534 new islands, some of which are probably just rocks above the surface of the sea, so from now on we may hear that the Philippines has 7,641 islands. There are two big islands, Luzon in the north and Mindanao in the south. The other islands are smaller, and most are between the two big ones; together the islands in the middle are called the Visayas. I added a map of the Philippines to the page where this episode is hosted, and to the podcast’s Facebook page; it shows all the islands and cities I will talk about. You may want to keep the webpage open, or download the map with a right-click, so you can see where the places are that the Spanish expeditions will visit.


In the last episode, we introduced Spain and we also pretty much introduced the Philippines, because we haven’t had much to say about those islands since prehistoric man went to them, in Episodes 1 and 2. In 1521 Ferdinand Magellan stumbled upon the Philippines, a place Europeans didn’t know about previously. But instead of gaining anything from this discovery, Magellan got involved in a native quarrel and was killed. Then the surviving members of his expedition eventually found their way to their real goal, the Spice Islands of eastern Indonesia.


We also saw how valuable Indonesian spices were by the reaction of Spain’s King Charles V when the Victoria, one of Magellan’s ships, returned to Spain. Although the expedition had lost the other four ships, and nearly seven eighths of its men had died or deserted, the cargo of spices brought back was worth more than the cost of outfitting the ships and hiring the crew, so the expedition ended up turning a profit. What I forgot to mention last time was that Charles did not give credit for this success to Magellan, but to Juan Sebastian del Cano, the commander after Magellan’s death. He rewarded del Cano with a coat of arms that showed a globe and the Latin motto Primus circumdedisti me, meaning “First to circumnavigate me.”


Though the voyage was Magellan’s idea, he was largely forgotten. Portugal did not want to remember him because it regarded Magellan as a traitor, while Spain viewed Magellan as a foreigner who shouldn’t have been put in a leadership position, because he almost wrecked the whole enterprise. It was in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when Magellan’s name was rehabilitated, allowing him to take his place as one of the shapers of the modern world.


Finally, last time we saw that Spain tried for a few years to take the Spice Islands, which had been already claimed by Portugal. If this squabble had taken place in Europe, you can be sure that Spain would have won, because it had more people and resources than Portugal, but Southeast Asia is so far away that logistics decided the matter; more than half of the ships and men sent by Spain didn’t arrive. Finally, with the 1529 Treaty of Saragossa, Spain in effect sold its claim to Portugal for 350,000 gold ducats. And now let’s resume the narrative.




Charles V did not give the Philippines much attention. Nor could he pay attention, because he wore too many hats — besides being king of Spain, he was also the Holy Roman Emperor and the chief Catholic monarch in the wars of the Reformation. On paper he ruled at least a third of Europe and three quarters of the Americas. There wasn’t any Spanish activity in Asia during the 1530s because Charles was too busy conquering Peru in the New World, and fighting the French, Turks and Lutherans at home. Still, Portugal was making good money in the Far East, and Spain was determined to get a piece of that pie. To do so, Spain would need a base somewhere in the Far East, and because Spain had gone to the Philippines first, a Spanish claim here would be more valid than one in Indonesia. Moreover, the Philippines were conveniently close to China, and they were full of potential converts to Catholicism, no small matter when the Protestant Reformation was taking away millions of Church members back in Europe.


In 1542 Spain made its first attempt to colonize the Philippines, by sending an expedition across the Pacific from Mexico. This expedition had six ships and somewhere between 370 and 400 men, and was commanded by Ruy López de Villalobos. They reached Mindanao’s eastern shore, and set up an outpost on that spot, but then they quickly ran out of food, and had trouble with hostile natives. In addition, Portugal knew that Spain was up to something, and twice the Portuguese governor of the Moluccas sent a ship to the colony, with a letter demanding to know why they were trespassing on Portuguese territory; each time, Villalobos wrote a letter back that said they were not trespassing, because the Philippines were Spanish territory. Eventually the colonists grew mutinous, and Villalobos realized they would need reinforcements and more supplies, so he sent one of the ships, commanded by Bernardo de la Torre, back to Mexico, but like the previous Spanish expeditions, it failed to catch the winds it needed to cross the Pacific from west to east. With their options running out, the Spaniards abandoned the colony and sailed to the Moluccas, where they tried to take refuge, but instead the Portuguese arrested them and threw them in jail. Most of them, including Villalobos, never saw Europe again. The Mindanao colony had only lasted for a few months, and its only accomplishment was that it gave the islands a permanent name. For twenty years after Magellan, Spain had called the islands Islas del Poniente, meaning Islands to the West, because they got to the islands by crossing the Pacific, while Portugal, which approached the islands from the west, called them Lihas Do Oriente, the Eastern Islands. Now somebody in the colony, probably Villalobos or de la Torre, renamed them Las Islas Felipinas, in honor of Crown Prince Philip, the future King Philip II of Spain. And that is how the Philippines got their present-day name.


I don’t think Villalobos chose that name with the approval of the natives. For one thing, there is no “F” sound in Tagalog and the languages related to it. Though Filipinos can pronounce the letter F, they are not used to it, and may use a P instead. Today the Tagalog name for their country is Pilipinas, not Philippines or Filipinas, and in recent years Filipinos have debated over whether they would rather be called Filipinos or Pilipinos. Former president Ferdinand Marcos got involved in that argument by proposing that the country be renamed Maharlika, after the guerrilla unit he was in during World War II, and that prompted one Philippine newspaper to ask its readers: “Would You Like to Be Called a Maharloko?” The Spanish name has persisted because the Filipinos never agreed on what to replace it with, or whether they should replace it at all. In that lack of unity you can see why the Spaniards succeeded in taking over. Those who came after Magellan realized that an agreement with one chief applied to only one group of natives, and conversely, they could gain control over the whole archipelago by keeping the natives divided.


A generation went by before Spain tried again; by then Charles had retired and his son Philip was now king. Of course Philip would be interested in a place named after him. Another expedition was launched from Mexico’s Pacific coast in 1564; preparations for it had taken three years, and were kept secret so the Portuguese wouldn’t find out. This time four ships and 360 men were sent. In the past, such an expedition would have been led by a military man, a conquistador, but curiously, the leader was an elderly Mexican bureaucrat, Miguel López de Legazpi. Wikipedia claims he was born in 1502, while my other sources give 1510 as his birth year, so he was either 62 or 54 years old when the expedition left Mexico. What we do know is that several Spanish officials thought Legazpi’s appointment was a bad joke, and they said he was unfit to lead because of “advanced senility.” In response to the critics, he humbly said, quote, “There are many men more qualified than I, yet none more willing to serve the king.” End quote. He proved to be wise, honest and tough, the right qualities to have here. The number two man of the expedition was Legazpi’s cousin, an Augustinian friar named Andrés de Urdaneta; because he was an expert in geography, Urdaneta served as the chief navigator as well as the chaplain.


One of the four ships got separated from the squadron as they crossed the Pacific; still, the other three were enough to complete the mission. They stopped at Guam, and because Guam had proven to be a useful place to resupply, they claimed that island for Spain. Then they reached the Philippines in February 1565, and first went to two islands near Cebu, Samar and Bohol. Here Legazpi won over the support of the natives by making a blood compact with a chief on each island. This was a ritual where the two men involved cut their wrists, poured their blood into a cup, and drank it mixed with wine, and then they were considered brothers afterwards. Next they went to Cebu, which we saw in the last episode was home to a kingdom modeled after the Indonesian states.


The current ruler of Cebu, Tupas, refused to submit to Spanish authority, or even talk. The Spaniards were also dismayed to see that the natives had abandoned the Christianity they had so quickly accepted from Magellan. Therefore Legazpi ordered his men to bombard the native village with cannon, setting the huts on fire, and two hundred Spanish soldiers came ashore to occupy the village. The natives ran away, taking their rice and livestock with them, but later they were allowed to return after a blood compact was sealed between Legazpi and Tupas. In the meantime, the soldiers searched the huts, and they found a doll in a wooden box, wearing a fancy Spanish costume. This was a small statue of the Christ child, probably given by Magellan to the wife of Humabon, more than forty years earlier. To the Spaniards the excellent condition of this image was seen as a miracle, and a sign that Christianity would survive in the Philippines. Legazpi built a wooden shrine for the doll, and in the seventeenth century a stone church replaced the shrine. I am mentioning this because the Christ child image is the only artifact from Magellan’s expedition that has lasted to our time.


Legazpi now had a base; next he needed a line of communication with the rest of the Spanish Empire, so he ordered Urdaneta to take one of the ships into the north Pacific, and try to find a way back to Mexico. Early in this podcast series, we noted that the winds and currents of the Indian Ocean change according to the monsoon cycle, so to sail successfully in the Indian Ocean, you have to travel at the right time of the year. We saw how that affected trade between India and Southeast Asia. However, in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, latitude, rather than the season, determines what direction ships can sail in. Here the winds of the tropics normally blow from east to west, and are called tradewinds because merchant ships rely on them, but in the temperate zone, above 30 degrees north latitude, the prevailing winds blow the other way, from west to east. By heading north until the ship’s latitude was in the upper thirties, Urdaneta found the winds that had evaded previous ships. With those winds he headed due east until he came to California, and then he followed the North American coast southward until he reached the Mexican port of Acapulco. The return trip had taken four months, a month longer than the trip west because of the California detour.


It looks like Urdaneta planned this course before the expedition got started, and shared it with the captains of all four ships. We believe this because Urdaneta did not make the first successful west-to-east crossing of the Pacific; one of those captains beat him to it. This was Alonso de Arellano, captain of the San Lucas, the ship that had strayed off from the squadron. The San Lucas had also made it to the Philippines, wandered around for a while, and when it did not find the other three ships, Arellano returned to Mexico, by taking a course very similar to Urdaneta’s. In fact, Arellano’s course was better; he took his ship farther north than Urdaneta did, caught a stronger wind and got home quicker. Now that Urdaneta and Arellano had proven it was possible to come back, Spain could send reinforcements, when needed. The ships that traveled west after this carried women and children among the passengers, a sign that Spain was planning to stay.


Back on Cebu, food was running short, and Portuguese ships were spotted offshore — not a good sign! And Legazpi had nearly as much trouble getting along with the Cebuanos as Magellan did. He and Tupas had a falling out when Tupas gave him a girl, whom he said was his niece. He expected the girl would become Legazpi’s bedtime companion, but Legazpi was too pious for this; instead of accepting her, he had her baptized and married to one of his crewmen. The offended Tupas vowed never to become a Christian, and Legazpi realized that Cebu was not a secure place for the colony’s capital. In 1569 the Spaniards packed their bags and moved to the western island of Panay, which had more food and friendlier natives; the Indonesian-style state on this island, the Kedatuan of Madja-as, submitted to Spanish rule without a fight.


Soon after he moved, Legazpi learned that Luzon, the big northern island, was the best place of all for a capital. It had the most land, it had the most people, it grew the most rice, and last but not least, it had an excellent harbor — Manila Bay. Legazpi sent an expedition to Manila Bay — two Spanish ships and several native canoes, carrying 120 Spanish soldiers and 600 native warriors, led by Martin de Goiti. We saw in the last episode that Brunei, the Moslem state ruling Borneo, claimed mastery over Manila, and officially the current ruler of Manila, Rajah Suleiman, was a vassal of Brunei. Rajah Suleiman agreed to let the Spaniards set up an outpost in his territory if it would be used to defend Manila Bay against invaders. But soon after that, relations between the two sides broke down. It isn’t clear what caused the fighting, but the Spaniards and Moslem Filipinos began shooting at one another, and the Spanish troops attacked and burned down Manila, before returning to Panay.


Around the same time, a fleet of ships arrived from Mexico, with money, supplies and mail for the Spaniards. The mail included a letter from King Philip, appointing Legazpi first governor of the new colony. Encouraged by this, Legazpi sent another force to Manila in 1571; this time, instead of making deals with the locals, they expelled Rajah Suleiman and took Manila Bay for Spain. Again, the lack of native unity was the reason why the Spaniards won, and Rajah Suleiman told them so. Quote: “You must understand that there is no sole authority in this land. Everyone has his own opinions and does what he likes.” End quote.


Legazpi then moved to Manila and began building a new Spanish city on the site; today it is called Intramuros, meaning “Within the Walls,” and is the oldest part of modern Manila. When I saw Intramuros, it reminded me of St. Augustine, Florida, which isn’t really a surprise, because both cities were founded by Spain around the same time, so they even could have had the same architects. One year later, in 1572, Legazpi died of old age and illness. He lived just long enough to know that the mission he had led was a complete success.


In the Spanish Empire’s organization the governor of the Philippines was placed under the governor of Mexico, who was called the viceroy of New Spain. So officially the Philippines were a colony of a Spanish colony. If you’re familar with the history of the conquistadors in the Americas, you know that what the Spaniards wanted most of all was a resource that was both valuable and extractable, like gold or spices. In the Philippines they did not found much wealth like this, but the trade that already existed between China and Manila pointed to another opportunity. Henceforth Spain would make its Pacific fortune from commerce, not from plundering indigenous peoples. In addition, Spain had recently discovered huge deposits of silver in Mexico and Bolivia, and Portugal now had a permanent trade port on the Chinese coast, Macao. Because China did not have much silver, the Chinese would gladly accept silver in payment for whatever the Spaniards wanted to buy, and Portugal would let Spanish ships use Macao’s port facilities as long as they paid their way with silver. In fact, it was the New World’s silver that made Macao profitable, and Spanish ships defended Macao when Portugal lost the rest of its Far Eastern trading network in the seventeenth century.


Spain controlled the economy of the Philippines very strictly. Colonial officials did nothing to develop the resources of the islands, and the only communications and commerce allowed between the Philippines and other Spanish colonies went on a round trip voyage every year, from Acapulco to Manila and back. Most of the time they had just one galleon making the trip — two at the most — so we call this the Manila galleon trade. Because of the importance of this voyage, they built the largest ships possible at this time. A Manila galleon could displace as much as 2,000 tons; by contrast, the ships Magellan had for his voyage ranged from 75 to 120 tons, bath toy boats compared with what was crossing the Pacific now.


The ship going west was mostly loaded with Mexican silver, which was used in Manila and Macao to buy silks, porcelain, and other imports from China, and then they loaded the galleon with as many of these goods as would fit for the return trip. Since demand for space on the Manila Galleon always exceeded supply, the amount of cargo each merchant could send was strictly regulated. For the westbound trip, as much space as possible was needed for silver, and merchants were only allowed to send cargo west if they went with it as passengers, meaning they ran the risk of not getting a ticket for the return trip later. The system was terribly inefficient, and the loss of a galleon brought a year of financial hardship. For example, in 1596 a typhoon caused the eastbound galleon to run aground in Japan. This was forty-five years before the Japanese would expel the foreigners from their country, and at this point they already distrusted Spain, so when the Spaniards demanded they give back all that Chinese merchandise, they kept it instead. Despite the risk and inefficiency, the Manila galleon trade continued its lonely rhythm for the next two and a half centuries.


To give another example of the inefficiency involved, the winds of the north Pacific tend to push ships north as well as east, so a galleon sailing from the Philippines usually made landfall in northern California. From there they had to go south along the barren California coast for several more weeks. Because of that, and because the trade winds allowed a straighter course on the westbound journey, it typically took three months to sail from Acapulco to Manila, but four to six months to sail back; both the ships and crews were often physical wrecks by the time they reached Acapulco. Today California is one of the most desirable places in the world to live, but to get to California from Mexico, you have to sail against both the winds and the currents. Of course you can hike overland from Mexico to California, but in those days Europeans didn’t think that was possible, because maps showed California as an island, not joined to the rest of North America. For those reasons, two hundred years went by — until 1769 — before Spain built settlements in California, so the Manila galleon would have rest stops on the final leg of its voyage.


Two Manila Galleons made the crossing in 1587. The first ship, the Nuestra Señora de Esperanza, stopped at Morro Bay, near present-day San Luis Obispo, California, because two Indians were spotted as the ship passed this part of the coast. A landing party of Spaniards and their Filipino servants came ashore; when they found no Indians, they set up a cross to claim that land for Spain. Suddenly the Native Americans returned and attacked the party, killing one Spaniard and one Filipino before they were driven off by musket fire; then the Spaniards left, sailing on to Acapulco. In 1995 a plaque was placed at Morro Bay by the Filipino American National Historical Society, marking the spot where Filipinos first set foot on land that would someday become the continental United States. The other Manila Galleon of 1587 was named the Santa Ana, and I will tell you in a few minutes what happened to that vessel.


Around sixty to seventy Chinese junks came to Manila with Chinese-made goods every year. Usually they arrived in December and January, and returned to China with their silver payments in March. The cargoes they brought included tools, nails, pots & pans, gunpowder, saltpeter, furniture, jewels, and all kinds of foods. Whatever did not go into the Manila Galleon for its eastbound voyage was eagerly bought by the residents of Manila. Some of the Chinese sailors and passengers remained behind when their ships went home, and they formed a Chinese community that grew rapidly; by 1600 there were about eight thousand Chinese in Manila, living alongside a few hundred Spaniards. Most of them became barbers, tailors, shoemakers, masons, painters, weavers, blacksmiths and other skilled workers, forming the middle class of Philippine society. Foreigners and non-Christians had to pay extra taxes, and to avoid this, the Chinese took Filipina wives, accepted baptism, or did both. They sometimes joined the Church in disturbingly large groups; for example, four hundred of them were baptized in one day. In 1603 a Chinese riot caused the Spaniards and Filipinos to panic; before it was over, 23,000 Chinese were massacred. The remaining Chinese fled the city, causing an economic slump that lasted until Spain reluctantly invited them back. More incidents of anti-Chinese persecution happened later, in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Spaniards could not do without Chinese services, but the size and character of the Chinese community kept them in a state of constant apprehension.


Over the course of the 1570s, Spain gained control over most of Luzon and the Visayas. The only serious resistance came from the Moslems in the south, and from a Chinese pirate named Limahong. Unlike the typical pirate captain who just has one ship, Limahong had a whole fleet, and used it in an unsuccessful attempt to set up his own kingdom in northern Luzon. In 1574 he even besieged Manila with this fleet.


Other Europeans besides the Spaniards tried to gain a foothold in the Philippines, or meddled in the Manila Galleon trade. Portugal continued to dispute and threaten the Spanish colony until 1580, when King Philip II also became the king of Portugal. In 1579 Sir Francis Drake, the famous English privateer, came by. He was sailing on the second expedition around the world, and he earned his keep by attacking Spanish shipping as he went along. Drake’s ultimate goal was to capture the Manila Galleon, and while he never found that prize, he captured a 120-ton treasure ship full of gold and silver off the coast of Ecuador, and that was the next best thing.


In 1587 another English privateer, Thomas Cavendish, made the heist that Drake had missed; he ambushed the Santa Ana, the second Manila Galleon for that year, off the southern tip of Baja California. Because his three ships were too small to carry all the loot, Cavendish loaded the ships with as much of the Santa Ana’s cargo as would fit. The value of this haul was estimated at £150,000, or more than $47 million in today’s US dollars. Then he set the Santa Ana on fire, took three boys and four crewmen with him that could be useful, marooned the rest of the 190 crew and passengers on a beach where they had water and food, and set off across the Pacific. After Cavendish was gone, the burning Santa Ana drifted to shore, where the survivors put out the fire and repaired it enough to carry them to Acapulco. The expedition of Cavendish would be the third to sail around the world, after those of Magellan and Drake.


Finally, in the early 17th century the Dutch raided the Philippines, capturing not only Spanish ships but also Chinese, Japanese and Portuguese traders visiting the archipelago. The Dutch didn’t lose interest in the Philippines until they gained control over the more lucrative Spice Islands.


Meanwhile in the Spice Islands, the Spaniards got a foothold there, 45 years after they had agreed to get out. In 1574, the natives of Ternate, the island with the Portuguese base on it, became so angry at Portuguese clumsiness and cruelty that they expelled their masters. The Spaniards immediately moved in and set up their own outpost on the island, which lasted until the Dutch took it in 1663. As for the Portuguese, they found the sultan of Ternate’s rival, the sultan of Tidore, willing to have them, now that they were not on Ternate anymore, so they built a fort on Tidore. In effect, the Spaniards and the Portuguese switched places.


Outside of Manila, the Spaniards most often seen were the missionaries. Five Catholic orders divided the islands between them. The Augustinians, Franciscans and Dominicans evangelized Luzon, while the Jesuits and the Recollects, a strict branch of the Augustinians, worked on the Visayas and Mindanao. Thanks to their work, today’s Filipinos are more than 80 percent Catholic, making this one of the only two Christian nations in the Far East; the other is East Timor. The missionaries made little headway in the southwest, however, because Islam was already established there. In fact, from a Christian point of view, Spain arrived just in time; if the Spaniards had come after 1600, Moslems probably would have converted the whole archipelago to Islam, the way they had done in Indonesia. The Spaniards called the Philippine Moslems Moros, meaning Moors, reusing the name of their medieval opponents in Spain and North Africa. The Moros in turn declared a jihad, or holy war, raiding Christian coastal communities and stubbornly defending their territory. The Moros have persistently struggled against every government ruling the Philippines since that time, including the present-day one; they have never accepted any authority but their own.


Among the Moro leaders, the toughest was the sultan of Sulu, who ruled the Sulu Islands, a chain of small islands between Mindanao and Borneo. In the previous episode we saw that the Sultanate of Brunei was in charge of this area, but the sultan of Sulu declared independence from Brunei in 1578. In addition, the sultan of Sulu claimed rule over Palawan, western Mindanao, and north Borneo, or as Malaysia calls it today, Sabah. The Spaniards thought they had pacified all of Mindanao by 1638, and maps showed the whole Philippines as part of Spain, but the sultan of Sulu regained his independence in 1646. Then in 1662, Spain lost Zamboanga City, its base on western Mindanao, to another Moro ruler, the sultan of Maguindanao. Though Spain retook Zamboanga in 1718, more trouble with the Moros would come in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The truth of the matter was that Spain never had a firm grip on Mindanao, due to Moro resistance.


All right, I am going to finish on that note. The Spanish Empire has a peculiar history; there is a detailed beginning to it, and a detailed end, but not much happened in the middle. For that reason, I called it “a hollow empire,” when I wrote a paper about the Spanish Empire’s role in Latin American history. After the early 1600s, we are definitely in that hollow middle, making this a good place to stop. We have just completed four episodes where we talked mostly about events that happened on the islands of Southeast Asia, so now it is time to catch up on what was happening on the mainland at the same time. We will start by returning to the conflict between the Thai states that began at the end of Episode 10, and now it’s going to get a lot bigger, because the Burmese will jump into it.


Finally, here are the usual reminders. If you enjoyed this episode, consider making a donation to support the podcast, using the Paypal button on this episode’s page. And I see that we have gotten a couple more reviews on iTunes. Keep those reviews coming; they generate interest in the podcast, even when they don’t come with a five-star rating. If you are on Facebook, like the History of Southeast Asia Podcast page, so you won’t miss a new episode when they go up. Finally, tell your friends; even in the 21st century, word of mouth advertising can be the best kind. Again, thank you for listening, and come back when the monsoon winds are blowing right!