On June 26, 1536, Andres de Urdaneta (1508-1568), a Basque explorer from Ordizia (Gipuzkoa), dropped anchor at the port of Lisbon, Portugal, after a long transoceanic voyage. Eleven years before, in 1525, the Spanish Emperor Carlos V had sent this expedition headed by García Jofre de Loaísa to colonize the Maluku Islands or Moluccas (in present-day Indonesia) against his rival, the Crown of Portugal. The expedition included seven vessels. Urdaneta took to sea at an early age on the ship Sancti Spiritus under the command of Juan Sebastian Elkano. Most of the men in this expedition, including Elkano, died. Only one vessel reached the Moluccas. Among the survivors was Urdaneta himself who, after arriving in those archipelagos, lived there for nine years side-by-side the native people and Portuguese settlers, later returning to the old world. Andres de Urdaneta’s story illustrates the dynamics of Basque explorers and their place in early modern transoceanic imperialism.

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Iconic portrait of Andres de Urdaneta

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A map of the Moluccas, 1640

Check out anthropologist William Douglass’ new book Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean, which will give you the whole picture of this and other stories.