Saturday, April 07, 2018

Circumnavigations #9: The Death of Magellan

Below is an account of the death of Ferdinand Magellan, on the island of Mactan in 1521.

I've been reading different historians and their interpretation of the events and where they situate his death in the context of his personality and his behavior. At the conference that I was at in Madrid last month, there was quite a bit of myth-making around Magellan. Some of it is deserved, as he did guide a voyage that was into water unknown to Europeans. But the success of his mission has a tendency to lead historians to make generalizations of greatness.

Many historians take the flaws in Magellan's character and then argue that they were actually strengths because of the time that he lived in and because of the obstacles, both geographic and human that he faced. For example, Magellan's tactics in dealing with the concerns or the fears of his men, is argued to be a strength since he was dealing with medieval and pre-modern superstitions about the world that he refused to let ruin his mission. While we can give Magellan some credit, we shouldn't imagine him to be the spear of enlightenment, or like the Immanuel Kant of the sea.

This is a tic that historians have long struggled with and continue to contend with today. This notion that if something happened, then it was supposed to happen, and most factors involved, contributed to and must have aligned in a variety of ways to make it possible. This sounds very reasonable, but the problem though is that it can infuse a sense of destiny into history, that when it is written, that which contributed to an emergence and that which did not, are both tied together by a similar logic.

So even Magellan's flaws, some of which made his voyage more difficult and dangerous, become in a historian's review things that made him that much greater and that much more heroic, and then actually became things that helped in some indirect way, contribute to his success. At the conference in Valladolid last month, there was one presentation that looked into this argument, and it was a rare one. The scholar noted that in the period of Magellan, he wouldn't have been considered to be a "good" captain because of his lack of rapport with his sailors and his unwillingness to hear them or listen to them. The scholar noted that this was a key skill for captains since the men weren't paid that great and weren't in the military and national identities as we known them today didn't really exist. This meant that a good captain had to be a good listener, not a loud and brash tyrant of the sea. A good captain for the time worked with his men to ease their fears and take advantage of their knowledge, and also find a way to still respect them, even while dismissing various superstitions that they held about sea monsters. Magellan did not have these skills and that is why the first phase of his journey was filled with talk of mutiny and actually mutiny.

The death of Magellan is another such moment, where historians struggle with how to situate it. One of the most fascinating things about reading history of this sort, is that there are only a limited number of accounts. Some people are discovering more possible accounts hidden in dusty archives, but a thousand scholars are basically dealing with the same handful of pages about what happened. It is interesting to see the shades of truth and destiny they bring to bear in order to differentiate their telling, their interpretation from another.

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"On Friday, April twenty-six, Zula, a chief of the island of Matan, sent one of his sons to present two goats to the captain-general, and to say that he would send him all that he had promised, but that he had not been able to send it to him because of the other chief Cilapulapu, who refused to obey the king of Spagnia. He requested the captain to send him only one boatload of men on the next night, so that they might help him and fight against the other chief. The captain-general decided to go thither with three boatloads. We begged him repeatedly not to go, but he, like a good shepherd, refused to abandon his flock. At midnight, sixty men of us set out armed with corselets and helmets, together with the Christian king, the prince, some of the chief men, and twenty or thirty balanguais.

We reached Matan three hours before dawn. The captain did not wish to fight then, but sent a message to the natives by the Moro to the effect that if they would obey the king of Spagnia, recognize the Christian king as their sovereign, and pay us our tribute, he would be their friend; but that if they wished otherwise, they should wait to see how our lances wounded. They replied that if we had lances they had lances of bamboo and stakes hardened with fire. [They asked us] not to proceed to attack them at once, but to wait until morning, so that they might have more men. They said that in order to induce us to go in search of them; for they had dug certain pitholes between the houses in order that we might fall into them. 

When morning came forty-nine of us leaped into the water up to our thighs, and walked through water for more than two crossbow flights before we could reach the shore. The boats could not approach nearer because of certain rocks in the water. The other eleven men remained behind to guard the boats. When we reached land, those men had formed in three divisions to the number of more than one thousand five hundred persons. When they saw us, they charged down upon us with exceeding loud cries, two divisions on our flanks and the other on our front. When the captain saw that, he formed us into two divisions, and thus did we begin to fight. The musketeers and crossbowmen shot from a distance for about a halfhour, but uselessly; for the shots only passed through the shields which were made of thin wood and the arms [of the bearers]. The captain cried to them, " Cease firing! cease firing I " but his order was not at all heeded. When the natives saw that we were shooting our muskets to no purpose, crying out they determined to stand firm, but they redoubled their shouts. When our muskets were discharged, the natives would never stand still, but leaped hither and thither, covering themselves with their shields. They shot so many arrows at us and hurled so many bamboo spears (some of them tipped with iron) at the captain-general, besides pointed stakes hardened with fire, stones, and mud, that we could scarcely defend ourselves. Seeing that, the captain-general sent some men to burn their houses in order to terrify them. 

When they saw their houses burning, they were roused to greater fury. Two of our men were killed near the houses, while we burned twenty or thirty houses. So many of them charged down upon us that they shot the captain through the right leg with a poisoned arrow. On that account, he ordered us to retire slowly, but the men took to flight, except six or eight of us who remained with the captain. The natives shot only at our legs, for the latter were bare; and so many were the spears and stones that they hurled at us, that we could offer no resistance. The mortars in the boats could not aid us as they were too far away. So we continued to retire for more than a good crossbow flight from the shore always fighting up to our knees in the water. The natives continued to pursue us, and picking up the same spear four or six times, hurled it at us again and again. Recognizing the captain, so many turned upon him that they knocked his helmet off his head twice, but he always stood firmly like a good knight, together with some others. Thus did we fight for more than one hour, refusing to retire farther. 

An Indian hurled a bamboo spear into the captain's face, but the latter immediately killed him with his lance, which he left in the Indian's body. Then, trying to lay hand on sword, he could draw it out but halfway, because he had been wounded in the arm with a bamboo spear. When the natives saw that, they all hurled themselves upon him. One of them wounded him on the left leg with a large cutlass, which resembles a scimitar, only being larger. That caused the captain to fall face downward, when immediately they rushed upon him with iron and bamboo spears and with their cutlasses, until they killed our mirror, our light, our comfort, and our true guide. When they wounded him, he turned back many times to see whether we were all in the boats. Thereupon, beholding him dead, we, wounded, retreated, as best we could, to the boats, which were already pulling off. 

The Christian king would have aided us, but the captain charged him before we landed, not to leave his balanghai, but to stay to see how we fought. When the king learned that the captain was dead, he wept. Had it not been for that unfortunate captain, not a single one of us would have been saved in the boats, for while he was fighting the others retired to the boats. I hope through [the efforts of] your most illustrious Lordship that the fame of so noble a captain will not become effaced in our times. Among the other virtues which he possessed, he was more constant than ever any one else in the greatest of adversity. He endured hunger better than all the others, and more accurately than any man in the world did he understand sea charts and navigation. And that this was the truth was seen openly, for no other had had so much natural talent nor the boldness to learn how to circumnavigate the world, as he had almost done. That battle was fought on Saturday, April twenty-seven, 1521.

The captain desired to fight on Saturday, because it was the day especially holy to him. Eight of our men were killed with him in that battle, and four Indians, who had become Christians and who had come afterward to aid usi were killed by the mortars of the boats. Of the enemy, only fifteen were killed, while many of us were wounded.

In the afternoon the Christian king sent a message with our consent to the people of Matan, to the effect that if they would give us the captain and the other men who had been killed, we would give them as much merchandise as they wished. They answered that they would not give up such a man, as we imagined [they would do], and that they would not give him for all the riches in the world, but that they intended to keep him as a memorial."
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Circumnavigations #8: The Sometimes Forgotten Captain

It is common to say that Magellan was the first to circumnavigate the globe, but this really isn't true. Magellan lead the expedition. He organized the five ships and crews that left Spain in 1519, and for the most dangerous parts of the journey, meaning the areas that were unknown to Europeans, Magellan was the commander. Magellan had traveled to the Moluccas previously and so he brought a great deal of experience and vision to the expedition. You could even argue that given the fact that Magellan had visited the Western edge of the Pacific years prior, his reaching the Philippines in 1521 would mean that he had traveled around the world, albeit in different pieces. 

But in terms of undertaking a full, continuous voyage around the world, Magellan wasn't the first. After crossing the Pacific, passing through (rather violently) the Marianas, he made his way to the Philippines. He was killed there after his hubris compelled him to get involved in a conflict between tribes. After Magellan falls in battle, several of his subordinates emerge to take command to try to finish the voyage. The one who emerges as being most consequential is Juan Sebastian Elcano, who is often times the forgotten captain of the voyage today. 

By the time the expedition reaches the Philippines, the crew was at the edge of European imagination and knowledge of the globe. The Orient was well known to the Occident. I say well known, not in the sense that the information was accurate, but rather trade and other types of exchange had existed for more than a millennia, So in some ways, the remainder of the trip isn't as historic, it traveled routes Europeans, especially the Portuguese were increasingly familiar with. But the second half of the journey had its own difficulties. There were still severe morale problems and dozens of men refused to continue on the journey, wishing to stay in various ports in Africa and Asia and return later. There were still weather dangers, angry indigenous people and imperial conflicts. 

Elcano took command from the Moluccas onward and eventually captained the Victoria, the only remaining ship of the original five, back to Spain on September 6, 1522. As a reward for his leadership in completing the voyage he was given a lifetime pension as well as a coat of arms. The motto was used in the title of this conference in Valladolid “Primus Circumdedisti Me” or “You Were the First to Circumnavigate Me.” 

Elcano is an interesting historical figure, and both the way that he is commemorated and also forgotten can be instructive. Much of Magellan’s circumnavigation story goes largely unremembered or untold because of the way it conflicts with the great hero navigator mythology. Some of these things represent regional or ethnic tensions or divisions, such as Magellan not being “Spanish” yet being celebrated as a Spanish historical figure. For Elcano, he was from a Basque region of what is today Spain, and in another post, I may or may not delve into these sorts of differences and distinctions. 

Elcano’s presence himself on the voyage was due to a deal that he made in order to forgive a debt. During the voyage, he, like most everyone else on the trip, ran afoul of Magellan when he joined a mutiny and was punished. This is not to take anything away from Elcano, but simply show that the ways that Magellan’s conduct is often sanitized, trickles down to other figures, who also end up being paper-thin in their historical glory.

Listed below is a biography of Juan Sebastian Elcano.

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Biography of Juan Sebastian Elcano
Updated May 14, 2017 
ThoughtCo

Juan Sebastián Elcano (1486-1526) was a Spanish (Basque) sailor, navigator, and explorer best remembered for leading the second half of the first round-the-world navigation, having taken over after the death of Ferdinand Magellan. Upon his return to Spain, the King presented him with a coat of arms that contained a globe and the phrase: “You Went Around Me First.”

Soldier and Merchant
In his early years, Elcano was an adventurer, fighting with the Spanish army in Algiers and Italy before settling down as captain/owner of a merchant ship.

 When he was forced to surrender his ship to Italian companies to which he owned money, he found he had broken Spanish law and had to ask the King for a pardon. Young King Charles V agreed, but on the condition that the skilled sailor and navigator serve with an expedition the King was funding: the search for a new route to the Spice Islands, led by Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan.

The Magellan Expedition

Elcano was given the position of ship’s master on board the Concepción, one of five ships making up the fleet. Magellan believed that the globe was smaller than it actually is and that a shortcut to the Spice Islands (now known as the Maluku Islands in present-day Indonesia) was possible by going through the New World. Spices such as cinnamon and cloves were immensely valuable in Europe at the time and a shorter route would be worth a fortune to whoever found it. The fleet set sail in September of 1519 and made its way to Brazil, avoiding Portuguese settlements due to hostilities between the Spanish and Portuguese.

Mutiny

As the fleet made its way south along the coast of South America looking for a passage west, Magellan decided to call a halt in the sheltered bay of San Julián, as he feared continuing in bad weather. Left idle, the men began to talk of mutinying and heading back to Spain. Elcano was a willing participant and had by then assumed command of the ship San Antonio.

At one point, Magellan ordered his flagship to fire on the San Antonio. In the end, Magellan put down the mutiny and had many of the leaders killed or marooned. Elcano and others were pardoned, but not until after a period of forced labor on the mainland.

To the Pacific

Around this time, Magellan lost two ships: the San Antonio returned to Spain (without permission) and the Santiago sank, although all of the sailors were rescued. By this time, Elcano was captain of the Concepción, a decision of Magellan’s that probably had much to do with the fact that the other experienced ships captains were executed or marooned after the mutiny or had gone back to Spain with the San Antonio. In October-November of 1520, the fleet explored the islands and waterways at the southern tip of South America, eventually finding a passage through that to this day is known as the Strait of Magellan.

Across the Pacific

According to Magellan’s calculations, the Spice Islands should only be a few days’ sail away. He was badly mistaken: his ships took four months to cross the South Pacific. Conditions were miserable on board and several men died before the fleet reached Guam and the Marianas Islands and were able to resupply.

Continuing westward, they reached the present-day Philippines in early 1521. Magellan found he could communicate with the natives through one of his men, who spoke Malay: they had reached the eastern edge of the world known to Europe.

Death of Magellan

In the Philippines, Magellan befriended the King of Zzubu, who was eventually baptized with the name of “Don Carlos.” Unfortunately, Don Carlos convinced Magellan to attack a rival chieftain for him, and Magellan was one of several Europeans killed in the ensuing battle. Magellan was succeeded by Duarte Barbosa and Juan Serrao, but both were treacherously killed by “Don Carlos” within a few days. Elcano was now second in command of the Victoria, under Juan Carvalho. Low on men, they decided to scuttle the Concepción and head back to Spain in the two remaining ships: the Trinidad and the Victoria.

Return to Spain

Heading across the Indian Ocean, the two ships made a stop in Borneo before finding themselves at the Spice Islands, their original goal. Packed with valuable spices, the ships set out again. About this time, Elcano replaced Carvalho as captain of the Victoria. The Trinidad soon had to return to the Spice Islands, however, as it was leaking badly and eventually sank. Many of the Trinidad’s sailors were captured by the Portuguese, although a handful managed to find their way to India and from there back to Spain. The Victoria sailed on cautiously, as they had gotten word that a Portuguese fleet was looking for them.

Reception in Spain

Miraculously evading the Portuguese, Elcano sailed the Victoria back into Spain on September 6, 1522. The ship was crewed by only 22 men: 18 European survivors of the voyage and four Asians they had picked up en route. The rest had died, deserted or, in some cases, had been left behind as unworthy of sharing in the spoils of the rich cargo of spices. The King of Spain received Elcano and granted him a coat of arms bearing a globe and the Latin phrase Primus circumdedisti me, or “You Went Around Me First.”

Death of Elcano and Legacy

In 1525, Elcano was picked to be chief navigator for a new expedition led by Spanish nobleman García Jofre de Loaísa, who intended to retrace Magellan’s route and establish a permanent colony in the Spice Islands. The expedition was a fiasco: of seven ships, only one made it to the Spice Islands, and most of the leaders, including Elcano, perished of malnutrition during the arduous Pacific crossing.

Because of his elevation to noble status upon his return from the Magellan expedition, Elcano’s descendants continued to hold the title of Marquis for some time after his death. As for Elcano himself, he has unfortunately been mostly forgotten by history, as Magellan still gets all the credit for the first circumnavigation of the globe. Elcano, although well-known to historians of the Age of Discovery, is little more than a trivia question to most, although there is a statue of him in his hometown of Getaria, Spain and the Spanish navy once named a ship after him.

Source: Thomas, Hugh. Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire, from Columbus to Magellan. New York: Random House, 2005.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Circumnavigations #7: Guma'Cervantes

While in Valladolid, on a chilly afternoon, I walked through a house with cramped staircases and low hanging doorways. There were small beds in darkened corners. Aged chairs and paintings. Iron pots and kitchen implements. No doubt much of what was in there, had been placed for effect, but you could still feel the age. This house is known as Case de Cervantes, it was a home where the writer Miguel Cervantes stayed in the early 17th century. Today it is a small museum that features small bits of information about the writer's life. You will also find similar Case de Cervantes in other parts of Spain.

Miguel Cervantes is best known for his book Don Quixote, and called the greatest writer in the Spanish language and the first modern novelist. Historians of nationalism are always quick to remind us that the political history of a place doesn't have as much of a role in creating national identity as historians usually imply. Arts and culture, can play a much more profound role in being shared sources of enjoyment, things that all people who are on a common national journey, can refer to and draw their identity from.

While I was leaning against against the wall at Casa de Cervantes, taking in the place around me, my mind began to wander. Different languages were floating past me, English, Spanish, Chinese, German as different tourists walked through the halls. It dawned on me then that I hadn't really spoken Chamoru for several days. Even though I had typed it quite a bit, and I use it when I'm talking to myself, I hadn't spoken to anyone else in Chamoru for about a week. That made me wonder, had these walls ever heard the Chamoru language before? Had a Chamoru ever visited this museum? Or even more intriguing, had a Chamoru visited a house like this in the time of Cervantes? Had a Chamoru made it all the way to the center of the Occident during the 16th or 17th centuries?

In truth, most definitely.

At the time of Cervantes, Guam had been incorporated into the Spanish empire formally through the claim of Legaspi, but it had not yet been colonized. San Vitores and his mission to bring Christianity to the savages of the Ladrone Islands was still decades away. Magellan had stopped in Guam, and other ships that followed also made landfall in Guam, but none of them initiated prolonged contact or colonization. The Ladrones, which later became known as the Marianas, had been determined to have no gold, no spices or anything else of tremendous value in the age, and so when ships stopped they did so to get supplies such as food and water, but also Chamorus.

From the earliest examples of European contact, Chamorus were already being snatched away, usually against their will. We have accounts of some being taken to work as assistants to priests or on ships, some being taken as slaves to work in the bowels of the ship or as servants for travelers. Chamoru women most likely were also taken to be sexual slaves or forced wives for sailors. Europeans interpreted the nakedness of the savages they met to mean they were highly sexualized and could be used with impunity. I have seen accounts of this from the Philippines and the Americas, but never from Guam, but I am certain such horrific takings did take place.

We know that through these takings Chamorus made their way to the Philippines and Mexico, which represented the two ends of the Spanish empire in the Pacific. It is possible that some would have made it across to the Spanish Lake of the Caribbean, and if they had proven themselves to be good sailors or servants, perhaps been able to cross the Atlantic, and visit the Iberian capitol of their future colonizer.

Given the ways in which Pacific Islanders have been known for centuries to undergo such fascinating and bewildering voyages, it would not surprise me.

And so for an afternoon I thought about a unique meeting between Cervantes and a well-traveled man from Guam. I imagined that Chamoru man, with an interesting flavor to his Spanish, would tell stories of a giant fish threatening to eat his island, that is only defeated when the women cut their hair and tie it together. Or perhaps he would have regaled him with tales of the mighty Gådao or the tricky Ukudu. They would sit near a fire, the man from Guam, never quite getting accustomed to the cold or the dying seasons of this strange new world, and tell jokes, about what Europeans believe of others and their savagery and remark on how ridiculous the world can be sometimes.

I think I will reread Don Quixote and see if I can pick up any Pacific Island traces in it.


Circumnavigations #6: The First Book Around the World

One of the presenters at the "Primus Circumdedisti Me: Claves de la Primera Globalizacion" conference focused primarily on the life of those who traveled with Magellan on his voyage. What were the things that they ate? How much did they get paid? What were the rules on these ships? What was the hierarchy like? Were captains the lords over these ships and the men like slaves? Or was there some democracy as we see on pirate ships?

Much of this presentation I was already familiar with from my own study and even from the numerous pirate based video games that I enjoy playing. But there was one part that I found particularly interesting, about how men passed the time on the voyages, or what they did for fun.

Trade voyages to the other side of the world, followed known routes, but still took months and years to complete, the level of ennui on these journeys must have been severe on small ships without may diversions, and a crew too poor and too cramped in to bring much with them. But for voyages such as that of Magellan, which lasted for 3 years, and was driven was exploration into what was unknown to Europeans, there would have been a great deal of anxiety, along with long stretches of boredom.

One of the aspects of this age which is least mentioned, but was very common, was sexual relations between the men on board the ships. I was able to find one reference to it during Magellan's trip. One ships' master was caught engaging in sexual relations with a cabin boy. During those days when men undertook dangerous voyages and were not necessarily part of any military or rigid structure of command, executing men was not common, as it would sour the morale. Magellan nonetheless had the master executed, which is noted as one of the many issues that later led to the mutiny against him.

I did also find one reference to women being hidden aboard a ship. After resting in Port St. Julian in what is today Argentina, prior to attempting to reach pass around the southern tip of South America, several sailors tried to sneak on board their ship women they had met. Unfortunately for those desperate men, they were found and dispatched.

In some depictions of sea journeys for the time, sailors play games such as chess, however this was unlikely as obtaining the board and pieces could be very expensive. Cards were a far more affordable option, although even that was sometimes out of a sailor's price range. Dice were the cheapest options and therefore the most common game. Sailors, undeterred by their financial situation, could nonetheless try to carve their own pieces or even make their own cards.

Music was always an options. The cheapest and most convenient form of entertainment would be a song from your own lips or hearing a song from another. Instruments were expensive for your average sailor and not something each would have.

What fascinated me the most about this presentation was when it turned to "collective reading" as a means of leisure or entertainment. Books would be a rare commodity at this time, both in terms of price, but also because of the majority of sailors possibility not being able to read. But this was solved through collective reading, where someone who could read or had the book, would read from it to others.

In the early 16th century, there weren't many options in terms of literature, both for the rich or the poor. There were history books, religious books, perhaps some books that featured knowledge of faraway lands, or specialized knowledge about medicine or astrology. A fiction book as we know it today was still very uncommon.

On Magellan's voyage, the Bible would have been the main book to travel with the crew. But according to the presentation, another book, published just three prior to the start of the attempted circumnavigation, was also taken with them. And it would have been much more exciting to listen to than sections of the Bible.

That book is Orlando Furioso, written by Ludovico Ariosto. It is an epic Italian poem that would be the equivalent of a blockbuster today. It blended together so many genre types, that even though it was very successful for the time, it was criticized by scholars of the day for having a poorly conceived plot. Reading some of the scholarly commentary on it reminds me of film criticism today around Michael Bay films.

For something written in 1516, Orlando Furioso, feels very out of place. It contains action, huge battles and sieges. It contains romance and even sensual parts between lovers. It also has religious overtones. And finally, it contains fantasy and even sci-fi elements, with long voyages one of which takes characters to the moon. For men, traveling long distances without much in the way of comfort, a story like this would have been a huge diversion. Following fights between Christian and pagan warriors. Searches for princesses. A trip aboard a flaming chariot to reach the moon and found someone's lost sanity. Sea monsters and hippogrifs.

I have long enjoyed the story of Orlando Furioso, I first read it with the illustrations of Gustave Dore, who is one of favorite artists. What the men would have taken with them on Magellan's voyage wouldn't have been the complete version of the poem, as that was only published years later. But it would have been enough for me to say that this fascinating and innovative for its time books, was possibly one of the first literary works to travel around the world.


Friday, March 23, 2018

Circumnavigations #5: Magellan's Gift

After attending a conference where everyone couldn't stop talking about Ferdinand Magellan for three days straight, I could not help but think about one of the more intimate ways that the explorer has been invoked within my family. Many Chamoru families will mention Magellan in the usual ways, as the source of civilization, Christianity or modernity, as the limit of Chamoru existence, where prior to Magellan there is primitivity and savagery. They may mention him generically as being the first colonizer or the beginning of the end for the Chamoru people, even though he did not directly colonize Guam, and such a process would begin more than 140 years later under the guidance of Påle' San Vitores. 

The interesting way that my family and in particular my grandfather Tun Jack Lujan, the late Chamoru Master Blacksmith would bring in Magellan's gifts, was through the metaphor of metal. Metal is always brought into play to provide meaning to the early years of European contact. It is the priceless commodity that Chamorus appear to be willing to give up everything in order to obtain. But what I really liked about it though, was that it wasn't so much about chaining Chamorus through dependency, but as you'll read below, more about empowering and recognizing their own strength. 

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In 1929, my grandfather Joaquin Flores Lujan was led by his father Mariano L.G. Lujan in the morning darkness behind their home in Anigua to where my great-grandfather had his blacksmith shop. Grandpa was familiar with the shop: people came everyday to trade with his father, and village boys sometimes helped man the bellows or took turns pounding metal. My great-grandfather led him into the shop with a torch, light dancing across piles of unfinished tools and coal, and told my grandfather, "Este i magåhet na irensia-mu.” (This is the legacy of your family.)  "You will carry it on."

My grandfather became a locally and internationally recognized Master of Chamoru Culture for his role in keeping alive the traditions of Chamoru blacksmithing. He passed away in March 2015, just a few days shy of his ninety-fifth birthday.

My grandfather learned the trade throughout his youth. His first task: walking along the beach as the sun struggled its way over the morning horizon, collecting coal that had fallen from U.S. Navy barges that floated from Piti to Hagåtña. Later, he worked on the smaller tools, helping to make the teeth for kamyo or the handle for the soh’soh. As he grew older, he continued to work with in his father’s shop but also was employed as a machinist for the U.S. Navy.

Grandpa’s plan was to save up enough money to leave island, attend college in Hawai’i, and possibly become an engineer. But, as for so many plans made by Chamorus in 1941, the Japanese had something very different in mind. My grandfather spent I Tiempon Chapones continuing to make tools for Chamoru farmers. A Japanese general who had become close to their family gave them special permission to do so, even though the machetes that they made could easily be considered weapons. Grandpa was fortunate enough to later collect one of those machetes made in during World War II. We have it in our family collection and it bears the number 8242, meaning it was completed on August 2, 1942.

The postwar era was a time of dramatic and fast-paced changes, where so many daily features of life for Chamorus, whether it be trades, cultural values, or even the Chamoru language itself, was now considered to be outdated or backwards. Americanization in so many forms was the trend, and blacksmiths recognized this. As more stores opened, and it became more common to import almost every single thing we ate or used, traditional artisans began to disappear, no longer actively passing on their knowledge to the next generation or promoting their skills. In the postwar years, Grandpa worked as a taxi driver, a merchant marine, and, eventually, one of the first Chamoru immigration officers.

In the 1970’s, Grandpa was preparing to retire as a US immigration officer and it was then that he was called back into his father’s shop, which had been relocated up to Agana Heights after the war. As farming had once been the lifeblood for the Chamoru people, the blacksmith was essential in making the tools that they used to plant, to weed, to harvest, to slaughter, even to cut open their precious pugua’. But my great-grandfather had watched as his blacksmithing peers changed their careers and didn’t take on any apprentices, and this trade which he had dedicated his life to was on the verge of disappearing.

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My great-grandfather was already close to the end of his days at that point, but he still blacksmithed, and, even though he was no longer the figure of straight-backed, resolute strength that my grandfather had grown up with, he still spoke with the same iron conviction. “Estågue i estoria-ta, estågue i taotao-ta,” he told my grandfather holding up a machete. This trade was the story of the Chamoru people. It was a story that showed that we weren’t stupid when others like Magellan came to our shores. We didn’t want their religion or their clothes, but we wanted their metal because we recognized how it could improve our lives. We took it and used it to sustain ourselves. Grandpa told me this story so many times, and it would change, sometimes slightly, sometimes significantly, in terms of what the moral of his father’s story was. But regardless of how he recounted it, there was always a central idea: “Mungga mana’falingu este na tiningo’.” Keep this tradition alive; do not let it disappear. My grandfather promised to do all he could to keep the tradition of Chamoru blacksmithing alive, and he kept this promise for more than forty years.

He began to blacksmith actively again, displaying tools and selling them. In response to his father’s tales, he started to refer to these Chamoru implements as “survival tools,” because, as he said, as long as you have these tools, you can survive. In 1985, he took on apprentices for the first time, training three fire chiefs. With his students, he traveled around the Pacific Rim, displaying their creations and providing blacksmithing demonstrations, at venues such as the Festival of the Pacific Arts. For his efforts in keeping Chamoru blacksmithing alive, he received numerous awards, being named a Master of Chamoru Culture by the Guam Council on the Arts and Humanities Agency and granted a prestigious National Heritage Award Fellowship in Washington, D.C., in 1996. He remains the only artisan from the Western Pacific to receive this honor. He took on a dozen more apprentices in order to help keep this tradition alive, including myself and my brother Jeremy. His promise to his father seemed complete, especially when, in 2013, one of his first apprentices, Frank Lizama, was recognized as a Master of Chamoru Culture as well for his role in helping keep alive the blacksmithing tradition.

Last year, I conducted a series of presentations with Señot Lizama in Saipan and Rota about Chamoru blacksmithing on behalf of the Saipan Municipal Council.  Señot Lizama has been actively teaching apprentices for several years now and looks to expand his outreach to those interested in the CNMI. Siempre magof si Grandpa put i bidadå-ña i eståba estudiante-ña. Ha na’lå’la’la’ mo’na este na presisu na tiningo’

Due to commitments to my family and my work, I don’t get to blacksmith much anymore. But I relish chances such as this to share the history of Chamoru blacksmithing and its importance to our culture. Over the years as I worked with Grandpa learning his trade and hearing his stories, he would echo the words of his own father frequently: “Este i irensia-mu, Mike. Susteni pat yute’. Hågu la’mon.” I am proud that in the time that we shared I was able to help carry on his legacy and help him keep his promise to his father.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Circumnavigations #4: Re-Discovering Discovery Day

Several years ago, Senator Tommy Morrison was pushing for the reinstatement of Discovery Day as a local, Government of Guam holiday. For those younger or more forgetful than myself, Discovery Day was a holiday created in 1971 to commemorate the "discovering" of Guam by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. It was celebrated until the early 2000s when it was removed as a local holiday. For those who aren't familiar with the festivities associated with Discovery Day, it was normally a time for the southern village of Umatac/Humatak to shine. A fair or carnival would be held in the village, with the highlight of the day being a re-enactment of the arrival of Magellan. 

If you have never been to a Discovery Day before I suggest you go just to witness the surreal nature of this reenactment where Chamoru huts are burnt and Chamoru are killed by a guy in Spanish armor who usually arrives in Umatac Bay via a motorboat. The village of Umatac in particular enjoyed this holiday as it brought the attention of the island to their particular corner. It also provided some economic opportunity for a part of the island that doesn't get much compared to other villages. 

In Morrison's efforts, he thankfully wasn't trying to revive Discovery Day directly. He was much more interested in rediscovering the holiday as a venue for the celebration of Chamoru culture, heritage and history. While Magellan will always be a part of Guam history, it is important when considering something such as this to recall his short, but memorable visit to Guam.



Magellan’s mission was to circumnavigate the globe, to take the pieces that Europeans knew from Asia and the Americas and try to connect the dots, to determine how much ocean or land lay between them. This was necessary because of the way in which the world had been divided into pieces for the navies and merchants of Portugal and Spain to carve up and exploit. The Portuguese controlled the route to Asia that circled south of Africa. The hope for the Spanish was that a route could be found that went around the Americas.  



When Magellan arrived in the waters of the Marianas in March 1521 his men were starving and some very ill. They have been sailing into unknown waters across the Pacific. Guam wasn’t the first land they had spotted on their journey, they had seen other small atolls, which they named the “Unfortunate Islands” because there wasn’t much too them. When they reached Guam however, they were greeted by a lush green island, and a fleet of canoes.



Although “Island of Thieves” is the name that Magellan notoriously gave Guam, and which stuck for centuries, this was not the first name the Europeans invoked. Seeing the canoes and how swiftly they moved in the water they gave Guam a poetic name, the Island of Lateen Sails, based on the design of sail the canoes used. A later European would note that the canoes moved like dolphins jumping from wave to wave.



Chamorus came aboard the ships and things seemed fine at first. Although the usual way the tale is told, Chamorus are amazed and awed by the Europeans. Some accounts of the visit however reveal that Chamorru were not awestruck by the Europeans and seemed to be intrigued but not impressed by their appearance or presence.



Trouble started however when one of the crew slapped one of the Chamoru men. The Chamoru man slapped the sailor back. The sailor promptly drew a machete and tried to strike him down. Chamorus jumped back to their boats and began to throw spears and slingstones. Several groups of Chamorus showed up that day to trade with Europeans. One of them surprised the Europeans by immediately starting to hurl weapons at them once their trade of supplies for metal and glass beads had finished.



Although many European accounts attest to Chamorus having no knowledge of metal and that they were amazed to see it and touch it for the first time, this could be false. Chamorus at that time may have had infrequent contact with peoples of Southeast Asia and the Philippines. Through this trade they would have learned about the value of metal. When Magellan appeared it is possible that they were not amazed by something they had never imagined before. Instead they were excited to see something they already knew about and that the arrival of Europeans represented hopefully a new opportunity to obtain more of the rare material. 



At some point the rope for a skiff was cut and Magellan immediately assumed the Chamorus had done it. His men went ashore and burned down several houses and killed seven Chamorus. One part of this story that is not as frequently mentioned and not usually part of the re-enactment that takes place in Umatac each year, is the request by some of Magellan’s crew that they kill some Chamorus and then take out their intestines and bring them aboard so that those who are sick may eat them. At the time, it is likely that this was a sailor's remedy for illnesses like scurvy. If you ingest the entrails of a healthy person, it may cure your own.



Part of the reason this tidbit is left out is because it calls into question the usual way we understand these stories, namely that one side is civilized the other side is savage.



Magellan left after less than three days in Guam, and sailed on to the Philippines where he was killed in a dispute between chiefs in Cebu. As I’ve heard more than one Filipino say, “Chamorros kept Magellan alive long enough so that Filipinos could kill him.”



The telling of this story in the context of “Discovery Day” obscures one very simple and very obvious truth. Magellan did not discover anything. The Discovery Days of the past have trouble dealing with this simple fact. Magellan may have put Guam on the map of Europeans, but it was on the maps of Chamorus and other peoples in Micronesia for long before that.


Eventually, Morrison's efforts paid off, and thankfully Discovery Day was not re-instated. Instead a new holiday, "Guam History and Chamorro Heritage Day" was created, which allowed a greater focus on Chamoru culture and history. The re-enactment is still a prominent part of the celebration, but at least the re-imagining allows it to move beyond Magellan and become something through which Chamorus can discover and rediscover themselves.



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Circumnavigations #3: March 6, 1521

In Magellan's trip across the Pacific, he passed by thousands of islands, the majority of which they did not see. They noticed a few, but they had no resources to offer and only made the voyagers more distressed. Guam and the Marianas were the first landfall they made after months at sea, where many became ill and more than a dozen died. The interactions between Chamorus and Magellan did not go well, and I'll write more about that later. Because of this contact, Magellan's voyage was able to obtain some supplies to help them eventually reach the Philippines less than two weeks later.

As a result, hundreds of years later, Guam still has a small, but secure place in the history of European imperialism and the stories of its mastering of the world. One historian refers to this moment as the first taint of civilization, and if you believe in notions of cultural purity than it is easy to understand or accept that thesis. But even from the general ways these moments of first contact are recounted, it is also easy to assume that while for one side there is a great evolving and awakening of something, for the other there will only be tragedy and losses ahead. But this is one of the ways that historiography, spills into popular memory and imagining. They often reinforce the notion that one side is destined for greatness, while the other is starting the decay that will usher it towards the dustbin of history.

That is why it can be so important to return to that moment again, to see how much of the marketing was real, or how much of what was said or believed was simply inferred or just assumed. Did the natives really believe the men with metal to be gods? Did the lowly natives really fall beneath the cross or sword, acknowledging their inherent power and symbolization of superiority? Could the narratives be trusted since only one side told their story?

I've pasted below the article on Magellan from Guampedia by Carlos Madrid. I like it, because it is straight-forward and to the point, but also because it includes certain elements about the explorer's visit that are usually omitted from popular re-tellings. What is important to remember about these moments is that your people were there, and they were not just victims of history or victims of a historian's pen. They were there and lived and breathed in the moment, and there is as much of a beginning for you and your people in that moment as an end. But you must tell your own story and assert the right to tell your own story for you to perceive that.



***************

From Guampedia
"Ferdinand Magellan"
by Carlos Madrd

Guam’s first European contact

Ferdinand Magellan (1480 – 1521), born in Portugal in 1480 and killed in Cebu, Philippines in 1521, was a Portuguese seafarer and navigator who worked most of his life for Castille, the Spanish throne. In 1520-1521, Magellan commanded an expedition of five ships whose mission was to find a passage around the American continent to the Spice Islands. At the tip of South America, he discovered the strait that now bears his name, but after reaching Asia he was killed in the Philippines. Only one of the remaining two ships with eighteen survivors of the expedition returned to Spain, completing the first circumnavigation of the earth.

Magellan began his life as a seafarer in his native country, Portugal, at the age of twenty-five when he was sent to India on an expedition to secure Francisco de Almeida as viceroy of the Portuguese territories there. A year later, in 1506, he sailed to the Molucas Islands which is known today as Indonesia, where he bought a slave named Enrique or Enriquillo, who accompanied Magellan on all future voyages. In 1513 Magellan was injured during combat in northern Africa, and since then he suffered with a limp.

Magellan fell out of favor with the Portugese Court after taking leave without permission and was accused of trading illegally with the Moors. He knew Spain was looking for a route towards the Spice Islands without crossing the Portuguese area of the world established by the Treaty of Tordesillas, Magellan presented a plan of expedition to Charles V of Spain. The expedition departed from Sanlúcar de Barrameda in Spain on 20 September 1519, with five ships: the flagship Trinidad together with the Victoria, Santiago, San Antonio and Concepcion. On board were approximately 270 men with a wide range of nationalities, including Antonio de Pigafetta, an Italian nobleman who was anxious to take part and chronicle the journey.

Expedition accounts and naming of Ladrones

The chronicle written by Pigafetta is therefore the first known written account of contact between ancient Chamorros and Europeans. This account is the most detailed found today, both in general information about the voyage and in relation to his description of the “Islands of Thieves” or Islas de Los Ladrones, which Magellan named the archipelago after a misunderstanding about property rights. The archipelago was initally named the “Island of Lateen Sails” or Islas de las Velas Latinas as the explorers were amazed by the swiftness, agility and how the Chamorros easily maneuvered the proas which greeted them as they approached the islands.

In addition to Pigafetta’s accounts, there are seven other manuscripts, of the eleven (chronicled by different authors of the expedition) that allegedly once existed, that describe or mention the events of the voyage and the arrival in the Marianas.

According to Pigafetta, the travellers sighted three islands of the Marianas archipelago on 6 March 1521 (or 17 March, according to Ginés de Mafra, another chronicler of the same expedition). The crews were on the verge of starvation. Navarro, the sailor who first sighted land, was rewarded with gold jewellery worth more than 100 ducats for his good eye.

Perceived theft

De Mafra mentions that the first incident between Chamorros and Europeans took place when an officer of the Trinidad “for little cause” slapped one of the islanders, who then slapped him back. The officer returned with a blow of his machete, at which the islanders jumped into the water, returned rapidly to their proas and started to throw spears at the ship, hurting some of the Europeans.

Another group of Chamorros came from shore and went over to the ships and started trading while the first group continued throwing spears. After the trading was concluded, and to the surprise of the Europeans, the second group of Chamorros joined the group that was fighting. Seeing that the number of canoes was increasing, Magellan ordered his crew to stop fighting, after which peace was re-established, and commerce and trade was resumed.

Some islanders cut the rope of one of the skiffs off the Trinidad and took it. Magellan arranged a punishment for this perceived theft, disembarking the next day and setting some settlements on the coast on fire. Seven Chamorros were killed during the attack. Following an old medieval superstition, the European sailors who were sick asked crew members, who took part in the attack, to bring back the entrails of the dead nativs, so that they could eat them and recover their health.

Historic significance

Pigafetta was among the landing party, so in his chronicle he described for the first time some of the customs of the ancient Chamorros and the extraordinary mastery they had over their proas.

The identification of the exact place of Magellan’s landing in the Marianas continues to generate great scholarly debate. Three islands were spotted from the ships, two of them close to each other and the third, a bigger island, off to the north. Although in Guam a tradition refers to the bay of Umatac as the landing site, the logic of the route that the expedition had taken, together with the contradictory testimonies of the surviving accounts, suggests that the site was somewhere to the north of Umatac or even north of Guam itself, possibly on the island of Saipan. It may be logical to suppose that the oral tradition referring to Umatac as a landing site refers to the expedition of Legazpi, who in 1565 disembarked there as many others did over the years.

After two days in the ”Ladrones” or “Islands of Thieves” as they were named by Magellan, the fleet continued its route towards the West. Not long after his visit to the Marianas, Magellan would die in combat in the island of Mactan in Cebu, after taking sides in a local struggle between two chiefs. The Trinidad continued onward back to Spain under the command of Juan Sebastián Elcano. Only eighteen survivors of the original crew arrived once again in Sanlúcar de Barrameda on 6 September 1522.

In many ways, Fernando de Magellan represents a turning point in the history of Guam. His voyage heralded the beginning of a series of intermittent visits to the Marianas, throughout the next 150 years, by foreign navigators. For the indigenous population, these trips represented a series of contacts, often saturated with violence, problems of communication and trickery – as well as the exchange of objects of value. On some occasions, islanders were kidnapped, to be used as guides or as protégés of missionaries.

For the Europeans, the incorporation of news about the existence of an inhabited archipelago with resources for supplying ships and crews marked a milestone in the cartography of the Pacific Ocean, whose vastness was practically unknown until then. In the maps of the 16th century, the “Islands of Thieves” represented the first geographical reference to new lands in the Pacific.

By Carlos Madrid

For further reading

Elcano, Juan Sebastián de, Antonio Pigafetta, Maximiliano Transilvano, Francisco Albo, Ginés de Mafra et al. La Primera Vuelta al Mundo. Madrid: Miraguano-Polifemo Ediciones, 2003.
Rogers, Robert. Destiny’s Landfall: A History of Guam. Honolulu: University of Hawai`i Press, 1995.
Pigafetta, Antonio. Magellan´s Voyage: A Narrative Account of the First Circumnavigation. 2 Volumes. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1969.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Circumnavigations #2: Sumugo' yu giya Seoul...

My trip to Spain took me through South Korea, where I spent seven hours in the Incheon Airport in Seoul.

In the same way that Guam and Okinawa have been connected for years now because of US military plans, so too have Guam and South Korea become connected as well.

Guam has been a potential target for North Korea for many years now, as it is one of the most prominent US bases in the region.

But over the past year the danger to Guam has become far more pronounced, from both sides of the Pacific.

Late last year, North Korean rhetoric became more focused around Guam, far more than it ever had before.

The year before that, Donald Trump was elected President of the US, and his foreign policy approach hasn't been very ideologically based, but seems to be rooted in impulsive Twitter tirades.

Both of them combined mean that people on Guam have no idea what to think or even worry about next.

North Korea is portrayed as a tin pot regime, simply full of bluster one moment, and then the most serious threat to peace in the world today.

Trump gives off the same aura of insanity, albeit in a different way.

He exasperates Guam's already tenuous colonial status.

Where we on Guam don't know from one moment to the next if we are part of the US, and Trump, by being even more erratic than your average US leader, only makes us more cognizant of our lack of stable place in the world.

It doesn't help that when facing threats you don't want a "chaos president."

Don't want someone, for whom it seems, would gladly let your island be consumed in a sea of fire and fury in order to get over some poor golf scores or perhaps a badly cooked cheeseburger.

But one of the most frustrating aspects of the entire debacle is the lack of presence Guam has in the discussion and in the coverage.

I gave several dozen interviews with international and national media last year about the North Korean threat, and much of their focus was on how the people on the island were reacting or feeling.

But I and others, tried to push back on this idea, and assert that the real anxiety and worry comes not from the direct threat necessarily, but the fact that we have no place in the discussion or decisions about said threat. 

That they swirl around you, and even the basic idea that some amorphous government or military is making decisions on your behalf, doesn't feel quite right.

While in Seoul, I spoke to a few South Koreans (those that could speak some English), introducing myself as being from Guam and wanting to know their thoughts on the issue of North Korea.

This conversation will become more important in so many ways, not just in military terms, but in economic ways as well.

It is fascinating how a place such as Guam can be so integrated and connected to other countries, yet because of its political status be part of a globalized community, but feel detached from it.

Part of it is formal, as we don't get to sit down next to other countries and talk about our place in the world, but it is also because of our status, where we feel like those rights belong to the US and not to us.

Formally, Guam is supposed to be excluded from those discussions, but in what ways can we nonetheless force them or create those networks of power?

That is one thing that I will be thinking heavily about, while on this trip.

Circumnavigations

I will be in Spain this week for the conference "PRIMUS CIRCUMDEDISTI ME: Claves de la primera globalizacion." It is a historical congress being organized primarily by the Spanish Ministry of Defense that will discuss the 500th anniversary of the first circumnavigation of the world by Ferdinand Magellan. I am attending the conference as the representative from Guam, where Magellan visited in March of 1521.

I will be writing about my trip and the congress under the title "Circumnavigations." Not only because of the trip of Magellan itself, but also because of the ways in which Guam and myself are navigating as well, working our way around history and around the global filled with independent nations.

Here is the description of the conference from its website. 


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Introduction

The Spanish Ministry of Defence –in collaboration with the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports, and with the Junta de Castilla y Leon– organizes the International Congress Primus Circumdedisti Me. Keys for the First Globalization. This Congress will be held in the ‘Miguel Delibes’ Cultural Center in Valladolid, from 20 to 22 March, as part of the commemorative events for the 5th Centennial of the first circumnavigation, initiated by Fernando de Magallanes in 1519 and, after his death, culminated by the Spaniard sailor Juan Sebastian de Elcano in 1522.

Objetives

This Congress –directed by Professor Carlos Martinez Shaw– aims to establish a thorough historical review of the first circumnavigation, taking as the starting point the Capitulations signed in Valladolid, the events under which the expedition took place that, definitely, opened the way to the first globalization, as well as to generate awareness on the Spaniard sailor Juan Sebastian de Elcano and his achievements.

Historic context

On 22 March, 1518, King Carlos I and Portuguese sailor Fernando de Magallanes signed the Capitulations in Valladolid, the settlement agreement through which the Monarch placed at his disposal a fleet of five ships to search and discover the Land of Spices, while being granted the title of Captain of this armada, Governor and Adelantado of the lands he could discover. 
 
According to the division agreed in the Tordesillas Treaty, Magallanes believed Molucas Islands were located within the Spanish part and not inside Portuguese domains, and, consequently, the monopoly of spices should correspond to the Kingdom of Spain.


Kinentos Trentai Ocho

During the 2016 election, I followed the website FiveThirtyEight on a daily basis.

I found the commentary to be very enlightening, as it wasn't just their reporting about polls, but also their analysis on what makes a poll informative or effective.

The media in general often times picks polls that fit the narrative they are trying to promote, or they have their own internal hierarchy over what makes one poll useful and another less so.

But these critical information points are rarely discussed openly, even if more astute media viewers or consumers can make their own best guesses.

Although after Trump's victory in the election, I stopped consuming that type of poll-focused news.

But as the US mid-term election season is starting up again, and we've ahead a round of very interesting special elections, I've slowly been drawn back to the website.

This type of coverage, in the form of a group chat around the recent apparent Democratic-victory, is what makes it such entertaining, but also educational commentary.

The part with Nate Silver and his caps lock button possibly being on, has to be my favorite part.

*******************


Mar. 15, 2018 at




Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s weekly politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.

micah (Micah Cohen, politics editor): HEYO! When this chat publishes, we’ll be about 36 hours removed from the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District (apparently won by Democrat Conor Lamb). That’s been more than enough time for narratives and lessons and takeaways to take hold. I’ve chosen what seem to be the most ubiquitous or interesting ones, and we’re going to play a game of buy/sell/hold with PA 18 🔥 takes.
Buy = “I mostly agree with that.”
Sell = “I mostly disagree with that.”
Hold = ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
You all good to go?
clare.malone (Clare Malone, senior political writer): Yeah.
perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): Yes.
natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): Sure.
micah: OK, Take No. 1, from Vox: The Pennsylvania special election shows the 2018 House battleground is enormous — by one calculation, more than 110 seats could theoretically be in play.
Buy, sell or hold?
natesilver: Buy.
perry: Hold. I could have said “buy,” though — the range of seats that Democrats could win is fairly broad.
clare.malone: I’m a hold on this because I think not every district that President Trump won by 20 points or more (as he did Pennsylvania’s 18th District) is quite the same, and I don’t think Democrats can find a plausible candidate for every one of them. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t or won’t make a play for them.
natesilver: I would point out that it feels like buy/sell/hold is the wrong idiom here, but Micah might get mad if I said that. I think the Vox take is right, though. It’s a very, very broad playing field, and both Democrats and Republicans would be dumb as hell to ignore any of those ~110 seats.
micah: Yeah, I’ve seen this take bleed a bit into more like, “Democrats can win something on the order of 110 seats,” and that seems way out there. But if we stick to “in play,” then I’m on board.
clare.malone: Right. It’s really easily misconstrued.
micah: Yeah.
OK, Take No. 2, from Huffington Post: GOP blames “lackluster” candidate and his “porn stache” for Pennsylvania setback
(And yes, I just wanted to get “porn stache” into the chat.)
To summarize this one a bit — maybe we can’t read that much into the Pennsylvania 18 result because the GOP candidate was bad.
clare.malone: First off, LOL.
But crass wording aside, there was something of a Kennedy/Nixon thing going on here with the contrast of young, dewy Lamb to older, mustachioed Rick Saccone. That’s not to say it was a big factor, though.
So, sell, but I see what they’re going for.
“They” being Republicans.
natesilver: SELLLOLOLOLOLOL
perry: Sell. Saccone was a fairly standard Republican on positions. He won a primary, has been a state senator, didn’t have a big scandal break during the general election. In other words, he was no Roy Moore. Or Christine O’Donnell.
clare.malone: Yeah the blame-it-on-Saccone spin is more a testament to how well Lamb played the role he needed to play in that district.
natesilver: It’s not totally wrong to say the candidates played a role, but that’s missing the forest for the trees. The national environment does most of the work here. Democrats are outperforming the districts’ partisan baselines by an average of 16 or 17 points in special elections for the U.S. House and Senate so far. They did so by 22 points in Pennsylvania’s 18th. So maybe the candidates’ individual qualities got Lamb over the top, but it was the national environment that created the opportunity.
Also, Lamb and Saccone are well within the normal range of goodness/badness as candidates. There will be plenty of candidates like them on the ballot in November 2018. They’re not the second coming of Jesus Christ and Roy Moore, respectively.
micah: So I guess it’s fair to say this result shows the importance of the national environment and candidate quality — but that order (environment first) is important.
Take No. 3, from The Guardian: Why it’s time for Democrats to ditch Nancy Pelosi.
Lamb seems to have won, and he distanced himself from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
clare.malone: Buy.
I generally think there’s a solid argument for Democrats to do a little bit of a leadership purge.
natesilver: Hold.
clare.malone: It’s a take I agree with separate from this election, though. It’s not just Tuesday’s result.
natesilver: I mean, I think if we’re being really Machiavellian, Democrats would probably up their chances of taking the House majority in 2018 if they ditched Pelosi. But it’s like the eighth-most-important factor.
perry: Sell. The polling in this district found that most people neither knew nor cared about the anti-Pelosi pledge. There is a fine argument that Democrats need new leaders, but I don’t think this race tells much.
natesilver: Republicans can just demonize Hillary Clinton instead.
micah: That is sooooo true.
Can and will.
clare.malone: And she’s happily providing new tape for them:
perry: I would say, though, that — regardless of whether this made a difference or not in the 18th District — if 20 Democrats running in key races make the kind of anti-Pelosi pledge that Lamb did, then that becomes an issue for her.
If Democrats win the House majority in 2018 and have, say, 230 seats, but 15 people have pledged not to vote for Pelosi for speaker, that’s significant. And if they don’t win the majority, I think she will be out.
micah: Speaking of …
Take No. 4, from the NTK Network: Bad night for Pelosi, good night for Moulton and Biden.
That’s Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and former Vice President Joe Biden, both of whom campaigned for Lamb and both of whom are rumored to be potential presidential candidates in 2020.
clare.malone: It’s a good way to shoehorn in other white, male candidates, who Democrats are hoping will swing suburban Republican-leaning voters.
natesilver: Hold. The arguments about whether Democrats need progressives who excite the base or moderates who woo swing voters are pretty overdone in both directions — and it depends a lot on the districts.
clare.malone: I’ll buy.
perry: Buy. I don’t think anyone cares about Moulton. Even if Pelosi didn’t matter to voters, it’s a bad sign for her that Lamb won in a high-profile race while distancing himself from his party’s leader in the House. Every high-profile surrogate (Barack Obama, Biden, Bill Clinton) campaigns for some people who win and some who lose. But I think Biden is being brought into more conservative-leaning areas. (He appeared with Montana Sen. Jon Tester recently.) If some of those candidates win, and he is the top surrogate, that does help Biden with the case that he can appeal to Obama-Trump voters.
clare.malone: I mean, right, Biden’s whole presidential pitch is gonna be just that: I’ll win back the fabled “working-class white voter.”
micah: Take No. 5, from Greg Sargent at The Washington Post: The Trump/GOP agenda may be a big albatross for Republicans.
perry: Sell. I don’t think the GOP policy agenda is mattering that much. The tax cut doesn’t seem to be helping the GOP in these special elections, but I think that’s different from saying it’s hurting the party. Trump is a big albatross himself, but I’m not sure it’s the policy stuff.
Like, the tariffs didn’t help Saccone is my guess. I’m not sure they hurt him, though.
natesilver: I’m a buy.
I think health care hurts Republicans, and taxes are probably a wash.
clare.malone: Hmmm. I guess buy? The economy is good, so the Democrats would be left with running on health care and Trump’s ineffectuality.
natesilver: And tariffs were probably a wash in this district but are hurtful overall.
micah: So I’m gonna fold another take into this one — a sub-take, from ThinkProgress: Pennsylvania voters say the GOP’s health care antics cost Saccone their vote.
It sounds like Nate is buying that.
I might be a weak sell on this — I think it’s Trump more than his agenda, per se.
natesilver: That’s not what the question asked, though.
It didn’t ask whether Trump was more important — it asked whether the Republican agenda is harming the GOP.
perry: Do I think congressional Republicans would have been better off overall with either a popular Obamacare replacement plan or just not doing the repeal? Yes. I think Nate is correct about this.
micah: Well, I guess I’m quibbling with the “big” in “big albatross.”
perry: The gap between “Trump alone” and “Trump and the GOP’s agenda” is perhaps not the biggest distinction. I’m not sure it totally makes sense.
If Trump was tweeting about a health care plan people liked, that would be different than what he is tweeting about now.
micah: That’s a good point.
Trump sorta is the Trump/GOP agenda, and vice versa.
natesilver: It’s worth pointing out that Trump’s approval rating declined by several points while health care was being debated.
I’m not sure that the rest of the stuff matters, but I think health care moves the needle a bit.
clare.malone: What happens if the economy tanks in the next eight months?
Does that mean a sure Democratic wave?
micah: The GOP ceases to exist.
clare.malone: Right. The GOP is basically basing their campaign on the good economy and the promises of the tax bill.
micah: Seriously, though, the GOP is in really bad shape with a pretty-good-to-great economy. If that went south, they’d be toast.
Though maybe there are diminishing returns for Democrats. Republicans can do only so bad.
natesilver: #Actually, Micah, there might be accelerating returns for Democrats because of the way that districts are structured.
There’s a huge glut of (mostly gerrymandered) districts that are somewhere between like 10 and 20 points more Republican-leaning than the country as a whole. So if the wave gets really big and Democrats begin to tap into those, their gains just get larger and larger.
micah: OK, last one, Take No. 6, from CNN: “Donald Trump can’t save you.”
Buy, sell or hold?
perry: Buy. Trump is not going to help a lot of Republicans win key races in close states/districts. I suspect he will be like Obama in 2014: Candidates in close races may want to duck association with him. Although maybe in Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia — the big Senate races in fairly red states — he might help.
clare.malone: I’ll second that buy.
natesilver: Buy — except the premise is backward. Who’s saying that Trump can save Republicans? He’s the main reason they’re in so much trouble this year in the first place.
micah: I mean, I buy this too as it’s meant. But he could save Republicans somewhat, right? If he stopped doing a lot of Trump-y things.
natesilver: Yeah by staying off Twitter and going golfing for the rest of the year.
clare.malone: “Fox & Friends” is saying that Trump saves Republicans, to be clear.
They were saying this morning that Trump’s trip to Pennsylvania actually saved Saccone from a more embarrassing loss.
natesilver: THIS TALKING POINT IS SO DUMB.
micah: Wait a sec!
natesilver: IT’S SO FUCKING DUMB.
AND IT SHOWS THAT PEOPLE ARE IDIOTS ABOUT INTERPRETING POLLS.
micah: You have caps lock on, I think.
natesilver: I’ve seen multiple people making claims that “Lamb was up 6 points in the polls until Trump came in.” This is backwards in like two ways.
First, Lamb was leading by 6 points in only one poll, from Monmouth. Not “the polls”.
He was up by 2 points in the polling average, and the final result is going to come very, very close to that.
If you think the polls were off in this race, you’re a fucking idiot, full stop.
The same would have been true if Saccone had won by 1 point or something also.
micah: Is rant over?
natesilver: Second, the Monmouth poll was actually conducted AFTER TRUMP VISITED, or at least partially after it.
The polls BEFORE Trump visited showed a TIE, on average.
Then the Monmouth poll came out AFTERWARD.
micah: Is rant over?
natesilver: If anything, the Monmouth poll suggested that Trump made matters worse for Saccone, although it did overshoot the mark a bit.
I’m sorry to rant about this, I’m just really, really tired of people substituting saying “the polls” when they really mean “idiotic media narratives based on cherry-picked misinterpretations of the polls.”
Even on CNN last night, there was this notion that Lamb was a big favorite based on the polls. That’s absolutely false. He was a modest favorite, at best. It shows that people have learned nothing since 2016.
micah: Is rant over?
natesilver: It’s going to continue for the next three years, Micah.
micah: lol
Wait, though, on the podcast, Nate, you said something along the lines of, “We know Democratic turnout is going to be good in 2018. Republicans should be looking for ways to increase turnout among their base.”
Can’t Trump help do that?
natesilver: Maybe. I mean, it would certainly be valuable for Republicans to have high turnout among their base — they’re going to need it because the Democratic base’s turnout is almost surely going to be high.
But is Trump actually helping with that?
The base is not that enthused, at least not in a way that’s translating to them turning out in the elections. Trump riles up the Democratic base and turns off moderates.
clare.malone: To the point above, I don’t think you could really win the midterm with just Trump’s base, no matter how energized it is, right?
You would still need to build a GOP coalition to counterbalance the Democratic enthusiasm.
micah: That’s a really good point. It’s likely true that as long as Democrats are motivated, Trump’s base is not enough.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.
Clare Malone is a senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight.
Perry Bacon Jr. is a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.
Micah Cohen is the politics editor.

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