Capul Island and the Galleon Trade
The Age of Sail has prompted European powers to expand territories beyond their realms. The Spanish and the Portuguese spearheaded these expansionist expeditions. In the course of his voyage, Ferdinand Magellan made use of the trade winds to sail westward. His expedition tragically ended in Mactan Island, part of the archipelago later named by Ruy López de Villalobos as Las Islas Filipinas.
Juan Sebastián Elcano took over the Magellan expedition and completed the first circumnavigation of the world. It hastened the formal establishment the Spanish East Indies colonies comprised of Philippine Islands, Moluccas, Guam, Marianas, Carolinas, and Formosa (Taiwan). Based in Mexico, the administration of these new territories however was under the Viceroyalty of New Spain.
The pre-Spanish Colonial Era Philippines had several thriving kingdoms and civilizations that were trading partners of other Oriental empires and states. The colonization of the archipelago did not disrupt established trading posts. It however made commerce to be more flourishing. From 1565 to 1815, a trade route from Manila, Philippines to Acapulco, Mexico was established. It was called as the Galleon Trade.
One of the important trading posts and layover points of the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade route was an island along the treacherous San Bernardino Strait. Located near between Luzon and Samar Islands, Capul Island was the last port to secure freshwater and other provisions before heading out to the vast Pacific Ocean.
Local folklore had it that the island was formerly called Abak. An ancient Java king brought with him his people to settle in this island. Overtime it was renamed as Capul, a corruption of Acapulco.
Because it was an important port of call for the Spaniards, the inhabitants were naturally converted to Catholicism. In 1596, the Jesuits were the first to establish a mission in the island under the patronage of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. The first church was built using wood and thatch and was later fortified to repulse Moro invasions. Under Father Joaquín Martínez, the Franciscans took over in 1768. Thirteen years later, Father Mariano Valero repaired the church and built the belfry. On November 8, 1864, the Bishop of Cebu decreed that Capul as a parish. The Church of Capul was a prime example of church fortification during the Spanish Colonial Era.
The people of Capul speak Inabaknon, strangely not Waray and Cebuano which are the dominant languages in the Eastern Visayas Region. According to Ethnologue.com by SIL International, Inabaknon is a Sama-Bajaw language of the Greater Barito group.
Located at the Titoog Point on the northern tip of the island municipality, the 40-foot high Capul Island Lighthouse offers a panoramic view of Naranjos Islands (San Vicente, Northern Samar), Ticao Island (Province of Masbate), San Bernardino Strait, Mount Bulusan (Province of Sorsogon), and Dalupiri Island (San Antonio, Northern Samar). The construction of the lighthouse begun in October 1893. The construction was interrupted by the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution. The US Army Corp of Engineers completed the construction.
Two centuries ago, the galleons stopped sailing along the Manila-Acapulco route but nevertheless the legacy it left can still be gleaned in the life, language and culture of the Capuleños.