This article was translated by John R. Bopp
A while back, we blogged about the story of the king of the Moluku Islands who, in the 16th century, spoke the Biscayne language as Portuguese historian Fernão Lopes de Castanheda told in his chronicle HISTORIA DO DESCOBRIMENTO E CONQVISTA DA INDIA PELOS PORTVGVESES (History of the Discovery and Conquest of India by the Portuguese).
In this entry, we told you about Juan Sebastián Elcano, who, after becoming captain of the first ship (built in Ondarroa) to circumnavigate the globe, embarked on a new adventure that unfortunately was left incomplete because of his death: the García Jofre de Loaísa expedition. On this voyage, the goal of which was to take control of the Molukus and their spice production, the Getaria-born explorer took with him as an aide Andrés de Urdaneta, who would be one of the greatest cosmographers of his day, and who was responsible for discovering and documenting the Pacific Ocean route from the Philippines to Acapulco, known as the Urdaneta Route or tornaviaje. Moreover, more than 100 Basques made up part of the crews.
One of the expedition ships, the caravel San Lesmes, got separated from the rest of the fleet in the middle of the Pacific, after having come round Cape Horn. Of it and its crew, made up of Galicians, Basques, and Flemish, nothing more was known by the West…until the 20th century.
In 1929, in the reefs of the Amanu Atoll, four cannons that could have belonged to the San Lesmes were discovered. Adding to the mystery are the oral traditions on the island that claim that some families are descendant of the survivors of a shipwreck from that same time period. This meshes well with the descriptions of the first explorers to arrive there in the 18th century who told, quite surprised, of the presence of Western features on some islands in the Pacific, even on New Zealand, including light eyes and red hair.
From that moment on, the story becomes almost magical. It turns out that Easter Island had several waves of colonizers before Europeans arrived. Groups of Polynesians were started arriving on the island, and there is a debate about whether some peoples, even before that, may have arrived from the Americas.
All of this is logical and normal, within the range of what might be “expected”.
But then comes along the research of Robert Langdon (1924–2003), member of the Australian National University, who dedicated a great deal of time to the San Lesmes and the consequences of its arrival to those Pacific islands, on those migrations of groups of Polynesians, and also the arrival of the descendants of those Europeans. And here’s where the “marked Basque genetic” trail that settled on the island is found, and, according to his research, is prior to the documented European contact made by Dutchman Jacob Roggeveen in 1722.
This is how he explained it in his article, published in 1995:
As a newcomer to international conferences on Easter Island, I gave a paper at the Rendezvous in which I supported arguments for two prehistoric migrations from South America. However, I pointed out that most people in both camps seemed not to have heard of my hvpothesis first advanced in 1975 that many Easter Islanders at the time of European contact were of part-Spanish descent from the crew of the Spanish caravel San Lesmes that disappeared on a voyage from the Strait of Magellan to the East Indies in 1526. In brief, my case is that the caravel, with about 53 men on board. including Basques, ran aground on Amanu Atoll, 800 km east of Tahiti: that the crew refloated it by pushing their four heavy cannon overboard; and that they then proceeded westward until reaching the island of Ra’iatca, 200 km NW of Tahiti. There. some of the men settled and married Polynesian women. Several generations later, some of their Hispano-Polynesian descendants reached Easter Island by way Ra’ivavae in the Austral group.
Of those lost and found travelers to the Polynesian paradise, not only are there Basque markers. It would also seem the Galicians aboard that ship left one that was less “hidden” and more curious: starting in the 16th century, that is, right about the time the crew of the San Lesmes arrived there, in Polynesia, New Zealand, and Australia, new structures called “pataka” start getting built, with a mysteriously similar style to Galician hórreos.
We’ll leave you with the Robert Langdon article published in 1995, and the Rapa Nui Journal, the newsletter of the Easter Island Foundation. Vol. 9 : Iss. 1, Article 3.
Rapa Nui Journal – 3/1995 – Australia
The significance of Basque genes in Easter Island prehistory
As a newcomer to international conferences on Easter Island, I gave a paper at the Rendezvous in which I supported arguments for two prehistoric migrations from South America. However, I pointed out that most people in both camps seemed not to have heard of my hvpothesis first advanced in 1975 that many Easter Islanders at the time of European contact were of part-Spanish descent from the crew of the Spanish caravel San Lesmes that disappeared on a voyage from the Strait of Magellan to the East Indies in 1526.