Trade as the First Direct and Sustained Link between the Americas and Asia: Essay
The Pacific route has existed since Andres de Urdaneta’s discovery of Tornaviaje in 1565, connecting Manila to Acapulco on a regular basis until 1815. In exchange for silver from the mines of Zacatecas and Potosi, Asian goods such as silk, porcelain, ivory, and spices were brought to Acapulco. Many of these merchandise was then transported to Veracruz through Mexico City, where it was loaded onto the West Indies Fleet.
After a stop in Havana, the ships sailed to Seville bringing valuable commodities from New Spain, Peru, and Asia. For more than two decades, this flood of Asian products has led to interesting cultural trends in Spain, such as the inclusion of the Manila shawl in the flamenco dress, found intrinsic to the Andalusian style today.
Between 1565 and 1815, these legendary ships operated under government auspices as state-owned, armed Spanish crown vessels, instruments of official and private communication, transport, and commercial enterprise in the distant eastern sector of the Spanish empire, the Manila galleons served one of the most enduring and longest shipping routes or two and a half centuries. More notably, the galleons were merchants, laden with an impressive array of Chinese silks, cotton textiles and clothes, porcelain, gold jewelry, rare perfumes, and other celebrity riches bought from Manila Chinese traders and bound for markets throughout the Spanish colonies in America and Europe. The first direct and sustained link between the Americas and Asia was the trade in silver.
They also brought products from local production in the Philippines, including beeswax, assorted woven cotton textiles (both fine goods and heavy cloths), and gold mined from island alluvial deposits. The destination of the galleons, Acapulco, Mexico, was a small trade port on New Spain’s viceroyalty’s southwest coast that became a great trade fair upon their arrival.
The Chinese market for silver in the seventeenth and seventeenth centuries was known to foreign merchants. A series of events from about two centuries earlier sparked this wide demand. The Ming Dynasty, like the Yuan, created and tried to revive a paper currency to act as the medium of exchange by banning precious metals in an effort to create a standard medium of exchange. The ‘China Ships’ cargoes were traded in the form of silver bullion, bars, and coin, the famed ‘silver dollars’ or bits of eight destined to circulate throughout the Far East’s international trade.
In the neoliberal economic era of the 1600s, states supported their traders with monopoly advantages and calculated their economic importance by the scale of favorable trade balances and the number of valuable metals in royal vaults. Galleon trade poured silver eastward, which concerned the Spanish government, and made the Empire vulnerable to the situation of Spanish traders in Seville and Cadiz, who protested that Asian goods flowing through Acapulco undermined their dominance of the American market.
Consequently, the popularity of the trading of ‘silk for money’ culminated in the imposition of limitations that restricted highly lucrative trade to an arbitrarily set total, known as the permit or permission, including limits on transport, a ban on goods sent from Manila, and a limitation on the volume of silver returned received from the selling of freight on offer.
In early 1605 and well into the nineteenth century, textiles were among the most important categories of commodities in international trade, compared with spices in price per ton of freight. Textiles accounted for as much as 60% to 80% of the total value of typical goods shipments brought in by wholesale merchants during the colonial era.
The Philippines have been a cultural crossroads for a long time. Old maritime routes of centuries brought up the Spice Islands’ goods from the south, and the Chinese mainland’s luxurious factories particularly silks and porcelain due to its large harbor.
In 1571, for the control of the Philippines and Asian commerce, Spain founded Manila City. Half a century ago, Magellan crossed the Pacific Ocean. The Galeon de Manila trading route was soon developed after the establishment of the city of Manila. This functioned until the early 19th century as a long-distance and large-scale sea trade path linking the Asian world with the American and European continents.
The Spanish Crown also needed a regular communication line across the Pacific to link Mexico City and Manila with the colonization and settlement of the Philippines. The Philippines became an independent general captain attached to New Spain’s Mexico-based vice-royalty. Manila was the center of this general captaincy, covering Guam, the other Mariana Islands, Palau, the Caroline Islands, and some of the Moluccas for a while. A regular maritime route was also indispensable as trade became the major incentive for immigration to the Philippines. A response to this logistical need was the Manila-Acapulco Galleon, inaugurated by Urdaneta in 1565.
The arrival of Spanish technology, textiles, and agricultural products in the Philippines has resulted in significant changes in its population’s way of life. It also contributed to the introduction in Tagalog of many Spanish words that have since been considered indigenous. Spanish persists in thousands of words in Tagalog (and other Philippine languages) originating from Spanish through the introduction of specially manufactured goods, agricultural products, and textiles by galleon trade. Examples include “kutsylio” (knife), “martylio” (hammer), “araro” (plow), “algodon” (cotton), “oliba” (olive), and “asukal” (sugar).
This also applies to fruits, vegetables, and animals brought from Spain on board the fleet of the West Indies and the galleons of Manila. Examples include the “cabalyo” (horse) from Spanish Caballo, the “Baka” (cow) from vaca, and the “mola” (mule) from Mula.
Regular shipment of goods from Seville to Manila (and back) and the fact that it fell under the Casa de Contratación’s single, central jurisdiction proves the existence of this three-continent global trade route.
Crossing three continents and two seas, the entire Manila-Acapulco-Veracruz-Seville trade route spanned 15,000 miles in a straight line. The galleon from Manila sailed to Acapulco and back from the Pacific. On the Pacific, Seville was linked with the Caribbean by the Flotas and Galeones through a network of four Caribbean ports: Veracruz, Portobelo, Cartagena de Indias, and Havana.
The ships headed to Veracruz on Mexico’s Atlantic coast, and the Galeones proceeded to Portobelo (Panama) with most of the fleet breaking off and stopping at Cartagena de Indias, an important fortified port in present-day Colombia, where Peru’s money was packed onto the galleons.
On the return trip to Spain, both ships will meet in Havana and sail together across the Caribbean, calling to Seville in the Canary Islands and eventually up the Guadalquivir River. The departure and destination of these fleets were changed from Seville to Cadiz, which is on the Atlantic coast, in the early 18th century, making it easier to access.
This can certainly be considered a lasting relationship by the standards of those days. The length from Manila to Acapulco is about nine thousand miles, but to complete the road, we would add another three hundred miles overland for the Acapulco-Veracruz trip and another five thousand five hundred miles between Veracruz and Seville.
The West Indies-Manila Galleons made the worldwide exchange of goods, peoples, and culture possible from the 16th to the beginning of the 19th century. The route represents the first instance of imperialism by connecting the three main continents for the first time in history.
In addition to being the longest ‘road’ in its day, this route is surprisingly the first global trade route in history. Many traditional roads, such as the ancient European-Indian routes, the Silk Road (up to the 13th century), and the modern Portuguese and Dutch spice paths, were all less long.
The Spanish’s achievement in the Philippines was largely due to Manila’s position on the South China Sea’s eastern coast. The extensive archipelago of the Philippines is situated north of Borneo, with its three major islands and island groups of Mindanao in the south, the Visayas in the east, and Luzon in the north, which is only a 2-day Chinese mainland run.
The Galeon de Manila usually sailed in each direction once a year. The trip from Acapulco to Manila took approximately three months, including a short stop in Guam. In the opposite direction, it took four to five months, sometimes even six, to pick up the eastern Kuroshio winds close to Japan due to the long detour. A royal decree originally ordered two galleons to sail from Manila to Acapulco together. However, the convoy was reduced to one after 1650, as this represented a smaller investment for the merchants of Manila, who could fit the entire cargo into a single, larger galleon. The custom was adopted in 1702 by a constitutional decree.
The galleon made the political and trade relationship with New Spain possible, an extension of which was the Philippines and other Pacific territories. The ships brought Mexico to Manila civil servants, soldiers, and priests, including newly appointed governors, archbishops, and sometimes royal inspectors or visitors.
Perhaps critically, the galleon played a key role in trade development. In exchange for valuable Asian goods, large quantities of silver were shipped from Acapulco to Manila. The merchandise was then sent to Acapulco where the Royal Treasury paid import taxes and exchanged in exchange for silver to Mexican traders.
A year later from the sale of these products, the galleon would return to Manila stacked with silver 8-Real coins or bars. The silver was circulated to the merchants in Manila, who usually used it to buy new goods to be delivered to Acapulco the next round.
Nonetheless, commerce was the competitive field of the colonial economy in the Philippines where all gains had to be made or not, and everybody who had the slightest opportunity to engage in it did so on whatever pretense they could manage.
The Spanish influence on the culture of Mexico and the Philippines was much stronger than vice versa because Spain was the colonizing power and brought its own culture to the territories it settled. Spaniards brought to the islands their Catholic religion, architecture, crafts and literature. By the late 17th century, missionary work led to widespread Christianity.
The galleon of Manila also carried the Spanish language to the Philippines. While teaching the language to native Filipinos was not initially a priority, important educational institutions that used Spanish as the medium of instruction were established from the beginning by religious orders.
Although to a lesser degree, culture in Asia and the Philippines also influenced Mexico and Spain, particularly in forms of art, including fashion. A classical example is an adoption in the Spanish flamenco outfit of the silk mantón de Manila with East Asian decorative motifs. The first Chinese-style mentions were sent from Manila to Seville and later manufactured in Seville itself.
In the long run, the galleon trade remained the favorite of Spaniards in the Philippines for at least another hundred years. It even witnessed something of a bubble in the 1690s, making a migration path to the eighteenth century’s longest economic good fortune throughout the Spanish Empire.
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