UOG’s Underwood talks about Magellan in Spain


During a weeklong visit to Spain, University of Guam president Robert Underwood and UOG anthropology professor Dr. David Atienza met with Spanish government officials, Spain’s Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Defense Casa Asia, and representatives of three different universities.

The week began on May 24 in a meeting with over 100 Spanish officials at a panel discussion hosted by the Cervantes Institute in Madrid, Spain. The event was organized by Rafael Rodriguez-Ponga, executive director of the institute and a researcher into the Spanish imprint on the CHamoru language. The focus of the symposium was to discuss the upcoming 500th anniversary of the circumnavigation of Earth by the Magellan voyage in 1521.

The title of the panel was “La Isla de Guam, Desde Magallanes/Elcano Hasta Hoy” (the island of Guam since Magellan/Elcano to today).  Providing remarks were Fernando Benzo, Secretary of Culture; David Navarro, director general of Casa Asia which is affiliated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Rafael Rodriguez-Ponga. Speaking in the panel were Underwood, Atienza, and Rodriguez.

Underwood stressed the ambivalent relationship Guam has with Spain regarding the Magellan experience and the Spanish colonization of the Marianas.

“The university is interested in ensuring that the indigenous perspective is given a respectful place in the commemoration of Magellan’s voyage and that Guam be given a special place in research, discussions and related activities,” said Underwood.

Underwood and Atienza also visited the U.S. Embassy in Madrid to meet with Benjamin Ziff, deputy chief of mission, to discuss Guam projects with various Spanish ministries and universities. Ziff promised his cooperation to work with Spanish officials to support endeavors in Guam concerning Magellan’s circumnavigation.

“We are hopeful that this effort will lead to scholarly activities, faculty and student exchanges, events, and future collaboration,” said Underwood.

Spanish universities

Underwood and Atienza also visited the Universitat Pompeu Frabra in Barcelona to discuss future academic relationships with historian Dr. Alex Coelo who has worked on Marianas history.

They also visited the Complutense University in Madrid and representatives of the Universidad Nacional de Educacion a Distancia, Spain’s online university, to discuss academic relationships, student exchanges and further connections that center on the study of the circumnavigation.

Of particular note, Underwood and Atienza attended a meeting with Spanish Navy officials at the Naval Museum. They will be responsible for nearly 40 percent of the formal activities sponsored by the Spanish government in connection with the circumnavigation, including a visit by a Spanish naval training vessel which is following the voyage of Magellan and Elcano.

Vice admirals Horcada and Zumalacarregui, Jose Figuero (chief of staff for state secretary on Defense Policy) listened to Underwood and Atienza’s views on how to structure a future visit and provide an appropriate commemoration.

Atienza and Underwood also met with Camilo Vazquez, primary administrator for all the commemorative activities under the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sport. Vasquez was able to connect the university with a worldwide network of universities working on researching the circumnavigation. The name of the organization is the Red Mundial de Ciudades Magallánicas.

The two UOG representatives concluded their visit by participating in a public panel on the future of Guam sponsored by the Association of Spanish Pacific Studies and Casa Asia, a consortium made up of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the government of Catalonia, and the Barcelona and Madrid city councils. The panel conversation included remarks from Rafael Rodriguez-Ponga and Dr. Florentino Rodao who is a scholar with published works on the history of the Marianas Islands.

Underwood said, “It was an incredibly busy and ambitious series of activities which will help Guam establish itself in an appropriate light in the upcoming attention to the 500th anniversary of Magellan’s voyage in 2021.”

Underwood is currently in Prague, Czech Republic to formalize a relationship with the National Museum on an extensive collection of plants collected in Guam in the 1790’s. He will also be visiting a researcher who has uncovered letters written by Czech missionaries (from Bohemia) who came to the Marianas during the time of San Vitores and the 18th century. There will also be three visits to universities to establish academic relationships. (UOG)

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