Marcelo de Ribadeneira's Historia de las Islas del Archipielago y Reynos de la Gran China: Franciscan missions and representations of Buddhism, 1577-1601
Pascal, Eva M.
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This dissertation analyzes Friar Marcelo de Ribadeneira’s Historia de las Islas del Archipielago y Reynos de la Gran China, Tartaria, Cuchinchina, Malaca, Sian, Camboxa y Iappon (1601), a Spanish document that chronicles the work of Discalced Franciscan missionaries centered in the Philippines as well as their accounts of non-European cultures in Southeast and East Asia. This dissertation argues for reading the Historia as a regional history that reinforced Franciscan identity and influence in Asia. A reassessment of the Historia as a synthetic regional history reveals that the Franciscans developed the first comprehensive missionary ethno-history of the region and used Manila to enable a substantial geographic reach. Most importantly, the Historia documents that they were some of the first Europeans to identify the basic features of Buddhism. This study situates Ribadeneira’s Historia within the context of early modern literature. It shows that the document went beyond sacred history in providing ethnographic descriptions that contributed to European knowledge of Asia. It illustrates the establishment of Manila in the Philippines as a center for missionary activity, cultural preparation and exposure, and point of departure to other locations in the region. Analysis of the Historia also reveals that Franciscan missionaries identified Buddhism as a distinct religion. This dissertation argues that Franciscans not only perceived a single founder behind the various names used for the Buddha in different locations in Asia; they also recognized religious features that were similar to Catholicism. As mendicants, friars were uniquely positioned to perceive direct analogies between Franciscan spiritual practices and values, and Buddhist monastic practices. Further, this study argues that Siam played an important role in encounters between Buddhist monks and Franciscan friars in Marcelo Ribadeneira’s Historia. Missionary reports suggested that the social and political strength of institutionalized Buddhism in Siam, coupled with the recognition of parallels with their own religious lives and ascetic values, catalyzed the identification of a newly discovered tradition. The significance of this study is that it challenges the common historiography that Franciscans in the sixteenth century were negative toward other cultures and did not have a major impact in Asia. The dissertation prompts a reconsideration of the Franciscan missionary contributions to early modern history.
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