The ‘Hispanic’ flag of Iwo Jima, the volcanic island discovered in the 16th century by Spain


Iwo Jima, or «Island of Sulfur», is a small volcanic island, with a surface area of ​​21 square kilometers, made up of hills, mounds, rocks, ravines, crevices, gorges, holes, depressions and lava sands. There is hardly any vegetation or water sources, so this island in southern Japan is the worst place to fight a battle in modern times. During World War II, the US needed to put 24,480 casualties on the table, of which 4,197 were directly killed in the fighting, according to historian Samuel E. Morison, to put its flag on top of Mount Suribachi.

The US knew of its strategic importance, but never expected to give up so many lives to take over a practically uninhabited place. Iwo Jima is,

since then, an island to a stuck battle, to such an extent that the rest of its history, including its Spanish past, has been practically erased.

The island was discovered for Europe by Spain in 1543. The expedition led by the Malaga sailor Ruy López de Villalobos (1500-1546), who crossed the Pacific from Mexico to the Philippines between 1542 and 1543, discovered the Marshall Islands, Carolinas and an infinity of small islets when exploring the ocean.

Lopez de Villalobos he armed a squad of seven ships, the largest of them of 150 tons and the smallest of fifty, by order of the viceroy of Mexico. The sailor left the port of Navidad, in Jalisco, on November 1, 1542, and arrived on December 25 in the Marshall Islands. During the trip they also discovered what they called “King’s Islands”, which some historians identify with the current Hawaiian Islands, whose discovery the Anglo-Saxons attribute to Cook in 1778, despite the fact that this archipelago was already listed in Spanish charts dated from 1555.

The visit to the islands of the volcanoes

After crossing the Carolinas, on February 2, 1543, López de Villalobos anchored in the great Philippine island of Mindanao, which he called Malaga in memory of his hometown, and thus culminated the crossing of the Pacific Ocean. Villalobos sent one of his captains, Bernardo de la Torre, in command of the ship San Juan de Beltrán to try to return to Mexico by crossing the Pacific again, a route not yet discovered. In his failed attempt he discovered for the West, among others, the Japanese islands of Kita Iwo Jima, Iwo Jima and Minami Iwo Jima.

Iwo Jima was envisioned by the Spanish as a small islet, without economic possibilities or human presence. A large number of marine charts signed by Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Italian and French cartographers, the first of them dated 1555 and the last in the second half of the 18th century, mention the island in the middle of the constellation of pacific islands. It is said that in 1673, the British also passed through there and baptized it as Sulfur Island, shortly before fleeing a territory that had caused him an enormous disgust for the clouds of gas that emanated from its ground.

Mount Suribachi is the most prominent geological formation on the island.
Mount Suribachi is the most prominent geological formation on the island.

Around 1887, Japan made a research trip and, a couple of years later, the first inhabitants arrived there to occupy the island, which was formally included in the Tokyo prefecture in 1891. During the Second World War About 1,100 Japanese civilians lived, most of them employed in the sugar cane located in the northeast part of the island or in the sulfur mine and refinery located in the same area. After the battle, the island remained occupied by the United States until 1968.

The era of Spanish discoveries

Of the Spanish past of the island, as of so many other places, there are hardly any marks left today in the present. The discoveries of Spain, which moved for almost two centuries as if the Pacific were its private lake, were underhanded by those of the Dutch and the British, who were careful to change the Spanish names and to hide that others had arrived there before them. In his book ‘That was not in my book on the History of Spain’, Francisco García del Junco cites a short list of all the Spanish discoveries in that area during the imperial period:

-Philippine Islands, discovered by Magellan and Elcano, in 1521.

-Islas Marianas, discovered by Magellan and Elcano, in 1521.

-Tuamotu Islands, discovered by Magellan, in 1521.

-Island of Amsterdam, discovered by Elcano, in 1522.

-Carolinas Islands, discovered by Toribio Alonso Salaza, in 1526.

-Marshall Islands, discovered by Álvaro de Saavedra, in 1526.

-Papúa Nueva Guinea, discovered by Álvaro de Saavedra, in 1527-29.

-Hawaiian Islands, discovered by Álvaro de Saavedra, in 1527-1529.

-Islas del Almirantazgo, discovered by Álvaro de Saavedra, in 1527-1529.

-Schouten Islands, discovered by Álvaro de Saavedra, in 1527-1529.

-Aroe Islands, discovered by Álvaro de Saavedra, in 1527-1529.

-Isla Uluti, discovered by Álvaro de Saavedra, in 1528.

-Galapagos Islands, discovered by Tomás Martínez Gómez, in 1535.

-Islas Gilbert, discovered by Hernando de Grijalva, in 1536-1537.

-Islas de Revillagigedo, discovered by Hernando de Grijalva, in 1536-1537.

-Islas Espóradas, discovered by Hernando de Grijalva, in 1536-1537.

-Islas Palaos, discovered by Rui López de Villalobos, in 1542-1545.

-Volcano Islands, discovered by Bernardo de la Torre and Ortiz de Retes, in 1543-1545.

-Isla de la Pasión, discovered by Sánchez Pericón and Rodrigo de Angle in 1566.

-Islas Salomón, discovered by Álvaro de Mendaña, in 1567-69.

-Islas Ellica, discovered by Álvaro Mendaña, in 1567-69.

-Juan Fernández Islands (formerly Desventuradas), discovered by Juan Fernández, in 1574.

-New Zealand, discovered by Juan Jufré and Juan Fernández, in 1576. -Vancouver Island, discovered by Juan de Fuca, in 1592.

-Cook Islands, discovered by Álvaro de Mendaña, in 1595.

-Isla Pukapuka, discovered by Álvaro de Mendaña, in 1595. -Isla Jarvis, discovered by Álvaro de Mendaña, in 1595.

-Islas Marquesas, discovered by Álvaro de Mendaña, in 1595.

-Islas Santa Cruz, discovered by Álvaro de Mendaña, in 1595.

-Isla de San Clemente, discovered by Sebastián Vizcaíno, in 1602.

-Antarctica, discovered by Gabriel de Castilla, in 1603.

-New Hebrides Islands, discovered by Fernández de Quirós, in 1605-1606.

-Vanuatu Islands, discovered by Fernández de Quirós, in 1605-1606.

-Islas Tahiti, discovered by Fernández de Quirós, in 1605-1606.

-Isla Rakahanga, discovered by Fernández de Quirós, in 1605-1606.

-Isla Pitcaim, discovered by Fernández de Quirós, in 1605-1606.

-Straight of Torres, discovered by Luis Váez de Torres, in 1607.

-South Georgian Islands, discovered by Gregorio Jerez, in 1756.

-Isles of Queen Charlotte, discovered by José Pérez Hernández, in 1774.

-Prince of Wales Island, discovered by Francisco de Bodega y Cuadra, in 1775.

-Vavao Islands, in the Tonga Islands, discovered by Francisco Mourelle, in 1781.

-Isla Sala y Gómez discovered by José Salas Valdés, in 1793.


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