Of all the mythical isles of gold and silver, perhaps none has had a longer paper existence than Rica de Oro and Rica de PLata, supposedly lying between 25 and 40 degrees north and at an indefinite distance east of Japan. Pedro de Unamuno searched for them in 1587 and, so early, expressed disbelief in their existence; but the Dutch looked for them in the 1640s, the Spaniards did not officially write them off until 1741—and one or other of them appeared in atlases of repute as late as 1927. Findlay in 1870 listed at least eleven highly dubious reports of islands in this general area, and his irritated comments recall those of the more level-headed Spanish officials.

The origin of the fiction is in the report of a Portuguese ship—no name, no date—blown east from Japan to rich islands, with white and civil people; they were known, from a merchant on board, as the Armenian's Islands, later as Rica de Oro and de Plata. What core of experience there may be in the fable is not of vast import, but the story seems to stem from Francisco Gali's voyage of 1584, more important as really bringing home the vast width of the North Pacific. He took over a Manila Galleon which had put into Macao, obviously to take on cargo for New Spain—illicitly, for though the Crowns were now united, their colonies and commerce were by law as exclusive as ever. Gali probably heard the tale in Macao; at all events, he looked unsuccessfully for 'Armenicão'. His report inspired Fray Andrés de Aguirre, who had been with Urdaneta in the San Pedro, to recall an old but seductive document he had seen long ago.

Dahlgren suggests that this account of Aguirre's is a recollection of a Portuguese letter of 1548 read by him with Urdaneta in 1565—two decades earlier!—and that the islands were the Ryukyus (Lequeos), which in the earlier decades of European penetration in these regions were important and wealthy intermediaries between China and Japan, while both Chinese and Japanese were certainly civil people and commonly described by the Portuguese as white. Mere lapse of memory, with lapse of time, would account for Aguirre's placing them east and not south of Japan. Chassigneux finds this reasoning 'very ingenious ... [but] very difficult to accept' and invokes a double typhoon ... legendary and elusive, indeed totally fictitious, as Rica de Oro and its sister-isle were, they ... played a considerable role in the exploration of North Pacific waters.

from The Spanish Lake, by O.H.K. Spate, Canberra, 1979

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