Mactan, Cebu, Philippines

Magellan's Quagmire

The marsh of Magellan
Man and children look for shellfish in the waters off the Lapu Lapu sanctuary.
honor in death
Inscription of the landmark erected in Mactan, in honor of Fernão de Magalhães.
Lapu Lapu Resort
Visitors walk along a walkway in front of a billboard promoting the resort town of Lapu Lapu
bronze story
Part of the Cebu Heritage Monument dedicated to the arrival of the Spanish conquerors on the island.
at the feet of Christianity
Filipino faithful pray beside statues of the Virgin Mary inside the Basilica of Santo Nino in Cebu.
A golden Lapu Lapu
The statue of Lapu Lapu, in front of the battle site where his men killed Fernão de Magalhães.
Philippine Colonization Cross
Cruz de Magalhães sheltered under a painted ceiling with scenes of the arrival of the Portuguese discoverer in the Philippines.
From baby Jesus to Santo Niño
Candles lit next to a sculpture illustrating the statue of the Infant Jesus later idolized as Santo Niño.
an ancient idol
Young people are photographed in front of the statue of national hero Lapu Lapu.
Almost 19 months of pioneering and troubled navigation around the world had elapsed when the Portuguese explorer made the mistake of his life. In the Philippines, the executioner Datu Lapu Lapu preserves the honors of a hero. In Mactan, his tanned statue with a tribal superhero look overlaps the mangrove swamp of tragedy.

It is precisely on the small Mactan that lands those who visit these parts of the Philippines, nestled between 7500 islands, in the heart of the archipelago of visayas.

Unlike mother island Cebu which is home to the nation's second-largest city, Mactan is as flat as it gets. It claimed vast areas at sea to receive a tax-free industrial zone and some of the biggest factories and business projects in the Philippines, about half Japanese.

Once the disembarkation and the respective formalities have been completed, we find many of the natives aboard countless tricycles, motorized or not, from jeepneys and also more modern transport. Others deal with small fixed roadside businesses, increasingly oriented towards rampant tourism.

Only on the basis of its geology, the island remains the same as it was in 1521 when, coming from the far west, Fernão de Magalhães and his fleet landed there for the first time.

Antonio Lombardo Pigafetta was an Italian who is said to have paid to be part of the crew.

The Long Epic of Circum-Navigation by Fernão Magalhães and Sebastião del Cano

He was among the 18 men to return to Seville at Victoria, almost a year and a half later. And he was one of 90 who survived the adventure and returned to Europe by other means. Much of what is known about the long journey around the world was reported by him.

It is known, for example, that hunger was already raging on board when, after an almost blank crossing of the Pacific Ocean, Fernão de Magalhães tried to stock up on food in the Marianas and Guam. Contrary to what was desired, it was the natives who stocked up on their fleet.

As Pigafetta narrated, “the natives entered the ship and stole everything they could get their hands on, including the small boat tied to the stern of the Vitoria. As a result, the crew named those islands the “Islands of Thieves”.

On March 16, still with 150 men from its initial multinational crew of 270 men (40 of whom were Portuguese), the fleet finally anchored on the island of Homonhon, off Mactan and Cebu.

It was detected by Siagu de Mazaua, a local Rajah with whom Magalhães, using the translation of Enrique – a Malay servant he had recruited in Malacca – exchanged gifts and who ended up taking him to Cebu.

There, Humabon, another rajah, was friendly to the point of accepting baptism in the name of Carlos (in honor of the Spanish king), the offer to his wife and queen of a figure of the Infant Jesus and Christianity as a new faith .

This figure turned out to be crucial in the conversion of most of the Filipino population to Christianity, a phenomenon that is still unique in Asia today.

It is exhibited in the Basilica del Santo Niño in the city of Cebu and was blessed by Pope John Paul II in 1990.

From baby Jesus to Santo Niño

Candles lit next to a sculpture illustrating the statue of the Infant Jesus later idolized as Santo Niño.

Filipinos come from all over to praise her.

It is one of the main attractions of the island, along with the Cruz de Fernão de Magalhães that appears a few meters away.

The Mactan of Our Days

In Mactan, the appeal is different. Dozens of resorts and operations or symbiotic lanterns have settled on the small island's coastal fringe, far enough away from its industrial core. Before long, they awoke the desire for evasion and for peace and rest among the workers of neighboring Asian nations.

Among these, the South Koreans gained an obvious predominance. The streets are full of businesses with commercial signs in their alphabet from both Filipino and Korean owners.

And the beaches full of families of bathers from Seoul, Busan, Incheon etc etc, pale as coral sand.

The Philippines That Fernão Magalhães Thought He Could Not Offer to the Kings of Spain

Fernão de Magalhães, on the other hand, arrived in the Philippines with an unequivocal mission and no time to waste. His reputation in Portugal would have been tarnished when he was accused of negotiating with the Moors in North Africa.

In the aftermath, King Manuel I turned down his insistent proposals to lead an expedition to discover a route to the Spice Islands sailing west.

Frustrated, Magellan moved to Seville. There, he proposed the same project to King Carlos V, future Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, with the additional objective of proving that the Moluccas were outside the Portuguese sphere agreed in the Treaty of Tordesillas and that only the Spaniards could obtain benefits from them.

Once in the Philippines, he realized that both the islands he was discovering and the Moluccas were actually in the Portuguese sphere.

Philippine Colonization Cross

Cruz de Magalhães sheltered under a painted ceiling with scenes of the arrival of the Portuguese discoverer in the Philippines.

Datu Lapu Lapu's Refusal to Convert to Christianity

In Cebu, Rajah Humabon and Datu Zula, one of his ally, allegedly persuaded Magalhães to kill archrival Datu Lapu Lapu. Magellan was convinced that he would convert him to Christianity as he had the other two rajas.

Lapu Lapu rejected his intentions.

It provoked Magellan's ire, who, in turn, disregarded Carlos V's orders that he should not waste time and energy in conflicts with natives. Magalhães decided to submit Lapu Lapu to Christianity by force.

Cebu, Mactan, Philippines, Lapu Lapu statue

The statue of Lapu Lapu, in front of the battle site where his men killed Fernão de Magalhães.

The place where everything happened is one of the most important in the Philippines. We rush to visit it, in the company of a resolute local guide who gives us information with a surprising level of detail.

“It was an unfortunate series of mistakes that Magalhães made, not just one. To begin with, he never thought that there were so many men from Lapu Lapu.

The initial idea would have been to intimidate the natives with cannon fire, but the explorer was surprised by the distance from the point where the coral reef prevented a closer approach to Vitoria.

As if that wasn't enough, an extensive mangrove separated it from the terra firma, the same mangrove that you see in front of you.”

Ahead, a dense, green mangrove forest prevented us from seeing the sea where the Spanish vessel had stopped. The high tide was setting in. It flooded the base of that amphibious vegetation to the limit of the Punta Engaño memorial park.

A canal flanked by bangkas allowed us an insufficient glimpse to establish a visual connection. In another, some natives searched the bed in search of molluscs and crustaceans.

The marsh of Magellan

Man and children look for shellfish in the waters off the Lapu Lapu sanctuary.

It only took a few moments for one of them to pick up an octopus which he proudly displayed to us and to the owners of one of the restaurants located on the water's edge.

Nearby, Filipino visitors walked along elevated walkways beneath a large, gaudy billboard that promoted the attributes of the city named in honor of the native chief: Lapu-Lapu: The Historic Resort City.

Lapu Lapu Resort

Visitors walk along a walkway in front of a billboard promoting the resort town of Lapu Lapu

Both Magalhães and Lapu Lapu were eternalized, but, following the battle of Mactan, it would be Lapu-Lapu to dictate history.

And the Death of Magellan in Confrontation with Lapu Lapu

As Pigafetta narrated, Magalhães sailed from Cebu with 60 men protected by helmets and vests. He was accompanied by the newly baptized King Humabon, the prince and some of his men, aboard twenty or so traditional vessels.

They arrived in Mactan three hours before dawn and announced to Lapu Lapu that Magellan did not wish to fight but that he must submit to the King of Spain, recognize the Christian king as his sovereign, and pay tribute, otherwise they would see how the spears would wound them.

The natives replied that they also had spears. They will have the luxury of warning that they had dug several holes filled with sharp stakes for the invaders to fall into.

Despite the warning, even with the water up to the thighs, forty-nine men faithful to Magellan charged. They had to walk thus, as Pigafetta described it, "during two crossbow flights." When they reached land, more than 1500 Lapu Lapu warriors organized into three divisions charged them with shrill cries.

Magellan's Musketeers had been delayed. His continuous but slow shots fell short of the natives. Magalhães decided to burn down several of the enemies' riverside houses, which only infuriated them further. They returned to attack in large numbers.

Magellan was hit in the right leg by a poisoned arrow. The natives started firing their arrows only at the unprotected legs of the Europeans. It didn't take long for them to realize the vulnerability in which they found themselves, also within reach of countless spears and stones.

Several of them surrounded Magellan. The leader was wounded in the arm by a spear. Another Indian injured his leg with a kampilan, a kind of scimitar then used by Filipino tribes.

bronze story

Part of the Cebu Heritage Monument dedicated to the arrival of the Spanish conquerors on the island.

Magellan fell to the ground. Lapu Lapu's warriors continued to slaughter him while European soldiers and Pigafetta, desperate, retreated to the small boats already setting sail.

The allied rajas – who had not taken part in the battle at Magellan's suggestion – limited themselves to appreciating the events of the carrack at anchor in the distance.

Datu Lapu Lapu, an Improbable Hero of the Philippines

Today, Lapu-Lapu retains the retroactive status of the Philippines' first national hero, considered the first Filipino to resist foreign interference, even if, by that time, the Filipino nation was far from existing.

In addition to the Magellan Cross and the figure of the Santo Niño, Filipinos from all over the country's islands visit the Lapu-Lapu sanctuary.

They are photographed at the foot of his exuberant bronze statue in which, armed with a shield and a large cake (Philippine knife), he seems to be supervising from above and forevermore the mangrove swamp of his glory.

an ancient idol

Young people are photographed in front of the statue of national hero Lapu Lapu.

The indomitable chief was entitled to another statue in Luneta Park, in downtown Manila, the same park where José Rizal, a writer and ophthalmologist, hero and martyr of resistance to the Hispanic colonialism it was executed by the Spaniards and honored by the Filipinos with its own two monuments.

Every year, on the 27th of April, the Kadaugan sa Mactan takes place right in front of the stage of the original events, a festival that re-enacts the battle of 1521.

Lapu Lapu's Quasi-Mythological Memory

Among the natives of this time, a legend became popular: instead of later dying, Lapu Lapu turned to stone and guarded the seas of Mactan.

Even today, the island's fishermen throw coins at a rock with the profile of a man to obtain permission to fish in the chief's territory.

Less time ago, another urban myth was formed about his statue that once held a crossbow. Three major from the city of Lapu Lapu died from a heart attack.

Superstitious, one of the following chose not to risk it. Replaced the crossbow with the current sword.

As for Magalhães, only his fame has reached the present day.

honor in death

Inscription of the landmark erected in Mactan, in honor of Fernão de Magalhães.

The Hispanic Landmark of the Circum-Navigation Journey and the Colonization of the Philippines

Also according to Pigafetta, Rajah Humabon tried to buy back his mutilated body. Lapu Lapu again refused. It is believed that he kept it as a war trophy.

Magellan's mission was never accomplished but when, on September 6, 1622, Sebastian del Cano replaced the Portuguese navigator and commanded Vitoria back to Seville closed the first voyage of circumnavigation of the world.

Although the Philippines was also in the Portuguese sphere of the Treaty of Tordesillas, the Spaniards wasted no time in returning and colonizing them.

If D. Manuel I didn't have Fernão de Magalhães in bad esteem, or, at least, if he hadn't refused his project, the Philippines would, very likely, be a Portuguese colonial heritage.

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