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Reexamining Pigafetta’s Battle of Mactan

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TRIBAL men headed by Datu Lapu-Lapu battle with Spanish invaders headed by Ferdinand Magellan during last year’s Kadaugan sa Mactan reenactment at the Mactan Shrine. JUNJIE MENDOZA/CDN

CEBU—Had it not been for Antonio  Pigafetta, the ethnographer, people would know very little about explorer Ferdinand Magellan and the world’s first successful circumnavigation.

Pigafetta’s keen observation of the events during Magellan’s historic voyage also enabled Filipinos to learn about the lives of their ancestors before the Spaniards formally staked their claim on the Philippine archipelago in 1565.

Although his testimony was meant for European readers and was not entirely free of bias and outright lies, it gave a detailed account of the Battle of Mactan, the first successful Filipino resistance against foreign invaders.

And in today’s celebration of the 492nd anniversary of the historic battle, it is timely to reexamine Pigafetta’s testimony of the event.

It can now be told that Lapu-Lapu, the valiant chieftain who led his men to fight the Spaniards on April 27, 1521, might have held a grudge against the abusive foreigners for burning Bulaia, a village beside Mactan, for unknown reasons.

Other chieftains

But other chieftains, for personal reasons, had already allied themselves with the Spaniards. Humabon, the king of Cebu, befriended the Spaniards to save his skin, especially after hearing from some Asian traders that the same group of men had conquered India and Malacca.

Another chieftain was Zula, whom Pigafetta identified as another Mactan chieftain.

Zula’s plan to ally with Magellan was revealed on the night of April 26 when he sent his son to offer two goats to the Spaniards. He could also have  fulfilled his other promises had Lapu-Lapu recognized the king of Spain.

Already angered by Lapu-Lapu’s obstinacy, Magellan was persuaded to send his men to help Zula defeat Lapu-Lapu.

Magellan wanted to personally teach Lapu-Lapu a lesson. “We begged him not to go,” Pigafetta wrote, “but he, like a good shepherd, refused to abandon his flock.”

With 60 men and accompanied by Humabon and other chiefs in 20 to 30 balanghai, Magellan sailed for Mactan that midnight, reaching the island three hours before dawn. He waited until daybreak before sending another message to Lapu-Lapu to surrender to Spanish sovereignty. The native held his ground.

Forty-nine men disembarked and waged the war of conquest. Humabon volunteered to help, but Magellan declined. Only 11 stayed to guard the ships.

“When we reached land,” Pigafetta continued, “those men had formed three divisions to the number of 1,500 persons.”

While the number of men who left the ships may be accurate, the battle positions taken by Lapu-Lapu’s followers may have been a figment of Pigafetta’s imagination since they might not have employed any other fighting strategy than asdang or hand-to-hand combat and stealth.

Pigafetta may also have intentionally bloated the number of Lapu-Lapu’s men so the Spaniards would appear heroic before the eyes of his European audience. But having more than 1,000 fighters was simply untenable.

According to  Miguel de Loarca, the entire island of Cebu had only 2,490 “indios” in 1582, on top of about 1,600 from Camotes, Bantayan and Mactan islands.

Swords vs spears

Magellan’s men used standard European arms, such as swords, crossbows and muskets, while the natives wielded bamboo lances and stakes, as well as stones and mud.

Even with their enemies’ puny arms, “we could scarcely defend ourselves,” Pigafetta wrote.

Finding the situation hopeless, Magellan sent some of his men to burn the natives’ huts  to terrify them.

When they saw their homes in flames, they became more furious. “So they charged down upon us that they shot the captain through the right leg with poisoned arrows.”

With the snake venom taking its toll on his body, Magellan ordered a retreat. However, the pullback was slow. Besides fending off the raining bamboo spears, wading through the muddy shores of Mactan on boots must have also aggravated the situation of the Spaniards.

This gave the defenders the chance to pounce on them. Specifically directing their attention at Magellan, whom the natives saw as the leader, “many turned upon him that they knocked his helmet … twice.”

Embellishing his story with a dose of chivalric fiction, Pigafetta continued: “But he (Magellan) always stood firmly like a good knight … . Thus did we fight for more than an hour, refusing to retire farther.”

Unbelievable as it may seem, the end finally came for Magellan. “An Indian hurled a bamboo spear on the captain’s face, but the latter immediately killed him with his lance.”

He wanted to draw out his sword but before he could do this, the natives “all hurled themselves upon him.” Wounded by a kampilan or cutlass, Magellan fell face down.

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  • Pio Gante

    what a sweet and sour story, well, as yoyoy sang candidly

    mother mother i am sick call the doctor very quick,

    doctor doctor shall i die tell my mother do not cry

  • tra6Gpeche

    Chieftain Lapu-Lapu was a superman, not only physically but mentally. Why? He had defeated the well equipped foreigner intruders headed by the brave Portuguese explorer. Lapu-lapu did not believe that the faith brought by these foreigners were superior to his. He never allowed himself to be baptized by anyone. He never became a Catholic! Furthermore, he also fought the traitors, spineless and weak minded fellow countrymen such as King Humabon and Chieftain Zula. I would consider Lapu-lapu as a great, if not the greatest, human being of his time! To call him a Filipino would be disrespectful, insulting and ignorant of the history of the battle of Mactan!

    • eorlando

      He was a Cebuano!

      • http://alasfilipinas.blogspot.com/ Pepe Alas

        Yep. He most probably spoke Cebuano.

      • Roy Batty

        He was a Bisaya or Visayan period. It was not even Cebu at that time, the native calls the island Zubu.

        It’s not correct to call him and his people ‘Filipinos’ since after all he didn’t bowed down to King Philip’s throne.

        Still I would not hesitate to say, I’m proud to be a Filipino, not only who we were but most importantly who we are.

      • http://alasfilipinas.blogspot.com/ Pepe Alas

        It’s wrong to call him Filipino. The concept of the Filipino did not exist back then. What he was protecting was the small island of Mactán that was not even his in the first place.

      • Roy Batty

        If he was not really from Mactan then the argument about Lapu-lapu being a Tausug/Suluk animist (fanatic perhaps) can be considered.

      • tra6Gpeche

        I agree 100%!

    • http://alasfilipinas.blogspot.com/ Pepe Alas

      “Lapu-lapu did not believe that the faith brought by these foreigners were superior to his.”

      Really. How did you know? Was that stand of his on record?

      • tra6Gpeche

        The history of the battle of Mactan already told us! He already knew that Datu Humabon and, possibly, Chieftain Zula were baptized as Christian by the foreigners headed by Ferdinand Magellan! Besides, the history tell us that Datu Lapu-lapu was dismissive in being converted as Christian. Please check it yourself! Chieftain Lapu-Lapu was a very smart individual. Otherwise, he would also ally with the Christian invaders which would mean being converted as a Christian.

      • disqus_WIkXYUshrh

        Suggestion please to make it clearer. Catholic invaders.

      • tra6Gpeche

        I agree, kabayan!

      • http://alasfilipinas.blogspot.com/ Pepe Alas

        The history of the battle of Mactan already told us!
        Wrong answer. Regarding your dubious statement (“Lapu-lapu did not believe that the faith brought by these foreigners were superior to his”), that battle told us nothing. It does not confirm your statement. That is what you have to prove.

        “He already knew that Datu Humabon and, possibly, Chieftain Zula were baptized as Christian by the foreigners headed by Ferdinand Magellan!”

        “Please check it yourself!”
        Yes, I already did. Way back in 1997, my friend.

        “Chieftain Lapu-Lapu was a very smart individual. Otherwise, he would also ally with the Christian invaders which would mean being converted as a Christian.”

        I would have let you escape with this one, had you not included the words “very”. Besides, to say that allying one’s self with the Christian “invaders” is a smart move or not is highly subjective, especially if we are to consider your emotion-laced biases.

      • tra6Gpeche

        This reply of yours is full of emotions and not based on the true story of Datu Lapu-Lapu. My question to you is: Was Datu Lapu-Lapu and his Visayan followers converted into Christianity? If your answer is yes. Where is the proof? So, Datu Lapu-Lapu was a smart individual. I, myself, am agreeable in getting rid of the word “very.” Is this okay with you? Not allying with the Christian invaders was not only a smart one but it shows that the great Lapu-lapu had a lot of pride. Why? To ally with the foreigners would mean surrendering his belief, his way of life, his soul and the right of his people. He would always be under the yoke of the foreigners and would definitely lose his self respect! My proof? Datu Humabon and Chieftain Zula, who accepted, without reservation, the faith or religion of Magellan and his crews, are not heroes and do not get any recognition as such! Lapu-Lapu is recognized as the first Philippine hero. You checked it yourself way back 1997? You have the very, very wrong year! You should check the year 1521, April 27, 1521 to be exact! There would be no battle of Mactan if Lapu-Lapu and his brave men threw their faith away and blindly and cowardly embraced a foreign religion! Please try not to be emotional. By the way, if not allying with a foreign Christian invaders and intruders was not smart, then that is your prerogative.

      • http://alasfilipinas.blogspot.com/ Pepe Alas

        1) “This reply of yours is full of emotions and not based on the true story of Datu Lapu-Lapu.”

        What?! Hahaha! Nagulat acó, ah. I’m sure it hit you when I said that your response to my previous comment was filled with “emotion-laced biases”, that’s why you’re throwing it back to me, my golly. :D I wasn’t even using exclamation points! Anyway, what makes you say that my reply is “full of emotions”? Yes, I am begging you for an answer. =)

        2) “Was Datu Lapu-Lapu and his Visayan followers converted into Christianity? If your answer is yes. Where is the proof?”

        With all due respect to you, that is, of course, a stupid question. You can ask any elementary kid, and they’d all give you the same answer. So no, there is no more need to ask me for such an elementary question. By the way, Lapu-lapu was not a datu but a “cali”.

        3) “So, Datu Lapu-Lapu was a smart individual. I, myself, am agreeable in getting rid of the word ‘very.’ Is this okay with you?”

        Yep.

        4) “Not allying with the Christian invaders was not only a smart one but it shows that the great Lapu-lapu had a lot of pride. Why? To ally with the foreigners would mean surrendering his belief, his way of life, his soul and the right of his people.”

        Indeed, Lapu-lapu had a lot of pride here. But it was a wrong one. For starters, he was not even the sole owner of Mactán. For your information bank’s enhancement, that island was Rajáh Humabon’s.

        5) “He would always be under the yoke of the foreigners and would definitely lose his self respect! My proof? Datu Humabon and Chieftain Zula, who accepted, without reservation, the faith or religion of Magellan and his crews, are not heroes and do not get any recognition as such!”

        That is not even a proof. Humabon (not sure about Zula, though) did ally himself with the Spaniards. Was he and his people enslaved? Of course not. Also, I do not recall having read anywhere that Humabon is one of our heroes.

        6) “Lapu-Lapu is recognized as the first Philippine hero.”

        Which should not be the case. Because during his time, there was still no Philippines to talk about. And the concept of the Filipino appeared only during the late 18th to the early 19th centuries.

        7) “You checked it yourself way back 1997? You have the very, very wrong year! You should check the year 1521, April 27, 1521 to be exact!”

        ¡Ngek! Kid, I was referring to the year when I first made a serious study about Lapu-lapu and Magallanes. My golly. ¿Iláng taón ca na bá?

        8) “There would be no battle of Mactan if Lapu-Lapu and his brave men threw their faith away and blindly and cowardly embraced a foreign religion”

        Wrong answer. There would be no battle of Mactán had Lapu-lapu been obedient towards his superior, Rajáh Humabon.

        9) “Please try not to be emotional.”

        Kindly refer to my question to you in item# 1.

        10) “By the way, if not allying with a foreign Christian invaders and intruders was not smart, then that is your prerogative.”

        That is not anybody’s prerogative. That is already HISTORY.

        Now I have a question for you: have you even read and studied in full detail Antonio Pigafetta’s “Relazione del primo viaggio intorno al mondo”, or at least, it’s translation? Yes or no?

        If the answer is no, then you will never hear from me ever again (which saves you from answering my question to your hilarious “don’t be emotional” accusation).

        Have a nice Sunday.

      • tra6Gpeche

        Elementary kid? Stupid question? Why not answer my question. Did they allow themselves, Chieftain or Datu Lapu-lapu and his men, to be converted by Magellan into Christianity or Catholic? If yes, what is the proof? Cali? Check the history of Datu Lapu-lapu and you will find out that he was a Datu.. Unless, you don’t know how to check it. Not the sole owner of Mactan? Are we talking about the ownership of Mactan? We are talking about being Christianized or not. Obedient to Rajah Humabon? Forget it. It is no wonder why Humabon is vilified and not a hero in the Phiiippines. He was nothing but a miserable coward and without honor for letting himself be converted and baptized as a Catholic by a domineering foreigner, Magellan. He disrespected his ancestor’s faith just to become a Carlos, a Spanish name. Why would I read Pigafetta’s memoir? Never hear from you again? Of course, because you have no answer to my original question: Did Datu Lapu-Lapu and his men allow themselves to be the subject of the King of Spain. If yes, what is the proof? Again, don’t give me that answer of yours….elementary kid and stupid question. Thanks! I always have a nice Sunday. You do likewise.

      • http://alasfilipinas.blogspot.com/ Pepe Alas

        1) “Elementary kid? Stupid question? Why not answer my question. Did they allow themselves, Chieftain or Datu Lapu-lapu and his men, to be converted by Magellan into Christianity or Catholic? If yes, what is the proof?”

        Because, frankly speaking (and again, no disrespect to your person), it really is a stupid question. Of course the WHOLE WORLD knows that they did not allow themselves to be converted.

        I believe that answers your highly elementary question.

        2) “Cali? Check the history of Datu Lapu-lapu and you will find out that he was a Datu.. Unless, you don’t know how to check it.”

        Yes. Cali. It’s all on record. Don’t rely too much on what you read online. The real answers are not on the web, per se. Since it is obvious that you do not know how to check it (given that you insist he was a datu), please refer to Blair and Robertson.

        3) “Not the sole owner of Mactan? Are we talking about the ownership of Mactan? We are talking about being Christianized or not”

        Yes. We are talking about the ownership of Mactán, not solely about Christianization. Heck, nobody even knows for sure what Cali Pulaco’s (yes, that is his real name, not Lapu-lapu) religion was. Some say that he was Mohammedan. But was he a devout Muslim? Go tell me if he was. But you should show some proof, of course.

        4) “Obedient to Rajah Humabon? Forget it. It is no wonder why Humabon is vilified and not a hero in the Phiiippines.”

        Aside from you, who else is vilifying Humabon? Kid, he is neither honored nor vilified by the academe. He is but another figure in Philippine History. Neither a hero nor a villain. However, his heroism or being a villain is subject to, you guessed it, subjectivity. You consider him a villain, then fine. But if you want your belief to be considered seriously, then write a brief thesis about it to support your claim that the Philippines should dishonor Humabon.

        5) “He disrespected his ancestor’s faith just to become a Carlos, a Spanish name.”

        I am sure that your grandparents, your great-great grandparents, your immediate ancestors, etc. all had Spanish names. The great Filipino nationalist, Claro M. Recto, had a Spanish name. Even our heroes (José Rizal, Marcelo del Pilar, Antonio Luna, etc.) had Spanish names. You call them disrespectful? Also, many people today are converting to different religious groups. Many Catholics are converting to other faiths, and vice-versa. Following your logic, they are all disrespectful.

        6) “Why would I read Pigafetta’s memoir?”

        Because all the correct answers to your misconceptions about the Battle of Mactán are there.

        Now that I have answered your doubts, I believe I deserve to be answered back as well. You have failed to answer my questions to you in my previous comment. If you are an honorable netizen, then I’ll be waiting for your answers to my previous queries…

        No, never mind. I’m a man of my word. Since you said that you have not yet read Pigafetta, then that’s it. This argumentation is pointless. But if you have read his account of the said battle, then you may come back to me and argue.

        Have a nice Sunday.

      • tra6Gpeche

        Thank you for your answer even if you think such question is elementary. You already answered my question. Datu Lapu-lapu and his men did not let themselves be converted as Catholic or Christian. By not allowing to be christianized by the foreigners, I consider him and his men to be great men and deserve unconditional respect. It is the opposite when it comes to Rajah Humabon and Chieftain Zula. As to Blair and Robertson, I have to admit that I don’t know them and, whoever they are, are irrelevant to my first posting. As to Cali, no one would know for sure but those who lived during the time of Datu Lapu-Lapu. As to the ownership of Mactan, again, this is irrelevant to my first comment about this article. As to almost all of us with Spanish surnames, this is also irrelevant to my first comment because all of us, living today, did not have any choice like Datu Lapu-Lapu, Rajah Humabon and Chieftain Zula in 1521. Only those people who had seen and met Magellan in person had the choice to either submit to this powerful and mentally advance foreigner or to resist and fight. Datu Lapu-Lapu and his men preferred the latter. The very reason why they did not become Christian or Catholic. Again, they did not believe that Magellan’s faith or religion was superior than their beliefs. This is the gist or heart of my first comment. By the way, changing faith or religion now is voluntary and not by force or intimidation. It would not make sense to compare the year 1521 with the present. Have a good day!

      • http://alasfilipinas.blogspot.com/ Pepe Alas

        Hi there.

        I am glad that you are happy that I now answered your question. But I am also disappointed that you ignored all my questions to you. Haven’t you noticed that I have been answering you point by point? It is unfortunate (for you, not for me) that you cannot do the same. Because of the non-reply, I can now assume that you do not know the answers.

        1) “As to Blair and Robertson, I have to admit that I don’t know them…”
        Look them up online. Their 55-volume history of the Philippines is already in the internet.

        2) “As to Cali, no one would know for sure but those who lived during the time of Datu Lapu-Lapu.”
        Again, refer to Blair and Robertson. You may also google these keywords together: “Carlos Calao Cali Pulaco”

        3) “As to the ownership of Mactan, again, this is irrelevant to my first comment about this article.”
        Of course it is. Because Rajáh Humabon owned Mactán. Both Zula and Pulaco were his subordinate chiefs there. Cali Zula recognized Humabon’s sovereigny, but not Cali Pulaco. Since Humabon was baptized and accepted the King of Spain as his king, he automatically (or via de facto recognition) became a Spanish subject. Therefore, it was Magallanes’s duty to assist his fellow subject (Humabon) against his enemies (Pulaco). That is how it all began. Although Magallanes et al. had all the intention of Christianizing the natives, the Battle of Mactán had nothing to do with it. Magallanes simply interfered in the feud between Humabon and Pulaco/Lapu-lapu.

        But it is now obvious to me that you don’t know about this, because you keep on saying Christianity this, Christianity that. And that is why I asked you if you have read Pigafetta (and also Blair and Robertson). But since you admitted that you have not, how the heck could you even argue with me? You understand me now?

        4) “Again, they did not believe that Magellan’s faith or religion was superior than their beliefs. This is the gist or heart of my first comment.”

        Which up to now you are still unable to prove because the Battle of Mactán had nothing to do with the imposition of Christianity.

        Lastly, I see some contradiction in your statements. First, you said that “As to almost all of us with Spanish surnames, this is also irrelevant to my first comment because ALL OF US, LIVING TODAY, DID NOT HAVE ANY CHOICE”. And later, you said that “CHANGING FAITH OR RELIGION NOW IS VOLUNTARY and not by force or intimdation”.

        Maguló pô, sa totoó láng. Show some consistency, please.

      • tra6Gpeche

        I am impressed (no sarcasm) with your knowledge of history of Datu or Rajah Humabon. You are correct in saying that I know nothing about some of your questions…like ownership of Mactan, about Cali, about Pulaco, about Blair and Robertson. However, if you read my very first comment, I never intended to argue with you about those. My point was that Datu Lapu-Lapu fought and resisted victoriously the much powerful and advance, in weapon and in brain, Magellan and his men. If he did not fight, I am 100% sure that he would have been converted by these foreigners into being a Catholic or Christian. That would have extinguished whatever belief and lifestyle they had inherited from their ancestors. I disagree with you that the battle of Mactan had nothing to do with the imposition of Christianity. To me, this is far-fetched. If Datu Lapu-Lapu did not kill Magellan and Magellan won the fight, I am 100% sure that Datu Lapu-Lapu and his men would have been converted into being Christians. Their names would have been changed to Spanish names and they would start praying to a Catholic God. As to inconsistensies, I don’t see any inconsistency. Most of us today have a Spanish surname because it was given to us by our parents when we were just infants. Datu Humabon’s name was changed to a Spanish name by Magellan, a foreigner, at a time when Humabon and his men were already strong adults with a brain of their own ( I supposed they all had the capacity to think and use their brain. I might be wrong, though.). Do you see the difference? Again, I do admire and respect the independence, the pride, the intelligence, the bravery of Datu Lapu-Lapu and his men for not letting themselves be brainwashed and be intimidated by the Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan. As to the complete history of Datu Humabon and everything that happened in 1521, I have to admit that you know a lot, lot more than I do. But those are not pertinent to what I am alluding to that Datu Lapu-Lapu did not become a Catholic or Christian because of his greatness and unbelievable personalities.

      • Roy Batty

        Note that the Spaniards description of Lapu-lapu reads that the chieftain had tattoo all over his body and also that of his men. Now, Islam forbids muslims to have tattoos on their bodies, this cancels his being a caliph, rajah or something that has to do with being a muslim chieftain.

        Still we can’t be ascertain because it might had been that Lapu-lapu got those tattoos long before he converted to Islam.

        Whether he’s a Datu or Rajah doesn’t matter anymore. If he was alive today, he might want us all to remember him not as a Cebuano, Tausug, Suluk or Iron Man if you may, but simple a man true to his conviction and tradition, a Visayan warrior who prefer death on the battleground than submit to a foreign subjugation.

        We on the other hand nowadays would shallow anything short of sh!t to have a moment of comfort. We are after all FILIPINOS unlike Lapu-lapu.

      • Roy Batty

        I would tend to believe Lapu-lapu was a fanatic animist who loath both the Islamic and Christian religion that were all foreign to him.

        Also I read before in one of the thread in Asianfinest, Lapu-lapu was slighted on the Spaniards who perhaps wrongfully recognized Humabon as the King of Cebu when in fact there might had been an on-going struggle among the various chieftains on who will become the overlord in Zubu.

        It is always a sound strategy for a conquering force to ally themselves with the weakest among the tribes and it might be that Humabon is weaker than Lapu-lapu at that time.

  • DC

    LAPU LAPU = A TRUE HERO!

    • http://alasfilipinas.blogspot.com/ Pepe Alas

      Filipinos during the Spanish times and during the early years of the US colonization thought otherwise. The real hero, according to them, was Fernando de Magallanes. There was even a statue of him in Mactán. When the US took over, they replaced Magallanes with Lapu-lapu (Cali Pulaco, actually). Magallanes’s monument is was thrown underneath the channel separating Mactán and Cebú (it is still there up to now).

  • joboni96

    ito dapat ang
    ARAW NG KAGITINGAN

    hindi ang falll of the imperialist
    sa bataan last 9 april

    palitan na ang kolonisadong utak

    • Roy Batty

      Agree. Time for us Filipinos to go back to our roots.

  • disqus_WIkXYUshrh

    Why can’t some law makers rename Cebu province as Lapu Lapu province before the Garcia’ change it to Garcia province.

    • Roy Batty

      Because Lapu-lapu was not Filipino. Garcias are true blue bloodied Filipinos. Blue bloodied because of a Chinese ancestry.

      Everybody now, “Proud to be Filipino!”

  • http://www.facebook.com/jick.orongan Jick Hope Orongan

    you did so

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