Two raids before the Battle of Mactan

By: Jobers Reynes Bersales April 29,2019 - 06:48 AM


The burning of two settlements (attended by looting and rape of women) purported to also be on Mactan Island, may have precipitated the victory that we have come to celebrate annually on April 27 in the historic Battle of Mactan. Both under the domain of Lapulapu, the destruction of these settlements may have emboldened Mactanons under Lapulapu, to ensure nothing but victory for them and an unforgettable humiliation for the expedition.

Antonio Pigafetta’s eyewitness account on the Magellan expedition, or at least the version that was published only in 1534 (one of four that were made after the original one was supposedly lost), makes but a cursory mention of what appears to be a test run for the historic battle that was once again commemorated last Saturday with pomp and much vigor.

On page 94 of Lord Stanley Aderley’s translation of this version, published in 1874 by the Hakluyt Society of London, are these brief lines about this intriguing event: “At last, in eight days, all the inhabitants of this island were baptized, and some belonging to the neighboring islands. In one of these we burned a village because the inhabitants would not obey either the king or us. There we planted a cross because the people were Gentiles: if they had been Moors, we should have erected a column, as a sign of their hardness of heart, because the Moors are more difficult to convert than the Gentiles.”

And on page 105 of the same translation, the settlement is named: “Near to Zubu there is, as we said, the island of Matan, the most considerable town of which is called Matan, and its chiefs are Zula and Cilapulapu. The village, which we burned on the occasion of the fatal battle, is named Bulaia.”

Cebu’s own National Artist, my good friend Dr. Resil Mojares, in his groundbreaking work entitled, “Lapulapu: The Conqueror of Magellan (USC Press, 2018), identifies Bulaia as today’s Buaya but also adds a second one, Opon. We know of these two raids via the Italian chronicler Peter Martyr d’Angheira, whose work is based on interviews with some of the 18 survivors of the expedition who reached San Lucar de Barrameda in Spain on September 6, 1522.

Although Martyr simply identifies this second settlement as Matam, another dear friend, Dr. Danilo Gerona, author of the first and only comprehensive work on Magellan entitled, “Ferdinand Magellan: The Armada de Maluco and the European Discovery of the Philippines” (Spanish Galleon, 2016), identifies this place as Opon, based on Martyr’s description of Matam as a place with a fortress where Lapulapu had his royal residence and about 50 other houses. The fortress referred to here is not some man-made defensive structure, however, but more like a ‘moog,’ a rocky promontory, which aptly describes the topography of Opon.

Interestingly, Martyr writes that this second raid on Lapulapu’s natural fortress was actually led by Magellan and was preceded by a kind of negotiation in which he persuaded Lapulapu to pay fealty to the Spanish King and recognize Humabon’s authority. In this exchange — which Mojares suggests may have put the two antagonists face-to-face for the first time — Lapulapu is reported to have answered that he was willing to accept the authority of the Spanish King but not Humabon’s. Hearing this, Magellan then ordered the looting and burning of the fortress which had about 50 residences, including the rape of its women. The loot, mainly food and some furniture, was subsequently brought to Sugbu some of which was stolen later by Humabon’s men.

These successful raids may have been the reason why Magellan lost his focus and took on the air of someone who would succeed the next time around, eventually leading to his demise at the hands  — as well as spears and bladed weapons — of Lapulapu’s men. This is the eternal lesson of the historic battle that may well be imbibed by politicians running for office now: hubris can be dangerous.

Know more about this and the historic battle of Mactan in my  upcoming lecture, open and free to the general public, on Tuesday, April 30, at 2-4 pm at the Palm Grass Heritage Hotel.


Tickets to the upcoming Gabii sa Kabilin on May 24 can be purchased at USC Museum. Early bird rate is P175 until April 30. Afterwards, the regular ticket price of P200 will apply. Please call 2531000 loc. 191 and ask for Regina or any USC Museum Volunteer to secure your ticket or you may drop by the museum at the ground floor of A. Dingman Building, USC Downtown (former Main) Campus, P. Del Rosario Street, Cebu City.


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TAGS: Battle of Mactan, Cebu columnists, columnist Jobers Bersales

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