Lapulapu, the Bornean Baloney, and the vacuum of history
I almost fell off my rocker when I read Pachico Seares’ column in Sunstar last November 11 about a German named Erich Wannemacher suggesting to Lapu-lapu City Tourism Officer Edward Mendez that Lapulapu was Muslim and therefore the museum planned for him by the National Quincentennial Committee should have Muslim architectural elements.
It appeared the same day that I warned in my own column that as the 500th anniversary of the historic Battle of Mactan approaches, there will be idiotic claims about him, about his being Muslim and Bornean at that.
As basis for his assertions, Wannamacher, according to Seares, used my dear colleague and friend Dr. Danilo Gerona’s book, which I assume must be the comprehensive work entitled, “Ferdinand Magellan, The Armada de Maluco and the European Discovery of the Philippines.” There on page 299 of this book is the culprit: “Lapu-lapu (sic) surnamed in one of these local folklores as Dimantag, was said to have come from Borneo, the assumed geographic origin of most Filipino folk heroes and leader.”
If only Wannamacher read the last line of the previous paragraph on this particular page, he would have been estopped from his ridiculous if not awfully embarrassing suggestions, with the tourism officer as alleged. It reads: “Most of what is known about Lapu-Lapu (sic) in recent times was embedded in folk myths and legends, heavily loaded with nationalist discourses.”
History, you see, abhors a vacuum to paraphrase Aristotelian physics. All these stories about Lapulapu coming from Borneo is nothing more than an extremely damaging attempt at filling a deep chasm in the story of Lapulapu and our precolonial past.
Where did he come from? What was his genealogy? Nobody actually knows. Pigafetta, who kept a log of the Magellan expedition, was not interested in genealogies of native chiefs. To begin with, it would have been a difficult task for him because the use of family names is a Western invention. Then and now we recall kinship by saying ‘Taga’ [from] or ‘Kang’ [of] or ‘Anak ni’ [son/daughter of] or ‘Apo ni’ [grandson/daughter of], ‘Igsoon ni’ [ brother/sister of], etc.. Without the contraption of a family name, try building your family tree using those qualifiers and I wish you the best of luck.
Given this vacuum therefore came attempts at filling it up by inventing history, cloaking it as folklore handed down from one’s grandparents or, in the case of the story of the ten Bornean datus, from an old trunk full of papers.
This penchant for locating Visayan heroes and leaders to Borneo, of all places, begins with “Maragtas” or the breathlessly subtitled, “History of Panay from the first inhabitants and the Bornean immigrants from which the Bisayans are descended to the Arrival of the Spaniards” authored by one Pedro Alcantara Monteclaro and published in 1907 by Kadapig sang Banwa at El Tiempo Press in Iloilo. This piece of invented history, about ten Bornean datus (including Datu Puti, now easily identifiable as a vinegar), remained unquestioned for almost six decades and was even given prominence in Gregorio Zaide’s two volume “Philippine Cultural History.”
This is followed by the story of a chief called Kalantiaw who had what turned out to be a sado-masochistic penal code in ‘Las Antiguas Leyendas’ purportedly by Fr. Jose Maria Pavon. These two so-called historical documents were finally exposed by the late William Henry Scott in his 1968 doctoral dissertation as all fakes, with so many discrepancies (including Pavon who would have been 96 years old when he wrote his work!). They were nothing more than inventions of one stamp and document forger from Negros Occidental named Jose Marco.
By then, the damage was done, two generations of Filipinos had read them in history textbooks authored by Zaide.
It is against this backdrop that we encounter Gerona’s main source, Jovito Abellana, who, in the 1950s wrote “Bisaya Patronymesis Sri Visjaya” and “Aginid Bayok sa Tawarik” (or Glide on Ode to Our History).
These two works, following the Bornean myth of the origin of Visayans that everyone grew up with, continues this tradition. In the 1980s, when these two were published by a local university, they took on some air of academic approval. But to be fair to Jovito, there is not a single claim from him that what he had written were true accounts. As a member of the Cebu Historical Society, he never even made any claims nor presented these two works as worthy of a scientific paper or a presentation. But some damage has been done nonetheless. There is, for example, a hotel near SM City Cebu whose website traces the etymology of Cebu to ‘Sibo,’meaning barter. It is clearly sourced from Abellana’s works.
Cebu, of course, is the Spanish mis-pronouncement of Sugbu (‘to wade in shallow water’) owing to their difficulty to hear and say the hard ‘g’.
I am pretty sure Jovito would have been the first to caution anyone from taking his works on the precolonial and early colonial period as true historical accounts if he were alive today.
The lesson to be learned from this is very simple therefore: read critically, think critically. You think fake news is only of the recent? If you have time, read Scott’s “Prehispanic Source Materials for the Study of Philippine History.” This should help you read history with a grain of salt and allow the vacuum of history to remain as such.
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