A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: Post Mactan: What Happened to Magellan’s Expedition?

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 17 May) — Monday, May 17, 1521 was 63 days later after Magellan’s expedition landed on Homonhon Island. This year, as Filipinos commemorated the quincentennial arrival of the Spanish colonizers to our islands, there have been various events across the country providing the citizens with moments to look back to what took place on March 16, 1521.

For Catholics, the opening salvo of the 500th year anniversary was to commemorate the first Mass, supposedly taking place on Easter Sunday of 1521.  For 2021, Easter Sunday was on April 4, so on this day across the country the Easter Mass incorporated a remembrance of the celebration of the first Mass. On April 17, the Masses on that day incorporated baptisms, to commemorate the first baptism of our ancestors as the chieftain Humabon, his wife and their followers got baptized upon the strong suggestion of Magellan.

The next event that attracted media attention was what took place at Lapu-lapu City in Mactan, Cebu. On April 27, 2021, the local government sponsored an event that included a re-enactment of the Battle of Mactan. In his speech at the same event, Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go claimed that Lapulapu was a Tausog from Mindanao.

Immediately, many voices were heard across mass and social media attacking Sen. Go’s controversial claim.  The Senator later apologized for how his speech might have come off wrong. He then stated that he was only quoting Abraham Ibarani-Idjirani, the spokesperson of the Sultanate of Sulu while echoing what Pres. Duterte had said publicly earlier in his presidency.

To fully appreciate the significance of the Battle of Mactan, it would be important to situate the context of the central islands during this period. Quoting from my recent book (Handumanan/Remembrance: Digging for Indigenous Wellspring): “Despite Magellan’s impression that all things were going well, he was a bit optimistic of what had been accomplished. For despite was seemed like a successful entry into Cebu, all was not favorable for him.”

The Columban historian. Martin Noone posits:  “ The smoldering resentment at the Spaniards’ intrusion into the people’s lives, the unwanted pressure regarding baptism, the anger of the chiefs compelled to submit to the novelty of a paramount chief would build up and violently explode before many days were out and even the manner they treated the women.”

Unable to understand the natives’ governance system, Magellan assumed that Humabon was a major chieftain whose territory covered a wide area. However, his authority was only over his own baranganic settlement as the neighboring settlements had their own chieftains. By interfering on behalf of Humabon, Lapulapu was being pressured to submit to the authority of another chieftain, which was an insult.

In the process, Lapulapu managed to secure the collaboration of the other chieftains when he decided to resist Magellan if ever the latter would (colonize) Mactan. Apart from underestimating Lapu-lapu’s capacity to mobilize support, the historian Jose Arcilla S.J.  claimed that Magellan “neither took the normal battle precaution to reconnoiter unknown terrain, nor provided for adequate fire support in an amphibious military operation on the Mactan shore.” These and other factors led to the death of Magellan resulting in the fiasco of the colonizer’s plan to subjugate Lapu-lapu.

One more tragic incident took place immediately after. Owing to his deep personality loyalty to Magellan and the manner that he was treated by those who took charge of the expedition after Magellan’s death, the slave Enrique (who acted as translator) managed to convince Humabon to no longer trust the colonizers.  At a banquet prepared by Humabon for them before their departure for the Moluccas, a few of them were killed. In haste, they departed Mactan by May 1.  From the original 265 men who constituted Magellan’s expedition when they left Spain, only 120 survived Mactan and Cebu.

Quoting from Handumanan: “From Cebu they headed down the south channel of Bohol Strait and anchored off Maribohoc Bay. From there they were criss-crossing the islands of Negros, Palawan, then Borneo (followed by passing through Brunei Bay), then Zamboanga, Basilan, Maguindanao and Sarangani where they were stranded because of a storm. It was only by October 1521 when they were on their way to Moluccas, passing through the luster islands of Talaud and Sangihe until they reached the Moluccas by 6 November.

If the reader would like to watch a play detailing these events in Cebu and Mactan, on YouTube is the video production of a full-length play entitled Black Henry, written by the imminent Filipino-American writer, Luis H. Francia.  The blog describing this play states the following:  “Black Henry explores the profound consequences of a clash of cultures, when in 1521 Ferdinand Magellan and three Spanish ships make landfall in the Philippines. His Malay slave, Enrique, acts as the go-between the conquistadors and the islanders.

“However, Magellan’s disastrous attempt to colonize the islands not only complicates Enrique’s life but alters irrevocably the character and destiny of the archipelago. This innovative virtual dramatization mixed pre-recorded segments with live acting, as well as virtual scenography in an example of a new and innovative approach to online theater.”

The actors who played the various parts of this production involved a global cast from New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Manila. It is directed by Claro de los Reyes, with creative design by Francis Estrada, Charles Reynoso, and Cynthia Alberto. The play’s co-sponsors were the NYU Sulo: the Philippine Studies Initiative and NYU King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center (KJCC) and Atlantic Pacific Theatre. One can still view it through this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqq8d7knSH0&t=116s.

Copies of Handumanan are available online through Shopee and Lazada.

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is a professor at St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and until recently, a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. Gaspar is author of several books, including “Manobo Dreams in Arakan: A People’s Struggle to Keep Their Homeland,” which won the National Book Award for social science category in 2012, “Desperately Seeking God’s Saving Action: Yolanda Survivors’ Hope Beyond Heartbreaking Lamentations,” and his latest, “Handumanan (Remembrance): Digging for the Indigenous Wellspring.”. He writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw). Gaspar is a Datu Bago 2018 awardee, the highest honor the Davao City government bestows on its constituents.]