Lapu-Lapu first Filipino hero because he was the first native to resist imperial Spanish colonization


Lapu-Lapu was a ruler of Mactan in the Visayas. Modern Philippine society regards him as the first Filipino hero because he was the first native to resist imperial Spanish colonization. He is best known for the Battle of Mactan that happened at dawn on April 27, 1521, where he and his soldiers defeated Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who was killed in the battle. Magellan’s death ended his voyage of circumnavigation, and this delayed the Spanish occupation of the islands by over forty years until the expedition of Miguel López de Legazpi in 1564. Monuments to Lapu-Lapu have been built in Cebu and Manila, while the Philippine National Police and the Bureau of Fire Protection use his image as part of their official seals. Besides being a rival of Rajah Humabon of neighbouring Indianized Cebu, very little is known about the life of Lapu-Lapu. The only existing documents about his life are those written by Antonio Pigafetta, and according to historian Resil B. Mojares, he was never seen in person by any European who left a historical record.

Lapu-Lapu was one of the two datus of Mactan before the Spanish arrived in the archipelago, the other being a certain Zula, both of whom belong to the Maginoo class. When Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan arrived in the Philippines in the service of Spain, Zula was one of those who gave tribute to the Spanish king while Lapu-Lapu refused. In the midnight of April 27, 1521, Magellan led a force of around sixty Spaniards and twenty to thirty war boats (karakoa) of Humabon’s warriors from Cebu. They arrived in Mactan three hours before dawn. However, because of the presence of rock outcroppings and coral reefs, Magellan’s ships could not land on the shores of Mactan. Their ships were forced to anchor “two crossbow flights” away from the beach. According to Antonio Pigafetta, they faced around 1,500 warriors of Lapu-Lapu armed with iron swords, bows, and “bamboo” spears. Magellan repeated his offer not to attack them if Lapu-Lapu swore fealty to Rajah Humabon, obeyed the Spanish king, and paid tribute, which Lapu-Lapu again rejected. At the taunting request of Lapu-Lapu, the battle did not begin until morning. Magellan, perhaps hoping to impress Humabon’s warriors with the superiority of European armor and weapons, told Humabon’s warriors to remain in their balangay. Magellan and forty-nine of the heavily armored Spaniards (armed with lances, swords, crossbows, and muskets) waded ashore to meet Lapu-Lapu’s forces. They set fire to a few houses on the shore in an attempt to scare them. Instead, Lapu-Lapu’s warriors became infuriated and charged. Two Spaniards were killed immediately in the fighting, and Magellan was wounded in the leg with a poisoned arrow. He ordered a retreat, which most of his men followed except for a few who remained to protect him. However, he was recognized as the captain by the natives, whereupon he became the focus of the attack. Outnumbered and encumbered by their armor, Magellan’s forces were quickly overwhelmed. Magellan and several of his men were killed, and the rest escaped to the waiting ships.

The battle left the expedition with too few men to crew three ships, so they abandoned the “Concepción”. The remaining ships – “Trinidad” and “Victoria” – sailed to the Spice Islands in present-day Indonesia. From there, the expedition split into two groups. The Trinidad, commanded by Gonzalo Gómez de Espinoza tried to sail eastward across the Pacific Ocean to the Isthmus of Panama. Disease and shipwreck disrupted Espinoza’s voyage and most of the crew died. Survivors of the Trinidad returned to the Spice Islands, where the Portuguese imprisoned them. The Victoria continued sailing westward, commanded by Juan Sebastián Elcano, and managed to return to Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Spain in 1522. In 1529, Charles I of Spain relinquished all claim over the Spice Islands to Portugal in the treaty of Zaragoza. However, the treaty did not stop the colonization of the Philippine archipelago from New Spain. According to Aginid, Lapu-Lapu and Humabon restored friendly relations after the Battle of Mactan. Lapu-Lapu later decided to return to Borneo with eleven of his children, three of his wives, and seventeen of his men. Nothing more is known of him after this. After Magellan’s voyage, subsequent expeditions were dispatched to the islands. Five expeditions were sent: Loaisa (1525), Cabot (1526), Saavedra (1527), Villalobos (1542), and Legazpi (1564). The Legazpi expedition was the most successful, resulting in the colonization of the islands.

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