Battle of Mactan

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Battle of Mactan
Date April 27, 1521
Location Mactan Island, Cebu, Philippines
Result Death of Ferdinand Magellan, victory for Lapu-Lapu and the Visayan inhabitants of Mactan
Spanish explorers Visayan natives of Mactan
Ferdinand Magellan† Lapu-Lapu
49 men including Magellan on shore, at least 11 others in boats 1,500+
Casualties and losses
A few, including Magellan Unknown

The Battle of Mactan was fought in the Philippines on April 27, 1521. The warriors of Lapu-Lapu, a chieftain of Mactan Island, defeated Spain|Spanish sailors and soldiers under Portuguese sea captain and explorer Ferdinand Magellan. Magellan was killed by tribal warriors of Mactan, while being involved in political issues and rivalries with Lapu-Lapu.



The Portugal|Portuguese explorers of the 15th century had found a way around the Islamic kingdoms which were holding the trade routes overland to the spices of Southeast Asia, which was to round the Cape of Good Hope of Africa, through the Indian Ocean, and thence to the Spice Islands.

Magellan was assigned to Portuguese Goa in India for military training at the age of 20 years old, and soon divined that geography was a key to the riches of Southeast Asia. After a voyage to the area, he indentured servant |indentured a Malayan servant, Enrique of Malacca|Enrique, whom he would use as an interpreter during his voyage around the globe. Enrique was actually taken from his home islands, enslaved by Sumatran slavers, taken to Malacca, and later baptized.

Location of Mactan Island within Cebu Province.

After Magellan landed on the island of Homonhon March 17, 1521, he parleyed with Raja|Rajah Calambu (or Kolambu) of Limasawa, who guided him to Cebu, on April 7. Communicating through his interpreter, Enrique, Magellan befriended Rajah Humabon, the king of Cebu, and he and his queen were baptized. Impressed by Magellan's armament (consisting of guns, swords, body armor, 12 cannons, and 50 crossbows), Humabon and Datu Zula convinced Magellan to go to the nearby island of Mactan and kill rival chieftain Lapu-Lapu. It is widely believed that Humabon and Lapu-Lapu bore grudges towards each other and were constantly fighting for control of land.

The battle

According to the accounts of Antonio Pigafetta, Magellan deployed 48 armored men, less than half his crew, with swords, axes, shields, crossbows and guns. Filipino historians note that because of the rocky outcroppings and corals near the beach, he could not land on Mactan. Forced to anchor his ships far from shore, Magellan could not bring his ships' firepower to bear on Lapu-Lapu's warriors, who numbered more than 1,500.

Monument in Lapu-Lapu City that marks the site where Magellan was purportedly killed
"When morning came, forty-nine of us leaped into the water up to our thighs, and walked through water for more than two cross-bow flights before we could reach the shore. The boats could not approach nearer because of certain rocks in the water. The other eleven men remained behind to guard the boats. When we reached land, [the natives] had formed in three divisions to the number of more than one thousand five hundred persons. When they saw us, they charged down upon us with exceeding loud cries... The musketeers and crossbow-men shot from a distance for about a half-hour, but uselessly...

Magellan then tried to scare them off by burning some houses. However, this only provoked the natives, and he was wounded in the leg by a poisoned arrow. Then, Magellan ordered a retreat, but some men fought on.

Seeing that, the captain-general sent some men to burn their houses in order to terrify them. When they saw their houses burning, they were roused to greater fury. Two of our men were killed near the houses, while we burned twenty or thirty houses. So many of them charged down upon us that they shot the captain through the right leg with a poisoned arrow. On that account, he ordered us to retire slowly, but the men took to flight, except six or eight of us who remained with the captain. The natives shot only at our legs, for the latter were bare; and so many were the spears and stones that they hurled at us, that we could offer no resistance. The mortars in the boats could not aid us as they were too far away.

Many of the warriors turned upon Magellan; he was wounded in the arm with a bamboo spear and in the leg by a native sword (kampilan). He was finally overpowered and killed, stabbed and hacked by spears and swords. Pigafetta and the others managed to escape.

Recognizing the captain, so many turned upon him that they knocked his helmet off his head twice... An Indian hurled a bamboo spear into the captain's face, but the latter immediately killed him with his lance, which he left in the Indian's body. Then, trying to lay hand on sword, he could draw it out but halfway, because he had been wounded in the arm with a bamboo spear. When the natives saw that, they all hurled themselves upon him. One of them wounded him on the left leg with a large cutlass, which resembles a scimitar, only being larger. That caused the captain to fall face downward, when immediately they rushed upon him with iron and bamboo spears and with their cutlasses, until they killed our mirror, our light, our comfort, and our true guide. When they wounded him, he turned back many times to see whether we were all in the boats. Thereupon, beholding him dead, we, wounded, retreated, as best we could, to the boats, which were already pulling off." [1]
Statue of Lapu-Lapu.

Historians debate the accuracy of his report, of which the tone, exaggeration and logic was questionable. His allies Rajah Humabon and Datu Zula were said not to have been part of the battle at all due to Magellan's bidding, and watched from a distance. To date there is no other official record of what happened, but it is evident that Magellan was defeated by sheer force of numbers and poor logistics.

In Philippine culture

Today Lapu-Lapu is honored as the "first" Philippine national hero to resist foreign rule, and he is commemorated by a monument in Mactan, as well as a city bearing his name. Magellan is likewise given the dubious honor of bringing the first vestiges of Spanish and Portuguese colonization to the Philippines. A common misconception that Lapu-Lapu cut Magellan down in single combat is proved false by Pigafetta's account. The battle is typically re-enacted during its anniversary.

Pigafettas account on the number of enemy is highly controversial however because the culture in those times as is today is small communities called baranggay. It is a group of people normally related by blood in various degrees, living by hunting and foraging. Most probable is Lapu-lapu could at most could summon less than 300 fighting men from several baranggays within a days travel.

A local variety of red grouper is called lapu-lapu (in Luzon, though not in Cebu itself) after the chieftain.

Actor-turned-politician Lito Lapid made a film called Lapu-Lapu.

Novelty singer Yoyoy Villame wrote a song about the whole matter called Magellan. [2] To quote:

Then the battle began at dawn,
Bolos and spears versus guns and cannons.
When Magellan was hit on his neck,
He stumbled down and cried and cried.
Oh mother, mother, I am sick,
Call the doctor very quick.


  1. ^ [1
  2. ^ [2

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