Battle of Mactan

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Painting of the Battle of Mactan in the Mactan Shrine

The Battle of Mactan was fought between the forces of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan and Datu Lapulapu, a chieftain of Mactan who resisted the Spanish colonization. The battle concluded in the demise of Magellan, marking the first documented victory of native Filipinos over a European invaders and leading to petitions for recognizing Lapulapu as the first Filipino hero.

The Expedition

Magellan left Portugal in exile and went to Spain to find support for his aspiration to explore. He presented his plan to voyage in the west route and find the Spice Islands or Moluccas to King Charles I (and later known as Holy Roman Emperor Charles V). On 20 September 1519, the expedition began. Magellan set sail in San Lucar with this expedition’s chronicler, the Italian scholar Antonio Pigafetta.[1]

They crossed the strait at the tip of South America, or the present-day Strait of Magellan, leading to an unexplored ocean. Because of the calmness of water, Magellan named it “Pacific.” Despite its stillness, the vastness of Pacific Ocean made it difficult for the voyagers to endure. Some of Magellan’s men died of starvation because of depleting and rotting food supply.[2]

After two years of sailing, on 17 March 1521, Magellan arrived on “Humunu” island, which he called Archipelago de San Lazaro from the name of Saint Lazarus, because it was the day of celebrating the feast of the patron saint. They were welcomed cordially by the natives. Magellan offered them different products, such as a red cap, mirrors, combs, bells, ivory, bocasine, and more goods. In return, the natives presented them food and drinks, such as fish, an alcoholic drink they call “uraca”, bananas, and coconut.[3]

Magellan met more local chieftains, who also became his allies. Enrique of Malacca, a Malayan native who became Magellan’s slave after converting to a Christian, helped in bridging explorers to the natives as their interpreter.[4] As godly men, Magellan took advantage of his alliances to spread Christianity in this newly discovered place. On the last day of March, Easter Sunday, Magellan ordered his men to prepare for a mass in Mazaua, or the present-day Limasawa in Leyte. The First Mass in the Philippines marked the birth of Christianity in the Philippines.

Magellan and his troops only stayed in Limasawa for a week because of the limited food supply. The expedition continued, and they arrived on an island we know today as Cebu on 8 April 1521 with the guidance of Rajah Kulambu.[5] Magellan made friends with Rajah Humabon, the chieftain of Cebu island[6] when the native ruler agreed to pay tribute. According to historians, a Muslim trader from Siam advised Humabon to accommodate the foreign explorers because of the ruthless past of conquistadors. Rajah Humabon then agreed to enter allegiance with the Europeans. He also recognized the sovereign of Spain, and agreed to change his religious faith to Christianity. He was baptized in the name Carlos, after the King of Spain. His wife was also christened and was given the name Juana, from the name of King Charles’ mother. About 800 natives were also baptized on that day. Magellan also gave them an image of the Child Jesus or Santo Niño.[7] [8]

The Siege

On 26 April 1521, Zula, one of the chieftains of “Matan” or Mactan asked his son to send two goats as a present for Magellan and to tell him that he would fulfill his promises to him. However, this did not happen when “Cilapulapu” or Lapulapu resisted to follow the King of Spain. Zula appealed to Magellan to delegate one boat to proceed to Mactan, but the captain sent three boats with native warriors and 60 of his men armored with corselets and helmets, and swords and crossbows.[9]

At the prow of each boat, a cannon was placed. They set out at midnight on 27 April 1521, hoping to surprise the natives.[10] However, when the group arrived at the shores of Mactan, they found Lapulapu's forces waiting for them.

According to Pigafetta, Magellan did not intend to invade them, but to persuade the natives to follow the King of Spain, recognize Christianity as their religion, and pay tributes. If not, they will see how their lances wound.

Magellan brought a "Moor" with him who spoke the local language, and asked him to convey to the chieftain that there would be peace if the natives would lay down their arms. After nearly an hour, the Moor reported back to Magellan and said that while he had been received in a friendly manner by the natives, Lapulapu refused to submit.

The native warriors were not intimidated and replied, if their opponent has lances, they have bamboo spears with stakes hardened by fire. The natives told them not to proceed with the attack and to wait until morning to gather more warriors. However, the foreign troop thought that it could be a way to induce them to search for them and fall into pitholes and traps that they dug.

Bloody battle

War broke out just before full daylight. Magellan’s troops were forced to leap into the water at the height of their thighs. It took them two crossbow fights before they reached the shore. Their boats could not approach nearer because of rocks, rendering the cannons they had brought ineffectual. The natives were able to avoid their attacks, fending off arrows with shields, and returned arrows and spears to their foes.[9] The natives had also noticed a vital flaw in their foes' armor, making it easier to cripple them - Magellan and his men had neglected to protect their legs, covering only their head and bodies with metal armor.[11]

Magellan ordered some of his men to burn the houses of the natives to scare them, but the natives roused to greater fury. The natives showered more poison arrows and the captain was hit on his right leg. Magellan ordered his men to retreat, but most of his men escaped except for six or eight persons who stayed with their captain. The native warriors continued their attacks. They recognized Magellan and attempted to take off his helmet. One native hurled a spear into the captain’s face, but the latter was able to immediately stabbed him with his lance, which was left in the native’s body.

While he attempted to draw his sword, a spear hit Magellan’s spear. The natives took advantage and attacked Magellan once more. One of them wounded the captain with a bamboo spear; and another hit him with a large cutlass that resembled a scimitar. Magellan’s face fell downward, and he was slain after the natives rushed upon him with their weapons.

Upon Magellan's death, his forces scattered. They were able to finally use cannons to fend off the natives upon their retreat to the water. They returned to Cebu in defeat. [10]

The Aftermath

The Battle of Mactan is considered the first war of Filipinos resisting foreign rule. The Filipinos showcased valor and courage in this invasion.

Magellan's death heralded the splintering of peaceful relations with the natives. A series of conflicts with former allies followed, culminating in the flight of the severely reduced expeditionary forces from the archipelago back to Spain.

Among the five ships of the Armada de Molucca, Victoria is the only ship that went back under the command of Sebastian del Cano or Juan Sebastian Elcano. The first circumnavigation was officially completed when the 18 survivors reached Seville in 1522.[12]

In Philippine Culture

The Battle of Mactan became an inspiration to many forms of art, including the main heroes of the battle—Lapulapu and Magellan. In Philippine cinema, two films depicted the conflict between Magellan and Lapulapu’s forces. The first film titled Lapu-Lapu was released in 1955 and directed by Lamberto V. Avellana.[13] The chieftain’s character was played by Mario Montenegro. Another film of the same title was released in 2002, which was directed by William Mayo. The actor-politician Lito Lapid played the role of Lapulapu, and Dante Rivero as Magellan.[14]

Popular novelty singer Yoyoy Villame also sang the novelty song Magellan, which narrates the arrival of the explorer in the Philippines in humorous lyrics.[15]

Controversy over historically inaccurate song

On February 9, 2021, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) issued a statement clarifying that Lapulapu did not die at the Battle of Mactan, contrary to the lyrics of the song "Panalo (Trap Carinosa)" by US-based rapper EZ Mil. His performance of the song in January 2021, aired by Wish USA, received generally favorable comments from viewers on YouTube, who praised its "nationalism" and how it "honored Filipino heritatage".[16]

The song, which featured the lyrics "pinugutan si Lapu sa Mactan (Lapulapu was beheaded in Mactan)," was "guided by the same zeal" that fired the blood of revolutionaries, the NHCP said in its statement. However, it asked the public to "not compromise history and be conscious of our accountability on what we are conveying to the people...LAPULAPU WAS DEFINITELY NOT KILLED IN THE BATTLE OF MACTAN. THE BATTLE WAS A VICTORY OF OUR ANCESTORS LED BY HIM."[17]

Ez Mil apologized to those offended by the inaccuracy, which he said he chose to due to "rhyming pattern" and his aim to get people to talk about the song.[18]


  1. Butterworth, Hezekiah. “The Story of Magellan and The Discovery of the Philippines,” Retrieved via Project Gutenberg, 21 October 2011. Accessed 08 January 2021.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Maria Luisa Camagay, et al. Unraveling the Past: Readings in Philippine History. (Quezon City: Vibal Group, Inc., 2018), pp. 40-41.
  4. Luis H. Francia. A History of the Philippines from Indios Bravos to Filipinos. (New York: The Overlook Press, 2010).
  5. Agoncillo, Teodoro A. “Introduction to Filipino History,” Radiant Star Pub.: 1974. p. 36,  Accessed 11 January 2021.
  6. Camagay, p. 42.
  7. Francia, p.46.
  8. Luci Lizares, “History of Sto. Niño Festivals,” SunStar, 28 January 2016. Accessed 12 January 2021.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Camagay, pp. 42-43.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Towle, George M. "A Hero's Death". Magellan, Or the First Voyage Around the World, 1879. Accessed on 8 March, 2021.
  11. Ocampo, Ambeth R. "The Battle of Mactan, according to Pigafetta"., 3 July 2019. Accessed on 8 March 2021.
  12. Camagay, p. 43.
  13. “Lapu-Lapu (1955) Full Cast & Crew,” IMDb. Accessed 13 January 2021.
  14. “Lapu-Lapu (2002) Full Cast & Crew,” IMDb. Accessed 13 January 2021.
  15. “Magellan, Yoyoy Villame (Lyrics),” Genius. Accessed 13 January 2021.
  16. "Ez Mil performs 'Panalo' LIVE on the Wish USA Bus". Wish USA. Accessed on 8 March 2021.
  17. "Statement of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines on the err in the lyrics of the song titled 'Panalo' by Ez Mil". National Historical Commission of the Philippines, 9 February 2021. Accessed on 8 March 2021.
  18. Llemit, Kathleen A. "Rapper EZ Mil apologizes for twisting truth about Lapu-Lapu in viral song"., 2 February 2021. Accessed 8 March 2021.



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