Our ancestors as victorious warriors (Manila Times Walking History)

by xiaochua

By Michael Charleston “Xiao” Chua

July 18, 2020

ALTHOUGH we are a peaceful and compassionate people, as we showed our pakikipagkapwa and kapatiran to Ferdinand Magellan and his armada when they arrived, we have also shown that we know how to fight for our interests, freedom and kaginhawaan.

True, in 1521 what would be known as the Philippine Islands was not a united territory but several different kingdoms, bayan, banua or ili, which were connected by our common waters and commonalities in culture. The Laguna Copperplate Inscription tells us of the kingdoms of Tondo, Laguna, Butuan and Dewata, Indonesia paying off debts in gold as early as the 10th century. Taken as a whole, it can be said that we can consider our maritime civilization as a thalassocracy, a naval power in a military and commercial sense.

This was true, especially of the Visayans who were a warrior people. They went to war for what were considered to be valid reasons, such as unwarranted aggression from other banua and agreements that were not honored and, I assume, especially if it was done through the sandugo ritual. It was seen as a violation to the kapatiran and should be corrected.

Going to war was called pangangayaw or pangungubat, and its warriors hangaway or bagani. A similar term “bayani” is now the Filipino term for a hero. They were tattooed as a spiritual protection like an anting-anting and the designs reflected the belief in the Bathalang-araw and other mythical beings.

Their warships, the karakoa, brought them to their battles. With them, their expertise in sword fighting using the kampilan (which became the basis for the modern-day Filipino martial arts arnis or eskrima). Having achieved victory, they would behead the vanquished believing that the gahum, or power, of the dead could be transferred to them. As they returned home, they would have brought karangalan at kaginhawahan back to their bayan. It can be said that the modern-day OFW who wages battles abroad carries the spirit of the bagani as he brings dangal and ginhawa back to the Motherland.

Arriving in Cebu for much needed supplies, Magellan was asked by the ruler of Cebu, Raha Humabon, to pay certain taxes which is the usual case since they were considered an entrepot-city. But Magellan, having used up all his resources, took out his remaining diplomatic secret weapon: He told Humabon that he came as a representative of the most powerful ruler in the world, the Spanish King, and that the Cebuano leader can be made his representative in these islands, the ruler of all the other kings. That said, he was also promised that Magellan would defend Cebu against its enemies. To Magellan’s surprise, Humabon not only agreed but also had himself and his whole bayan agree to be baptized in the Catholic faith.

But the Visayan people were not without conflicts. At odds with Humabon was a certain leader in nearby Mactan Island called Lapulapu. It was said that if Magellan went to Lapulapu first, he would have been welcomed by Mactan. But Magellan not only went to Humabon, he expected every ruler in the area to bow to the Cebuano Raha. Lapulapu refused and this prompted Humabon to now ask Magellan to deliver what was promised in the sandugo: Fight my enemies.

Thinking perhaps that God was on his side, having delivered Cebu to Catholicism on a silver platter, Magellan told Humabon that he not only would oblige, but that whatever happens, no one should help them. When told to accept domination or wait until their lances wound them, Lapulapu replied: “If you have lances, we have lances of bamboo and stakes hardened with fire.” Arrogance, pride and failure to understand the culture proved fatal to Magellan.

On April 27, 1521, it was 49 Spaniards against 1,500 Mactan hangaway that faced off in the Battle of Mactan. To their credit, the Spaniards were able to make a stand of half an hour until Magellan was finished. But victory was Mactan’s.

It has been argued that Lapulapu was not really a hero because he fought not really for freedom but for Mactan’s interest. Magellan was a mere victim of an internal conflict. But one thing is clear to me: Lapulapu is a hero because he proved to the Europeans that we can fight foreigners when they meddle in our affairs, and that we can be victorious against a formidable enemy.

No wonder, Lapulapu was invoked by Jose Rizal, Mariano Ponce and Emilio Jacinto in their writings as they fought for more freedoms. The text of Emilio Aguinaldo’s Independence proclamation on June 12, 1898 mentioned victory in Mactan. The place name became synonymous with victory. Lapulapu’s spirit, which is that of the bagani, animated the revolutionaries and our war veterans when they faced our oppressors, and it continues to be reflected in our frontliners’ quest to fight one of the biggest threats to our freedoms: Covid-19. May the whole Philippines become Mactan.