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Lapu-Lapu: the Philippine hero who killed Ferdinand Magellan

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Someone has compared the first circumnavigation of the globe to the first adventures in space. The reason? Magellan and his companions faced the unknown, and seas never crossed by other Europeans before, in territories where unknown and perhaps hostile citizens lived.
Although the history of space exploration has had its victims (18 astronauts in all, both men and women women, among the Soviets and the United States), the Magellan expedition ended much more disastrously, at least for the cost in terms of human lives.


Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521) was not very sympathetic to his sovereign, Manuel of Portugal, who had expel him, dishonorably, from his service.
The enterprising Ferdinando, however, after having had in his hands a map that indicated the possible (and unproven) presence of a passage to the south-west between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, decided to undertake an expedition to find precisely that passage that it would have made it possible to reach the east without circumnavigating Africa.
However, like his predecessor John, who had refused to finance Christopher Columbus, King Manuel rejected Magellan’s proposal.
He too, like the Genoese navigator, knocked on the doors of the Spaniards: the very young Charles I of Habsburg saw the possibility of arriving at the Spice Islands, in the Moluccas archipelago, without having to go past the African ports, controlled by Portugal . But not only: perhaps the navigator could have shown that the Moluccas were west of the dividing line that divided the areas of influence of the two Iberian countries. And of course, the possibility of annexing new territories to the vast Spanish empire, was an additional motivation, and certainly not of little importance.


King Manuel, when he learned of the expedition, attempted to return the navigator back to his homeland. Too late, because Magellan now had his five ships, and 237 men under his command. On a night of shooting stars, on August 10, 1519, the adventure began with the explorers going down the Guadalquivir river to the sea. The fleet sailed on 20 September, and after just over a year and many difficulties, the three remaining ships (one had been wrecked and another had mutinied, returning to Spain) crossed the passage which is now called the Strait of Magellan. It was November 28, 1520: the Europeans had finally reached the Pacific Ocean, so named by Magellan, that he found it unusually calm compared to the Atlantic.
And then, the disaster.
In almost four months the sailors found no land to stock up on food, there were only leftovers full of worms left on board, to be shared with mice, while scurvy had infected practically everyone. As a result, on March 16, 1521, when ships arrived in the Philippines, the Magellan crew was reduced to about 150 men (60 had returned to Spain). So far this is a short version of the story of man who will be remembered forever as the first explorer to undertake the circumnavigation of the globe.

Christopher Columbus illustration from Grand voyages (1596) by Theodor de Bry (1528-1598). 

In the history of the Philippines (which was not yet called the Philippines) Magellan represents the first white man who landed in the archipelago, and who paid for his conquest with his life. Lapu-Lapu is instead the chief tribe who opposed the Spaniards, the first hero of a nation that did not yet exist.

Magellan earned the trust of Raja from the island of Cebu, Humabon, enough to be able to convert him to Christianity, also embraced by his wife and many of his subjects. The sovereign agreed to submit to the Spanish crown, immediately taking advantage of one of the advantages he could obtain: the Portuguese admiral offered to quell the uprising that broke out on the island of Mactan, led by Raja Lapu-Lapu, who did not look favorably upon the Europeans, and had therefore rebelled against the order to provide food to Humabon’s guests. And he wasn’t even wrong, since some Spanish sailors had gone to “visit” Mactan, leaving behind burnt huts and raped women.
Thus Magellan thought of demonstrating the superiority of the Spanish soldiers to Humabon and the other Rajas, and he organized an incursion with just fifty men. However, around 1,500 warriors were waiting for them, armed with spears and arrows and the crossbows of the Spaniards, too slow to reload, could not cope with the rain of arrows of the natives.
So Lapu-Lapu, King unknown to history, defeated the fearsome Spanish soldiers just with rudimentary weapons.


Ferdinand Magellan died in Mactan, killed in a trivial battle on a remote island of Southeast Asia, after he had survived stormy routes, mutinies, disease and hunger. His sailors could not even get the body back, which was kept as a trophy by Lapu-Lapu himself, and his remains have never been found.
For the record, the Raja of Cebu, after the defeat of the Spaniards, denied Christianity, and resumed friendly relations with Lapu-Lapu…..


On September 6, 1522 the only ship of the five that had completed the circumnavigation returned to the port of departure, after two years, 11 months and 17 days of travel. There were 18 men on board, all in poor condition. Another ship, captured by the Portuguese, returned to Spain in 1525, with 5 surviving sailors…..

Lapu Lapu Monument on Mactan Island of Cebu – the Philippines.


Magellan’s shrine on Mactan Island of Cebu – the Philippines.


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