List of Posts

  • Journals of Pigafetta: Gutenberg Project
  • Who Closed the Circle First?
  • The Royal World of Magellan
  • A Pound of Cloves
  • The End of the Beginning

Notes from Mactan

June 30th, 2015 by

May 10th-14th, 2015

Visiting the Island of Mactan and Cebu is useful in understanding the background and geography of this dynamic location along the route of the first recorded circumnavigation.

What is now Magellan Bay is pretty much the same as described by the expedition chronicler Antonio Pigafetta in his account of the Battle of Mactan: shallow waters extending far from a mangrove lined shoreline. The present day locals in the area continue to fish these and the surrounding waters.

Onshore around the “Magellan Monument” and “Lapu Lapu Shrine,” locals sell tropical fruits and produce, fish and seafood, and rice along with modern day junk food and drinks from dozens of little stands. For whatever monkey reason there is within us, the t-shirt stands are here in force too as they seem to be at all significant historical sites around the world.

Some of the local folks here probably share chromosomes with the locals from 500 years ago. A research project of sampled DNA analysis of the area’s current general population would be interesting to look at for the mixed strains of Malaysian and European genes sure to be found.

McDonalds has its arches high in the air above its restaurant about a mile from where the Battle of Mactan occurred. I think of it as McGellans.

Renting a Honda ‘Scoobie’ motor scooter from a small business near the monument and shrine (owned and operated by a Swiss ex-pat), I say my prayers, don a helmet, and head across the bridge to Cebu in the noisy free-form traffic of cars, trucks, busses, motorcycles, tricycles, and pedestrians – a dusty adventure in search of the ‘Museo Sugbo.’

The search and find is worth the risk taken – archeological displays of pre- and post-European contact are well presented.
Archeologists have unearthed extensive Thai and Vietnamese ceramics in Cebu area burial sites, ceramics unique to this area of the modern day Philippines. Magellan’s onboard expedition scribe noted a ship from Siam (present day Thailand) on anchor in Cebu harbor when Magellan’s remaining 3 ships arrived.

Widespread archeological evidence of trade with Cathay (present day China) is found throughout the Philippines, and some good examples of Chinese porcelain are on display at the Museo Sugbo. The Chinese apparently sailed by a code of live and let live and let’s trade while we are at it.

The ‘live as we say you should, or else die by our God-guided hand’ attitude of Magellan didn’t work out so well for him here.

On the day of the Battle of Mactan on April 27th, 1521, a pre-battle negotiation of sorts took place. Magellan sent a messenger ashore.

“He ordered them to immediately deliver three goats, three pigs, three bags of rice and three bags of millet to provision his ships. They replied that they would send him two of each article he requested instead of three and, if this were satisfactory to him, they would proceed immediately. If not, he could do as he pleases, they would give him nothing more.” From the interview of the Genoese Pilot cited in In Pursuit of Longitude by Andre Rossfelder.

In hindsight, Magellan should have taken Lapu Lapu up on his offer. One extra goat, pig, bag of rice and millet hardly seem worth dying for. But die he did that day.

While at Mactan and Cebu I could find no record of archeological digging related to the Battle of Mactan. Lapu Lapu refused to give up Magellan’s body or the bodies of the seven other expedition mariners killed in the battle. These downed fighters were wearing armor, and contemporary burial practices at the time as noted by archeologists here show the deceased being buried with worldly possession and keepsakes. Speculation will allow there are still some pieces of rusted metal to be found from the Battle of Mactan somewhere in the area associated with the burials of the victors. Beneath the present day cement, asphalt, and resorts of Mactan Island and Lapu Lapu City lay stories yet to be told.