Battle of Mactan

From Academic Kids

The Battle of Mactan was fought in the Philippines on April 27, 1521. The troops of Lapu-Lapu, a chieftain of Mactan, defeated Spanish forces under Ferdinand Magellan. Magellan was killed in action.



Before the Spanish colonial period, the archipelagos of Southeast Asia were under the influence of the traders of Hindu-Malayan culture, such as the Majapahit Empire, which was being supplanted by Islamic conquest by the Sultanates of Malacca, who had converted from Hinduism to Islam in 1414, and of Borneo. In the Majapahit Empire the last Hindu kings in about 1500 retreated to Bali in order to keep their culture. In the archipelago that was to become the Philippines, the idols of the Hindu gods were hidden to prevent their destruction by a religion which destroyed all idols. (One idol, a 4-pound gold statue of a Hindu-Malayan goddess was found in Mindanao in 1917, which now sits in the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, USA, and is dated from the period 1200s to early 1300s. Another gold artifact of Garuda, the phoenix who is the vahana (vehicle bearer) of Vishnu was found on Palawan.)

During this time, the Portuguese explorers 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. The Portuguese held maps to be state secrets, because geography was the key to power at that time.

Magellan was assigned to Portuguese Goa in India for military training at age 20, and soon divined that geography was a key to the riches of Southeast Asia. After a voyage to the area, he indentured a Malay servant, 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.

Arrival of the Spanish

After Magellan landed on the island of Homonhon March 16, 1521, he parleyed with Rajah Calambu of Limasawa, who guided him to Cebu, on April 7. Through Magellan's interpreter, Enrique, Rajah Humabon of Cebu became an ally. Suitably impressed by Magellan's 12 cannons and 50 cross-bows, Rajah Humabon suggested that Magellan project power to cow Lapu-Lapu , or Caliph Pulaka, of the nearby island of Mactan. It was widely believed the two Filipino chieftains harbored long-time grudges and that Rajah Humabon was actually using Magellan to get rid of the Mactan chief.

Defeat of the Spanish

According to the accounts of Antonio Pigafetta, Magellan deployed 48 armored men, less than half his crew, with cross-bows 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 Lapulapu's forces.

As the crew were retreating, he records that Magellan was surrounded by warriors. His crew had to wade through the surf to make landing, he says. Eight crewmen were killed. Pigafetta, the supernumerary on the voyage who later returned to Seville, Spain, records that Lapu-Lapu had at least 1500 warriors in the battle.

Historians debate the accuracy of his report, of which the tone and exaggeration was questionable. His allies from Rajah Humabon were said not to have been part of the battle at all, and would have watched from a distance. Pigafetta says Magellan was wounded in the leg, while still in the surf, with a poison arrow or lance. To date there is no other official record of what happened, so no one knows the real story of how the firepower of the Spaniards was defeated by Lapu-Lapu's forces.

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