Cebu City, Philippines (1521 AD)
The Battle of Mactan was the first great battle of the colonial era in the Pacifc. Taking place barely three decades after Columbus discovered America, it was also one of the very few times in which the native forces successfully drove of the European invaders. The battle made the Philippine leader Lapu-Lapu a national hero. In addition to being a rare defeat for the Europeans during the 16th century, the Battle of Mactan was also famous as the engagement in which Ferdinand Magellan, the famous Spanish explorer and naval commander, was killed.
In March 1521, Ferdinand Magellan was two years into his historic voyage around the world when he arrived in the Philippines. No European ships had yet been to the Philippines, as the Portuguese, who were making their way over from India had as yet only reached Indonesia, China and Japan. Magellan made first contact several of the local chieftains, and quickly got busy setting the groundwork for setting up a new Spanish colony.
In Cebu, the local rulers were baptized, and other chieftains followed suit. However, one of the local chieftains, Datu Lapu-Lapu, was wary of the Europeans, and not so quick to embrace either Roman Catholicism or Spanish authority. Despite warnings and threats of violence from Magellan, Lapu-Lapu refused to give in to the foreigners.
On April 27, Magellan led a force of 49 heavily armed and armored men in an invasion of Mactan Island where Lapu-Lapu had rallied his supporters. Because of the difficult topography of the waters, the Spanish could not bring in their ship, or more importantly their cannon, within range of the defenders. Instead they chose to fight with muskets and hand-to-hand arms. What they were not prepared for was the force of well over a thousand natives hell bent on driving them back into the sea.
The battle was ferocious. Because of their superior arms, the Spanish killed many natives. In the end they were simply overwhelmed by numbers. Amazingly, most of the Spanish fled and survived. However, Magellan himself was killed, and his body kept as a trophy. In the end the victory was a brief one, and the Spanish returned in force by the mid-16th century. Interestingly, both Ferdinand Magellan and Datu Lapu-Lapu are now honored as national heroes in the Philippines.
Mactan Island, where the namesake battle took place, is almost completely overbuilt now and the battle site largely obscured. However, there are numerous monuments of the battle on the island, most notably the Lapu-Lapu shrine. This large monument marks the spot where the native army repulsed the Spanish invasion, and features an impressive statue of the leader of the revolt. Also marked is the spot where Ferdinand Magellan fell in the battle.
The Mactan Battlefield is located on Mactan Island, now a part of Cebu City, approximatlely three hundred miles south of Manilla. The shrine and monument are open sites. There is no cost of admission for either. Web: www.cebucitytourism.com (official tourism website of Cebu City).
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