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Rajahnate of Cebu

Cebu is the oldest Spanish town in the Philippines. It is in the central part of the Archipelago, with a fine harbor. In ancient days its chief was one of the most powerful in the Philippines. For all these reasons it is now among the most important cities of the Philippines.

The ancient name seems to have been Sogbu, which Pigafetta, who first described it, writes Zubu, evidently a corruption, since he makes the word to begin with a letter which does not exist in any of the Philippine tongues. Qebu is one of the islands called by the Spaniards the Visayas, or Bisayas. It lies between Negros to the west, and Leyt to the east; being divided from the first by a narrow strait, and from the last by a broader one. To the norih it has Masbate, and to the south Mindano; the first about 161, and the last 41 geographical miles distant. In form Cebu is long and narrow, its northern half being its broadest. Its length from north-east to southwest is 80 geographical miles, its average breadth 15, and its superficies 1843 square miles.

In the Visayas, though there are many islands, the people are more alike than in the one island of Luzon. This is because it is easier to cross the narrow straits that divide them than it is to pass the lofty ranges of Luzon. It is easy to see why the Visayans have always been famous fishermen and sailors. Each of these islands has had its own kind of history because of some of its geographical features.

The modern history of the Visayas began on 7 April 1521, when Ferdinand Magellan (c. 1480-1521), the Portuguese explorer, landed on Cebu Island. The chief of Cebu was Raja Humabon. With him Magellan made a blood compact after the custom of those times. Each drank blood taken from the veins of the other and mixed with his own blood. Several days were used in making a treaty of peace. At first the chief of Cebu wished to make Magellan pay tribute. Magellan refused to do this. He told Humabon that he would destroy his towns if he did not submit to the Spaniards. The chief had heard of the Portuguese, who had taken the Spice Islands, and knew how terrible the weapons of the Spaniards were. So he yielded.

Magellan landed many goods for trade with the natives. He told his men not to let the Cebuans know how much the Spaniards valued gold, for the natives were willing to give a great price for the trifles, like mirrors and bells, which the Spaniards sold. The Spaniards at once taught Humabon the Catholic faith. The chief and 800 of his subjects were baptized in one day. An early writer says that within eight days all the people of Cebu and the near-by islands were baptized. All of the towns on Cebu now submitted to Magellan, who promised to help them fight their enemies.

Raja Humabon was having problems with one of his vassals, Lapu-Lapu, the chief of Mactan, a small island off Cebu, Magellan decided to sail to Mactan to subdue its rebellious chieftain and impress his native friend with his superior fighting prowess. The chief of the island of Mactan, just east of Cebu, was the sworn enemy of Humabon. He refused to accept the rule of the white conquerors. Magellan with sixty soldiers in armor sailed over to Mactan in the night. At daylight he was attacked by hundreds of natives. Twenty boat-loads of Cebuans went with Magellan, but he would not let them assist him, for he wished to show them how well the Spaniards could fight. His pride cost him his life. He was soon wounded in the leg with an arrow, and then in the face and arm with a lance. Then his left leg was cut with a bolo and he fell. The Battle of Mactan, the first violent encounter between Filipinos and Spaniards, took place in the early morning of 27 April 1521. Eight other Spaniards were killed. Only fifteen of the natives fell. So perished the bravest sailor of his day.

The fame of the Spaniards was destroyed by this defeat. The Cebuans no longer thought it impossible to resist them. A former slave of Magellan told Humabon that, if he did not kill the Spaniards, they would make slaves of him and his people. The chief therefore planned to kill them. He invited the Spaniards to a banquet. He forgot the blood compact, his baptism, and the fact that Magellan died fighting the enemies of Cebu. While the Spaniards were enjoying the feast, twenty-three of them were suddenly massacred. Juan Serrano escaped to the beach. He called to his companions in the ships and begged them to rescue him. They refused to offer a ransom for him, and sailed away.

Legaspi transferred the capital of the territory just occupied by the Spaniards to Manila. This was followed by the decline of Cebu as a center of trade.

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Page last modified: 29-03-2012 19:03:04 ZULU