Lapu-Lapu is known to be the first Filipino hero who fought and won against the Spanish colonization yet just like many other Filipino heroes who fought vigorously for our freedom, he is given a little regard. Most of us only knew him as one of the Datus of Mactan in the Visayas who killed the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan during the battle of Mactan in April 27, 1521 wherein the heavily armed Spaniards (with lances, swords, crossbows, and muskets) were defeated by Lapu-lapu’s warriors armed with iron swords, bows, and “bamboo” spears.
As the Philippines’ first known hero, Filipinos ought to know more about the bravery of Datu Lapu-Lapu and learn how did we win the battle of Mactan against the Spanish conquistadors.
Reasons why the Filipinos won:
1. The tide was on their side – According to Antonio Pigafetta, an Italian scholar and explorer from the Republic of Venice who traveled with Ferdinand Magellan and his crew by order of the King Charles I of Spain, they were forced to anchor their ships “two crossbow flights” away from the beach so they have to wade themselves to the shore and engage in a hand to hand combat with the natives.
2. The Spaniards were outnumbered – Based on Pigafetta’s account, 50 armored Spaniards including Magellan faced around 1,500 warriors of Lapu-Lapu.
3. Magellan made a wrong assumption – Magellan thought that because Rajah Humabon was the king of Cebu, he was the king of Mactan as well and Datu Lapu-Lapu would obey Humabon, but the structure of Chiefdom in the ancient Filipino society is not like that of the European society. Mactan is under Lapu-Lapu and Zula’s domain so when he told Lapu-Lapu to submit to them as his King Humabon did, he simply replied that he is not willing to do so and stood his ground.
This reminds me of what Ellen DeGeneres once said, “You should never assume. You know what happens when you assume. You make an ass out of you and me because that’s how it’s spelled.”
4. Magellan underestimated his opponent – Magellan went to Mactan Island with around sixty Spaniards and twenty to thirty balangay (war boats) of Humabon’s warriors from Cebu but he wanted to show-off the superiority of their European armor and weapons so he told Humabon’s warriors to remain in their balangay as if they were just audience he brought along to watch him slaughter the natives who to him looked naïve with battles.
“Lesson learned: “There is no greater danger than underestimating your opponent.” ― Lao Tzu
5. Good team work – Filipino warriors moved in synchrony against the Spaniards, despite of the fact that they did not have the finest armory, the fully equipped Spanish soldiers were easily defeated because Lapu-Lapu’s men moved as one. Thus, the hunter becomes the prey. Basing again on Pigafetta’s journal, it was not actually Lapu-Lapu who killed Magellan but his men. When they recognized the Captain, they focused their attacks on him while the rest of his men retreated to the ship upon his command.
Now, let’s get to know the Filipino leader whom Ferdinand Magellan underestimated.
6. Datu Lapu-Lapu is also known under the names Çilapulapu, Si Lapulapu, Salip Pulaka, Cali Pulaco, and Lapulapu Dimantag. The reason for this various names he was known for is said to be because of wrong translations done by writers who wrote about his heroic deeds in his territory to preserve independence from the European invaders. No matter what name he was called, writers agreed on two things, this man was both very intelligent and a great warrior.
7. He is said to have been born in 1491 although the exact date of his birth was never told. At the age of 6, young Lapu Lapu was already able to ride horseback and caribou. The following year, he was able to write and read. And two years after that, he became an excellent boxer. He also mastered other sports such as swimming and wrestling. By the time he turned eighteen, he became champion of all those sports. At the age of twenty, Lapu-Lapu has already fought with Bornean soldiers and pirates, and won.
8. Lapu-Lapu arrived from Borneo during Humabon’s reign, over Sugbo (now Cebu). He asked Humabon to give a place for him and his people to settle in. Humabon provided him the region of Mandawili (now Mandaue), including the island known as Opong (or Opon) for Lapu-Lapu’s people to cultivate which they did and helped enhance the trade of Sugbo. Although their friendship was tainted upon the arrival of the Spaniards, the two leaders became friends again after the Battle of Mactan.
9. Little is known about how did Lapu-Lapu die. Some historian said that Lapu-Lapu decided to return to Borneo with his eleven children, three wives, and seventeen men, and since that day he was never heard of again. Some locals also believe that in his final years, Lapu-Lapu did not die, but turned into a stone, and is forever guarding the seas of Mactan.
10. The Philippine government erected a 20 meters (66 ft) bronze statue in his honor on Mactan Island and changed the name of the town of Opon in Cebu to Lapu-Lapu City. The statue used to hold a bow and arrow pointing to the Municipal Hall where the mayors of the said town used to hold office but after three succeeding mayors died due to heart attack, some superstitious people suggested changing the design of the statue.
11. A P15-million worth of brass statue of Lapu-Lapu was donated by the Korean Freedom League. It was called the “Sentinel of Freedom” and given as gift to show their appreciation and at the same time honor the memory of Filipinos who helped during the Korean War in the early 1950s. Some historian argued that it should be removed from Luneta or Rizal Park because the place was meant for the martyrs who died during the Spanish regime. There are also two other monuments of Lapu-Lapu; one in Paseo de Roxas and Makati Avenue.
12. He appeared on a Philippine 1-centavo coin which circulated in the Philippines from 1967 to 1974.
13. Lapu-Lapu is the central figure in the seal of the Philippine National Police and the Bureau of Fire Protection.
14. Two films were made about him, both called Lapu-Lapu. The first movie was in 1955 and the second in 2002. Lapu-Lapu was portrayed by Mario Montenegro in the first movie and the latter film by Lito Lapid.
Datu Lapu-Lapu left us the legacy of freedom. He did it through his extraordinary bravery and love for his own land. I hope that Filipinos today will do the same. We must also fight for our freedom. We must be free from poverty and corruption. So are you ready to fight like Lapu-Lapu?