Looking Back

How to eat Magellan with tausi

/ 05:24 AM October 19, 2018

2021 is around the corner, and from press releases, it seems only the Catholic Church in Cebu is actively organizing to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Magellan’s arrival. The Church isn’t interested in Magellan’s bloody end in the waters off Mactan; rather, they provide the Santo Niño as a marker of the introduction of Christianity in 1521.

Rajah Kolambu and his people were the first converts, making Cebu the cradle of Christianity in this country. However, history being contentious, there are more secular ways to remember 1521. One can either commemorate the European viewpoint—of the first circumnavigation of the world and the discovery of the Philippines; or one can take the rabid Philippine nationalist viewpoint and state the opposite.


After all, how could Magellan “discover” a place that was inhabited? Could we say that Cebu discovered Magellan? Our commemoration should rightfully focus on Lapu-lapu resisting the first step in the colonization of the Philippines. That officially began not in 1521 with Magellan, but in 1565 with Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and Andres de Urdaneta—surnames remembered today for the Bicol and Pangasinan towns that bear their names, as well as the posh Makati villages: Legazpi, Urdaneta and Magallanes.

If I remember right, the 400th anniversary of the establishment of Christianity in the Philippines was celebrated in 1965, but then the church in Cebu can use the Santo Niño as proof that Catholicism was rooted in the islands 500 years ago, during the baptism of Rajah Kolambu and his people in 1521. If we are to be technical about it, there was no Philippines in 1521; Magellan called the islands Islas de San Lazaro.


It was during the Villalobos expedition two decades after Magellan that Filipinas was given as the name of the islands of Samar and Leyte, and only during the actual Spanish colonization was the name used for the entire archipelago. I don’t complain about all this hair-splitting, because it gives historians like me a reason for being.

In 1921, the Bureau of Printing released the pamphlet “Celebracion del cuarto centenario del descubrimiento de Filipinas por Fernando de Magallanes 1521-1921,” a compilation of historical articles now obsolete, except to scholars. What caught my eye was the text of a lecture delivered by Epifanio de los Santos on Feb. 2, 1921, on the fishing industry in the Philippines. At the time, De los Santos suspected that 90 percent of Pinoys counted fish as the principal part of their diet. As a matter of fact, if you survey the food terms in the earliest friar dictionaries of Tagalog, you will notice that the biggest references are to fish and rice.

De los Santos said that, aside from fish caught in fresh and salt water, regular supply was made possible by fish nurseries. The first such nursery, owned by Domingo Coronel, was established in 1863, in barrio Concepcion, Malabon, Rizal. From there, the  gaya-gaya  mentality spread the system to Caloocan and Navotas, then Bulacan, principally Obando, Polo, Malolos and Hagonoy, etc.

The semillas or kawag-kawag were imported during April and May from the coasts of Tayabas, Batangas, Mindoro, Marinduque, Bataan, Zambales and La Union, and transported in clay jars that contained 2,000-5,000 kawag-kawag. This fish food was called verdin—the algae Oedogonium acquired during the calm months of March, April and May.

Most mangroves were converted to fish ponds because these had lower real estate tax than other types of land. De los Santos even provided a list of fish that were cut and dried into daing or tuyo  to provide daily sustenance to the people:

Dilis o boqueron (Anchovia commersoniana, Lacepède); Dumpilas (Anchovia dussumieri, Bleeker); Tunsoy  (Harengula moluccensis, Bleeker); Tamban (H. longiceps, Bleeker); Silinyasi (Harengula, sp.); Alakaak (Umbrina Russelli, C.V.); Aligasin (Mugilidae); Talilong (Mugil sunanensis, Bleeker); Sapsap (Leiognathus splendens, Cuv.); Salaysalay (Scomber microlepidotus, Rüppell); Malakapas (Xystaema napas, Bleeker).

All these fish references (more in the next column) gain relevance because Lapu-lapu, the hero of Mactan, is remembered today as a fish. May we suggest that, in 2021, we officially change the name of the fish from Lapu-lapu to Magellan, so that we can kill and eat the invader daily, and relish history steamed with tausi.


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TAGS: History, Magellan, opinion, Philippine history, Philippines
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