Looking back 500 years
Following the directive from the National Historical Commission, Lapulapu is now spelled without the hyphen that formerly cut the hero’s name in two.
If you go over manuscript copies of Antonio Pigafetta’s account of the Magellan expedition, the hero’s name is given as “Cilapulapu” or “Silapulapu.” From the Declaration of Philippine Independence read from the window of Emilio Aguinaldo’s home on June 12, 1898, the name is “Kalipulako.” I wouldn’t be surprised if some other historical source provides yet another variant of Lapulapu, to agitate historians and confuse students of Araling Panlipunan.
When I first visited Mactan as a boy, I did not care to read the historical marker where we posed as a family. When I returned decades later as an adult, I was struck by the text that declared that by his victory in Mactan in 1521: “Lapulapu became the first Filipino to have repelled European aggression.”
This bronze marker was installed in 1951 by the Philippines Historical Committee to replace another marker installed in 1941 entitled “Ferdinand Magellan’s Death,” the conclusion of which was all about the expedition and “the first circumnavigation of the earth.”
These two markers were problematic for me because at the time of the Mactan victory, the archipelago was already there but had not yet been named “Filipinas.” Then there was the question of Magellan ending his voyage in Mactan, so he did not complete the circumnavigation; that was left to Juan Sebastian de Elcano and 17 others (from the original crew of 270) who were able to make their way back to Spain.
As an undergrad student let loose in the Lopez Memorial Museum in Pasay, I would repeatedly go over its collection of old maps, fascinated by the way the earliest ones reflected the growth of geographic knowledge and the development of cartography.
In the first separate map of the Philippines that got the general shape of the archipelago correctly in the 16th century, the islands were drawn not as we know it today, positioned with Luzon at the top and Mindanao at the bottom; rather, the islands seemed to be lying down, with Luzon on the left and Mindanao on the right in an East-West rather than North-South orientation. I was told that many early Christian maps were oriented East to Jerusalem, the site of Christ’s death and resurrection.
In the 1554 Ramusio-Gastaldi map where the name “Filipine” appeared for the first time, only Mindanao was drawn, as the cartographer did not have data regarding Luzon and the Visayas yet. Filipinos who care to look beyond “Filipine” to the map of Asia will be amused to see that this particular map is oriented upside down, with China below Filipine.
Then you have the 1589 Ortelius map, “Descriptio Maris Pacifici,” that shows the route traversed by the Victoria, aptly named because it was the only one of the original five ships of the Magellan expedition that returned home.
Google maps are useful to us today, but they do not have half the charm of old maps, which are embellished with sea monsters, angels, ships, and many other visual elements that filled the void in cartographers’ charts, data, and knowledge. In some early maps, the Philippine islands were identified as the Archipielago de San Lazaro to commemorate the day they were sighted (not discovered) by Magellan in 1521. Other maps identified the islands as the Isles Barusses—from Ptolemy in the second century who called them Barussae and from there became Barusas, Barroussai, Taprobana, Maniolas, etc. Much later, Barusas was identified as the Visayas while Maniolas was said to be Luzon or even Manila.
Early Chinese traders in the 10th century knew Mindoro as Ma-i or Ma-yi, while the Japanese knew of “Ruson” [Luzon]. In some maps, the archipelago was identified as Luçon, Luçoes, Luçones, or Luçonia. To the Spanish, the archipelago was the Islas (Indias) del Poniente or Isles of the West, because they took the Western route to the Spice Islands. To the Portuguese who took the Eastern route, the islands were the Islas del Oriente.
We are better off being known as Filipinas or the Philippines in honor of Philip II of Spain, because to be known as the Islas del Poniente would make “Ponientas” of the inhabitants instead of Filipinos.
History is never innocent. It always has a point of view, fueling ongoing debates over how we should remember the 500th anniversary of the Magellan expedition. One can only hope that the exercise generates more light than heat.
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