Massacre in Cebu | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Massacre in Cebu

While history is mainly built on narratives from verified facts, we should also be sensitive to its silences. For example, our focus on the Victory at Mactan on April 27 obscures the Massacre in Cebu on May 1 in an event that we cannot be too proud about.

Remember that Humabon, identified in the sources as “the Christian King,” manipulated Magellan to help him deal with his rival Lapulapu. Stupidly overconfident, Magellan told Humabon to stay in his balanghai with his warriors and watch as he routed Lapulapu into submission. Pigafetta in his chronicle says that Humabon wept at Magellan’s death, but those were crocodile tears and probably flowed in frustration because, through his victory, Lapulapu became twice the rival he was after the battle. Humabon, in the afternoon after the battle, sent word to Mactan that the Spanish expedition was willing to ransom Magellan’s corpse and those taken prisoner. They offered any price in terms of merchandise on their ships but according to Pigafetta, the Mactanons would not give up Magellan’s dead body “for all the riches in the world, they wanted to keep him as a memorial.” Four days later, Humabon invited the survivors of the expedition to a banquet and committed what has gone down in history as the Massacre in Cebu.

Rereading Pigafetta and other accounts, it is clear that the villain is not Humabon but Magellan’s slave Enrique de Malaca. Enrique also known as Henrique, Heinrich, and Henry the Black, who has been raised to hero status in the Philippines, was heralded as the first Filipino to circumnavigate the world. Enrique was on board the ship, recovering from the wounds received in Mactan, when he was forced out of bed by the Portuguese Duarte Barbosa (brother-in-law of Magellan) who, together with the Spaniard Juan Serrano, were the new leaders of the expedition. Enrique refused probably because Magellan had told him that he would be free after his death. Magellan’s last will and testament was clear about an inheritance of 10,000 maravedis from his estate as well as his freedom. Enrique was “exempt and relieved of every obligation of slavery and subjection, that he may act as he wants and sees fit.” Barbosa refused to honor this, threatened Enrique with a flogging if he did not go ashore to speak with Humabon, adding that Enrique would remain a slave and upon return to Spain be put into the service of Magellan’s widow, his sister Beatrice Barbosa.

Enrique informed Humabon that the expedition was leaving and advised that he should seize the ships and its merchandise. According to Pigafetta, Humabon and Enrique “…arranged a plot, and the slave [Enrique] returned to the ship where he showed that he was more cunning than before.


“On Wednesday morning, the first of May [1521], the Christian king sent word to the commanders that the jewels that he had promised to send to the King of Spain were ready, and that he begged them and their other companions to come to dine with him that morning, when he would give them the jewels. Twenty-four men went ashore…I could not go because I was all swollen up by a wound from a poisoned arrow on my face…[awhile later] we heard loud cries and lamentations. We immediately weighed anchor, and discharging many mortars into the houses, drew in nearer to the shore. While thus discharging [our pieces] we saw Juan Serrano in his short bound, and wounded, crying to us not to fire any more, for the natives would kill him. We asked him whether all the others and the interpreter were dead. He said that they were all dead except the interpreter. He begged us earnestly to redeem him with some of the merchandise, but Johan Carvaio, his boon companion [and others] would not allow the boat to go ashore so that they might remain masters of the ships…”

Lendas da Índia (1563), a little known account by the Portuguese Gaspar Corrêa, complicates the story. Lapulapu, “who was already old,” offered his daughter in marriage to Humabon and together they plotted the massacre. The account is problematic because it states that Magellan did not die in Mactan but during the banquet. Pigafetta is not the only source for Magellan’s voyage, our quincentennial could have encouraged more reviews of the sources, but we were sidetracked by COVID-19 and the controversy over the site of the First Mass. You don’t have to look far for Fake News and Counterfactuals, these are part and parcel of our history.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, Lapulapu, Looking Back, Magellan, Philippine history

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