Nalzaro: Can we trust history?

Bobby Nalzaro
·4 min read

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” George Santayana (1863-1952), philosopher, poet and novelist, once said.

Can we ever know the whole truth about what really happened in the past? Can history ever be objective or even accurate? If we cannot defend our history, can we even fully understand where we are going and can century-old disputes that rely on particular versions of history ever be resolved? Can we actually trust history?

Many of us get our history from school text books. But how balanced are they? How do historians know about the past? What are their primary and secondary sources? In my case, when time will come that I will be gone, history will be very kind to me. Why? Because I will write my own history.

I am not interested in digging deeper into whether Sen. Bong Go was right or misinformed when he claimed in his speech during the 500th anniversary celebration of the Battle of Mactan last Tuesday, April 27, 2021, that Lapulapu came from Mindanao and that he was a Tausug (a Muslim ethnic group) and not really a native of Mactan. Go’s claim was based also on the claim of Abraham Idjirani, secretary-general and spokesman of the Kiram family, descendants of the sultan of Sulu.

Citing Idjirani’s account, Go believed that Lapulapu was ordered to travel from Mindanao to check on foreigners arriving in what would later be known as Mactan. Lapulapu brought with him several Tausug warriors. They were met by Magellan’s soldiers which led to the Battle of Mactan where the Portuguese explorer was killed.

Go’s claim contradicted the version that we learned from our history books and history classes that Lapulapu was the chieftain of Mactan and that he was a native of this island. Is Go trying to revise our history or maybe he is just biased for Mindanaoans because, like me, he also hails from Mindanao and is of Muslim and Chinese descent. Does Idjirani’s claim have historical basis? My friend, historian, archeologist and director of the University of San Carlos Museum Dr. Jobers “Jojo” Reynes Bersales, debunked Go’s claim, saying “any other claims thereafter are speculations and imaginations.”

Who was really Lapulapu and where did he come from? Nobody knows. Antonio Pigafetta, the Italian writer who chronicled the circumnavigation of Magellan, only focused his documentation on Magellan until the latter’s death during the Battle of Mactan. Nobody documented the life of Lapulapu. Can we trust historians who wrote about Lapulapu’s life in recent years?

How old was Lapulapu during the encounter with the conquistadores? What was his physique? Some historians said he was already old and could no longer carry a big bolo and a spear. That is why, according to some accounts, he did not participate in the battle and it was one of his warriors who killed Magellan.

According to the “generous details” of Pigafetta, it was not Lapulapu who slayed Magellan but many natives, probably battle-hardened, evidenced by their proficiency with spears and very large bolos. This was something Magellan and his company did not expect. But considering that Lapulapu was the leader, the credit went to him.

How many wives and children did he have? As for historians who wrote about Lapulapu, who were their sources? Why did they not give Lapulapu a surname? I hope that the name “Lapulapu” was not just a figment of the wild imagination of some historians. Kung sa drama pa sa radio, “Kining maong sugilanon; ‘mugna ug bunga lamang sa huna-huna sa tagsuwat.” That’s what we call “historical fiction.”

That’s the version of Bong Go about Lapulapu. But Superbalita columnist and lawyer Eddie Barrita also has his own version about Magellan. This is based on the account of his “katiguwangan” (forefathers) from Cabadiangan, who traced their roots to Mactan Island (Opon). What Attorney Barrita gathered was that the Magellan who landed and was killed in Mactan was not actually the original Magellan who came from Spain.

(Note: This is a satire). The original Magellan was killed by his own men during a mutiny while navigating in the Pacific Ocean. His men were angry at him because they were hungry as they had brought more wine than food. They dumped his body into the sea and chose someone to take his place until they reached the Philippine archipelago. The one who was killed in Mactan was a “fake Magellan.” This has been repeatedly told by Attorney Barrita, especially during drinking sprees. With different versions, I am now confused about our history. Who has historical basis on their claims? Pigafetta, Idjirani, Bong Go or Attorney Barrita?

I am still waiting for Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Junard “Ahong” Chan to “violently react” to Go’s claim. When Fil-Am rapper EZ Mil released his record “Panalo” that contains the line “Lapulapu was beheaded,” Chan asked the City Council to pass a resolution declaring EZ Mil “persona non-grata” and demanded an apology. Now, will he do the same to Bong Go? I doubt it. Anyway, Go has already apologized.