Wenceslao: Missed chances

Bong O. Wenceslao
·3 min read

THE pandemic has forced organizers to tone down the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the arrival to our archipelago of the Spanish expedition led by the Portuguese Ferdinand Magellan. Remnants of that expedition led by the Spanish Sebastian Elcano was the first to circumnavigate the globe. Magellan, of course, was killed by the natives led by Lapulapu in Mactan Island. Spain sent to the Philippines the ship named after Elcano as part of the muted celebration.

Interestingly, the commemoration resurrected old questions about the official narrative on the Magellan voyage. Which reminded me about a point raised by UP anthropologist Jerome Bailen’s suggestion for the government to organize a forum to be attended by historians to settle those questions. One of those questions is on where the skirmish between Magellan’s forces and the natives really happened.

The main source about that skirmish is the writing of the chronicler Antonio Pigafetta, who was a member of the Magellan expedition. But Pigafetta’s narration was vague at times, which is not surprising because his knowledge about the archipelago and the natives was scant. Some compelling questions can be raised about Pigafetta’s narrative of the events that happened 500 years ago.

Like, where was the first mass really held? And can Maktang, a village in Barangay Esperanza in Poro town, which is part of the Camotes group of islands, lay claim to having been the site of the skirmish that killed Magellan? Some historians are quick to dismiss some Poro residents’ claim. But as Bailen suggested, why not just leave the claim open? Bailen was one of the four UP anthropologists who conducted an anthropological survey in Poro town.

If Lapulapu was a chieftain like what Pigafetta claimed, the logical question to ask next is how big was the community he was heading? And could Mactan Island have sustained that community considering the kind of land it has? Then there is the matter of distance. Why did Pigafetta write about travelling for hours before reaching Mactan (which is known in the old days as Opon)? Isn’t Opon just across Humabon’s Cebu?

I joined the UP anthropologists’ trip to Camotes and was amazed at the find one island alone offered. Poro shares with Tudela town the island called Poro. The other islands are Pacijan where the town of San Francisco is located and Ponson, where the town of Pilar is. That led Bailen to quip that Camotes can be considered a “prehistoric” Hong Kong. Everywhere you go, you can find Ming dynasty Chinese porcelains. One digging in Poro produced teeth embedded with gold spots.

Camotes must have sustained large communities when the Magellan expedition arrived. That one of Poro’s villages is named Maktang is rather intriguing also. Unfortunately, local government officials failed to build a museum that would have helped straighten out Camotes’ role in the country’s history.

The commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the arrival here of the Magellan expedition provided many missed chances, including answering hanging questions on our history.