FUNNY, but when somebody asks me for the date of the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan, the Portuguese explorer who led a Spanish expedition that eventually reached the archipelago that would later be named Philippines, I remember the late Boholano novelty singer Yoyoy Villame. Or at least the first line of his popular song, “Magellan,” that says: “On March 16, 1521...”
We are now in the year 2018, which means that in 2021, the Philippines would be celebrating the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Magellan’s expedition in Limasawa and weeks later his death at the hands of Mactan folk led by the chieftain Lapulapu. That year plotted the shift in the direction of the islands’ history.
The year 2021 is therefore important for both Spain and the Philippines that is why preparations for its coming have already been mapped out. A group called the Filipinas Quinta Centenario (FQC) is leading the celebration in the Philippines. FQC representatives met with officials of the Cebu Provincial Government recently. The group’s local counterpart is the Sugbo Quincentenario.
Activities for the fifth centennial will kick off next year, said Joaquin Rodriguez, the FQC president, as Magellan’s expedition began on Aug. 10, 1519 in Cadiz, Spain. It took Magellan’s fleet, which started with five ships, almost two years of rough travel to arrive in Limasawa. Set to be invited for the 2021 event, which will have Cebu as the main venue, are Pope Francis and the Spanish king.
Since this would be a major event, something Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale said would boost Cebu’s tourism and its new-found thrust on faith-based tourism, I also hope that the organizers would not forget to place the activities in their proper context. For example, the focus on “Christianization” could be shaky considering that the islands only embraced Catholicism starting in 1565 when they were subjugated by the conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and Fr. Andres Urdaneta.
Yoyoy Villame’s song has the phrase, “when Philippines was discovered by Magellan,” an accepted notion (the Philippines being “discovered”) before historians dug up archives for information on pre-Spanish Philippines. As they say, the victors are always given the chance to shape the history of a place to their own liking and Spain did just that throughout its rule in the country, portraying the communities they conquered as primitive.
In this context, the natives who certainly already possessed their own beliefs and culture in 1521 must not have even understood and may have even frowned on the Spaniards’ Catholic rituals (the masses in Limasawa and Cebu and the teachings told to them) and preaching. There is no evidence decades after the remnants of Magellan’s fleet were driven out of the islands that the natives have become Christians and adhered to Catholicism.
Finally, the controversies. Tracing the route followed by Magellan using the description by the Spanish chronicler Pigafetta is tricky. Where the first mass was held, for example, has two claimants, Limasawa and Butuan, and has not been resolved with certainty.