In early part of the sixteenth century, Spain was gradually becoming a global super power. Spanish innovations in the realms of seafaring and navigation had given new strength to their dreams of colonization. Towards the end of fifteenth century, Christopher Columbus set foot on the New World after being funded by the Spanish emperor. This was seen as the starting point of Spanish colonization. About 30 years after Columbus’ historic voyage another navigator named Ferdinand Magellan, who was also funded by the Spanish crown, discovered a passage that led from the southern tip of Americas to Asia. During his expedition, Magellan reached Philippines and tried to claim the land for Spanish crown. Although the arrival of Magellan was welcomed by most of island’s rulers, but Lapu-Lapu a local chief saw him as an enemy of the state.
There are two different sources for telling about the early life of Lapu-Lapu. One source claims that Lapu-Lapu was a warrior who came to Philippines from Borneo during the prosperous reign of Rajah Humabon and was quickly recognized for his bravery. In other source, Lapu-Lapu is depicted as the descendent of Datu Mangal, the chief of Mactan Islands. Some say he was the son of Datu Mangal, while others feel he was a niece of the chieftain.
One of the folklores depicts that Datu Mangal had supernatural powers. Once he lent a talisman to Captain Siliyo for one of his difficult trips. Captain had promised that the talisman would be returned after he returned. But the Captain did not keep his word, so Datu placed a curse and Captain Siliyo turned to stone. But before he turned to stone, the captain placed a counter curse on Datu. Datu Mangal quickly summoned Lapu-Lapu and informed him of a vision. In the vision Datu Mangal had seen the arrival of Spanish. Datu Mangal warned Lapu-Lapu against the impending danger and requested him to resist the Spanish at all costs.
Soon after, Magellan landed in 1521 and got himself involved in the local rivalries of rulers. He managed to secure the allegiance of some of these and sent troops to subdue the others. One of the most powerful chiefs of Philippines in those times was Rajah Humabon, ruler of Cebu. Close to the island of Cebu lay Mactan. This island was ruled by two rival chiefs – Zula and Lapu-Lapu. Zula was quick to swear an allegiance to the Spanish and agreed to pay tributes to them. But Lapu-Lapu remained defiant. His defiance made it impossible for Zula to send tributes to Magellan. So, Zula requested the Spanish to defeat Lupa-Lupa with his help. This caused the Battle of Mactan.
In the Battle of Mactan, Lapu-Lapu won an unexpected victory over the technologically superior Spanish. Magellan was confident of the Spanish supremacy and took 60 soldiers to the battle. When the Spanish ships reached Mactan Island, they could not land due to the shallow and rock coast. So, Magellan kept behind 11 soldiers to guard the ships. Lapu-Lapu with his count of 1500 men pounced on the Spanish who were still struggling the shallow water and rocky seabed. The Spanish artillery was of no use as Lupa-Lupa’s men were out of range. The Spanish soldiers were butchered and Zulu was captured. While Magellan was killed by a spear thrust into his faced during the battle, Lupa-Lupa personally executed Zulu. Some experts feel that the victory should be attributed to Lupa-Lupa’s military skills where the Spanish strengths were negated.
The defeat at the Battle of Mactan was a huge setback for the Spanish. Loss of so many soldiers meant that Spanish had to leave their aspirations of Philippines conquest. Some of them set sail towards India and others went to Indonesia. Thus, Lapu-Lapu saved Philippines from colonization. He is till date the folk hero of Philippines.