500 Years of Christianity: Magellan, Not An Explorer, But A Colonizer


Mildred German 


Updated: April 29, 2021, 4:40 P.M.

It was on April 27, exactly 500 years ago, when Datu LapuLapu and his warriors killed Portuguese colonizer Ferdinand Magellan (Fernão de Magalhães).

This remarkable historical event not only highlights the battle of the natives of the archipelago against the expansion of the Spanish colonial rule, but also marks the arrival of the Roman Catholic Church. To this day, many believe Magellan was an explorer and a missionary for propagating the Roman Catholic faith, and thus remain celebrated as such.

However, much that is not known is when Magellan arrived in the archipelago in 1521, he also became involved in many warfares among the tribal kingdoms he encountered.

Magellan and his crew sighted the mountains of what is now Samar marking the first arrival of the first documented Europeans in the archipelago. The Waray Waray people were the first peoples sighted by the Europeans, when Magellan ordered his men to anchor their ships on the shores of Homonhon Island on March 16, 1521.

There, Magellan met Rajah Kolambu and Rajah Siagu, King of Limasawa (an island municipality in the province of Southern Leyte), who then guided him to Cebu. In Cebu, Magellan and his men met Rajah Humabon, the Rajah of Cebu. Later, Rajah Humabon and his queen were baptized into the Roman Catholic faith.

Magellan’s influence in Cebu grew when he befriended Rajah Humabon. Humabon ordered the nearby chiefs to provide food supplies for Magellan’s ships, and to convert to Catholicism. Most of the chiefs in Cebu obeyed, however Datu LapuLapu (one of the two chieftains of Mactan along with Datu Zula) refused to accept the authority of Rajah Humabon .

Rajah Humabon and Datu Zula then suggested to Magellan to approach Datu Lapulapu himself to comply with his orders. Magellan saw this as an opportunity to strengthen his influence in the Visayan region as he would also be helping to subdue the disobedient LapuLapu.


As a colonizer, Magellan and his men attacked Mactan more than once, including the order to set fire to the houses, burning them to the ground, enraging the natives more.

“Seeing that, Magellan sent some men to burn their houses in order to terrify them. When they saw their houses burning, they were roused to greater fury. Some of our men were killed near the houses, while we burned twenty or thirty houses,” wrote Antonio Pigafetta, an Italian historian and Magellen’s official chronicler of the expedition.

In the battle, Lapulapu’s warriors overwhelmed and killed Magellan and his men. Those who survived retreated back to the ships including Pigafetta, but were unable to retrieve Magellan’s body, which was recovered by the warriors. Rajah Humabon ordered LapuLapu to return the bodies of Magellan and his men, but LapuLapu refused.

The Battle of Mactan is a very significant event. However, the island where the Battle of Mactan might have taken place sparked debates. Oral traditions dictate that the island where the Battle of Mactan might have taken place is Poro Island, in the northeast instead. (Poro Island is an island in the province of Cebu, located east of Cebu Island and west of Leyte Island.)

It is noteworthy that it was April 21 when Magellan planted the cross in Cebu to signify the propagation of the Roman Catholic Church.  Six days later,  Magellan died in the battle with the hesitant natives, marking the historical battle known as the archipelago’s first documented battle against European colonists and Spanish colonial rule.

Five hundred years later, the Battle of Mactan keeps inspiring generations of Filipinos in the fight for soverienty and freedom from foreign  rule.

Art by Kill Joy
Art by Kill Joy. (Thanks to Sobey Wing, Facebook)
The Battle of Mactan (Cebuano: Gubot sa Mactan; Filipino: Labanan sa Mactan) was a fierce clash fought in the Philippines on 27 April 1521. The warriors of Lapulapu, one of the Datus of Mactan, overpowered and defeated a Spanish force fighting for Rajah Humabon of Cebu under the command of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who was killed in battle. The outcome of the battle resulted in the departure of the Spanish crew from the archipelago, and delayed the Spanish colonization of the Philippines by 44 years until the conquest by Miguel López de Legazpi in 1564–1565.

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