Lapulapu in the Eyes of our Heroes

Posted on 21 October 2019
By Xiao Chua

It is correct to say that Lapulapu was not a Filipino because of the fact that the “Philippines” had not yet existed at that point in history, and if it had, he would be the first one to defy its formation. But in the last half of the 19th century, our heroes took the name “Filipino” as their own and as a collective name for the hundred-plus Philippine cultural communities (e.g., Cebuano, Maranao, Ilokano, Ivatan) that existed in the country. The “Philippine” territory became the space imagined by the Katipunan to be freed and made sovereign in 1896. In 1898, the Philippines arose as an independent nation.

Before achieving our nationhood, our heroes had picked from the garden of the past the fruits of the triumphs, valor, and sacrifices of our ancestors and forebears. A part of those fruits was our collective memory of the Victory at Mactan in 1521 fought and won by our ancestors under the leadership of Lapulapu. And because Lapulapu was in the memory of the founders of our nation, he became Filipino.

Çilapulapu of Pigafetta

As recorded by Antonio Pigafetta, chronicler of Ferdinand Magellan, the name of the leader of our ancestors in the Battle of Mactan was Çilapulapu. This is also how Lapulapu’s name is spelled in various old publications on the Magellan-Elcano expedition and in Magellan’s biography written by German Stefan Zweig, Magellan—Der Mann und seine Tat in 1938.

Rizal’s Si Lapulapu

Based on the research of the scholar Vicente Calibo de Jesus, it was Carlo Amoreti, former administrator of the Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, Italy, who theorized that the “Çi” in Lapulapu’s name was an honorific title of a nobleman.

Likewise, according to the research of reformist Trinidad H. Pardo de Tavera, “Çi” came from the Sanskrit “Sri” or gentleman. The said title was indigenized as “Si” which was present as well in the names of other historic personalities, such as Siaiu, Sicatuna of Bohol, Si Ache also known as Rajah Matanda of Maynila, and Si Bunao or Lakan Dula of Tondo. This title was a vestige of Indian influence in our ancestors’ society.

In his 1890 annotation to the work Antonio de Morga’s Sucesos de la Islas Filipinas, the reformist Jose Rizal introduced the name “Si Lapulapu.” However, Rizal failed to explain the linguistic context of the name.

Meanwhile, in a letter to Rizal dated 8 November 1890, Juan Luna, also a reformist, used the name “Si Lapulapu.” In that letter, Luna wanted to give Rizal a sketch of the “death of Magellan” which, according to Luna, was “a very important event in our history.” “If I give it the title ‘La Muerte de Magallanes’ [Death of Magellan] it will be an admiring homage to this great man,” according to Luna. He further added that, “I want it to be ‘Victoria de Si Lapulapu y huida de los españoles’ [Victory of Lapulapu and Flight of the Spaniards],” if not only “every silly fellow will criticize it and the painter and poor citizen will be pushed to a wall.”

Oviedo’s Kalipulako

However, other contemporaries of Rizal and Luna called Lapulapu as Kalipulako. According to de Jesus, the earliest occurrence of Kalipulako is in Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdez’s Historia de las Indias of 1557, 36 years after the Battle of Mactan. Among Oviedo’s respondents was Juan Sebastian Elcano, the head of the expedition successor which followed the Magellan-Elcano expedition. Because Oviedo’s work is not a primary source, it contains some factual errors such as locating the Easter Sunday Mass in Cebu instead of in Mazaua. In 1604, Fr. Prudencio de Sandoval’s Historia de la vida y hechos del Emperador Carlos V used another variant of the name, Calipulapo.

In his research, Copper Sturgeon stumbled the name Cali Pulaco in a 1614 poem by a Chinese mestizo named Carlos Calao for Magellan. It is entitled “Que Dios le perdone” (That God May Forgive Him) and here the Mactan ruler is branded as a traitor.
According to de Jesus, from Calipulaco originated the invented names Qari Pulako and Kaliph Pulaka, which are styled as Muslim to make Lapulapu appears as a Muslim hero. This, despite the fact that in Pigafetta’s chronicle Mactan was not described as being Muslim in 1521.

On the other hand, another reformist, Mariano Ponce, used Kalipulako as his penname in the Reform Movement newsletter, La Solidaridad. Kalipulako also appeared as the name of Lapulapu in Emilio Jacinto’s “¡¡Gising na, mga tagalog!!” on 23 October 1895. In the article, Jacinto extols the greatness and valor of his countrymen, to wit:

¿Saan na napatungu ang dugu ni Kalipulako (sic. Lapulapu), ang masiglang hari ng Maktan, niyaong pinatay niya ang lilong si Magallanes?

(Where has the blood of Lapulapu, the jubilant king of Mactan, flowed, after he killed the liar Magellan).

Even during the proclamation of Philippine independence on 12 June 1898 in Kawit, Cavite, our heroes recalled: “the attack initiated by Ferdinand Magellan in Cebu… before he was killed by the forces of King Kalipulako in Mactan in a battle that happened in the shores of Cebu.”

Lapulapu in 2021

In the comprehensive plan submitted to President Rodrigo Roa Duterte in January 2019, the National Quincentennial Committee (NQC) recommended the use of the name “Lapulapu,” with the consent of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP). In fact, in 1951, Lapulapu was engraved on the historical marker of the Philippine Historical Committee (forerunner of the NHCP). The NQC and the NHCP opted to standardize the name of Lapulapu in light of the proposal to rename the Mactan-Cebu International Airport as Lapulapu International Airport or Lapulapu-Cebu International Airport.

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