Muslim History and the Quincentennial

Posted on 05 September 2021
By Rene R. Escalante

After the Battle of Mactan on April 27, 1521, the remaining crew of the Magellan-Elcano expedition had a realization: to behave and be courteous to local culture and custom. The King of Spain made it an instruction to Ferdinand Magellan—but the latter failed and he died because of hubris, pride, and ego. It caused the expedition almost hopelessness—because after the victory of our ancestors against Magellan, on May 1, 1521, more Spanish officials and key personalities were killed in Cebu. It virtually incapacitated the expedition because among the casualties were their astronomer, as the voyage back then relied heavily on the constellations. Their Asian translator, Enrique de Malacca, escaped from the expedition.

Armed Iranun of the Moro Gulf (far left) and sultan ng Sulu (left and upper right), from Frank Marryat’s Borneo and the Indian Archipelago (1848). California Digital Library

What the expedition did was to island-hop. They followed whatever landmass towards the equator they saw, as Magellan left them a clue that their objective—the Spice Island or the Maluku—lies above the equator. They reached the ancient settlement of Kipit, ascertained by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines or NHCP as the present-day Kipit, Labason, Zamboanga de Norte. They behaved, as expected, and were received as friends by the local ruler, Rajah Calanao. From Kipit, the expedition followed again northward route. In the middle of the Sulu Sea was an island named Cagayan, which was later renamed as Mapun, now under the jurisdiction of the Province of Tawi-Tawi. Once again, the expedition showed respect to the Muslim inhabitants, described as battle-ready and courageous people. This was how your place became part of the epic journey of circumnavigating the planet for the first time.

To be clear, this historical marker we just unveiled is not meant to celebrate the arrival of Magellan nor the coming of the Spaniards. We are highlighting through it the voice long forgotten, both in our national and world history—and that voice was that our Muslim ancestors in Mapun had a significant contribution in the achievement of science and humanity in proving that our home planet was indeed round. We are actually taking advantage of the global commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the first circumnavigation of the world to advance our national cause—and that is to correct the misconceptions that our ancestors were savages, uncultured, primitive, and uncivilized. The Mapun episode is among the thirty-four quincentennial milestones and should not be confused with the 500th anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines. The government-led quincentennial milestones are historical, cultural, and academic in nature.

May this historical marker bring gladness to the Muslim Filipinos, that you are part of our shared history. The pandemic and the monsoon prevented us to unveil this historical marker a number of times—but our zeal to honor our ancestors is resolute.


Message read during the unveiling of the Quincentennial Historical Markers for Mapun, Tawi-Tawi on 6 September 2021. It was the 19th of the 34 Quincentennial Historical Markers. Check out the interactive map of the Philippine route of the first circumnavigation of the world here []


About the Author

Rene R. Escalante, Ph.D. is the Chairperson of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines and concureently the Executive Director of the National Quincentennial Committee.

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