(This is the conclusion of a three-part series that I wrote for The Freeman. This was published on September 1, 1993, with accompanying photos taken by photographer Tonee Despojo.This special report was spurred by archaeological finds in Camotes.–Candido O. Wenceslao)
Emie Carcellar was still a young man when the digging frenzy happened in their lot in Maktang, a nearshore village in barangay Esperanza, Poro, Cebu. The mystery of the artifacts and skeletons dug up hounded him even during the time when he pursued his studies in Manila.
He did some research of his own and solicited the opinion of persons he considered knowledgeable on the matter. But nothing much progressed and all the assumptions and initial theories never reached the level of being definite.
The main contention was that the battle of Mactan was waged on the shore of his village. One of the favorite arguments in support of this contention was that it took the Spanish conquistador Ferdinand Magellan and his men time to reach the island called Ma-tan, which was ruled by the chieftain Lapulapu.
So the battle site must have been far, Carcellar claimed. That would fit neatly with the claim that Maktang, Esperanza was the battle site.
But then, more conjectures have arisen out of the discovery of artifacts and skeletons in Poro than the mere proposition that the battle of Mactan happened in that island. For example, there are now claims that the area must have been the seat of a pre-historic settlement.
Many residents we talked with, some of them government officials, swear they have seen with their own eyes skulls with horns among the skeletons found in Maktang. Carcellar himself claimed that another skull seemed not to have any forehead. A Cro-Magnon man?
Many have considered the idea wild, preposterous even. But until experts go to the island and look closely at the artifacts and skeletons, then the coast is clear for people to make their own guesses.
Much of the information on the battle of Mactan comes from the writings of Antonio Pigafetta, who was with Magellan in his voyage to circumnavigate the globe in 1521. But even his narration of the events that led to the death of his “captain-general” has been questioned by some sectors who contend that he was killed by his own men in a mutiny.
Pigaffeta’s description of the island of Ma-tan leaves much to be desired. He merely referred to it as an island near Zubu and which “formed the port where we were anchored.” There were two chieftains in the island, Zula and Cilapulapu. In that island, too, was a village named Bulaia that the Spaniards earlier burned for refusing to do their bidding.
The battle apparently happened on a Saturday since it was on a Friday (April 26, 1521) that Zula sent one of his sons to present his gift to Magellan and at the same time to ask the Spaniards to help him fight Cilapulapu who refused to pay homage to the foreigners. Here, it might be of help to quote some of the passages in Pigafetta’s chronicles:
“We begged him repeatedly not to go, but he, like a good shepherd, refused to abandon his flock. At midnight, sixty of us set out armed with corselets and helmets, together with the Christian king, the prince, some of the chief men, and twenty or thirty balanghais. We reached Ma-tan three hours before dawn.”
The time element, like the one used by Carcellar in his arguments, is too vague to be used as a basis to conclude that Ma-tan is not in Mactan Island but in Maktang, Esperanza. The main problem here is the difference in time reckoning. For example, what constitutes “dawn” and “midnight”? Or what did Pigafetta mean when he said that they arrived three hours before dawn?
The description of the battle itself offers us only a little insight into what Mactan is. This has resulted in several arguments for or against the present area in Mactan which is believed to be the battle site:
“When morning came, forty-nine of us leaped into the water up to our thighs and walked through water for more than two crossbow flights before we could reach the shore. The boats could not approach nearer because of certain rocks in the water . . . When we reached land, those men had formed in three divisions to the number of more than one thousand five hundred persons.”
Here, both the description of the battle site and the number of men have become debatable to many historians. Pigafetta failed to note the vegetation, for example the mangroves wthat abound in Mactan island.
Some point out that the number of warriors, pegged at 1,500, is an exaggeration, since chieftains during that time could not have gathered more than 500 men, especially in the present Mactan island.
Prof. Resil Mojares, director of the Cebuano Studies Center of the University of San Carlos, refuses to believe that the Battle of Mactan happened in Maktang, Esperanza saying that present data would tend to show that Mactan island is the most probable site. In his book, Casa Gorodo in Cebu, there is shown Pigafetta’s map of Cebu in 1521 which showed Mactan to be in the middle of Zubu and Bohol.
But Mojares admitted that there might have existed in Poro an old settlement dating as far back as the pre-Spanish times. But he hastened to add that the existence of such a settlement should not be linked with the Battle of Mactan. Apparently, the evidence in favor of Maktang, Esperanza as the battlesite could not yet outweigh the preponderance of data favoring Mactan island.
If so, what then?
Mojares advanced the possibility that Lapulapu, after the death of Magellan, might have transferred his settlement to another island, either in Poro or Leyte. This supposition was based on oral traditions especially in Leyte that implied that Lapulapu’s settlement existed in their own place.
Another interesting conjecture is contained in a thesis presented by Heide Gloria wherein it was argued that Lapulapu’s community was a Lutao or an orang laut. A 17th century Spanish writer, Francisco Combes, described a Lutao community thus:
“They know no other house than a ship. In their villages, they built their homes in places which the low tide exposed. Since they are so slightly attached to land, they easily move to other parts. They know no other abode than the sea…”
It was also pointed out that Lutaos “were known to migrate throughout the whole archipelago, especially along the coasts, the mouths of streams, and the wide strand and mangrove swamp areas.” Tee houses and villages that they built along the coasts were said to serve mainly as assembly points and not permanent residences.
If Lapulapu was a Lutao, then it would not be hard for him to transfer his settlement elsewhere, preferably in a sheltered land to free himself from the possible reprisal from the Spaniards. In this case, Maktang, Esperanza, blocked from the south where Cebu is located by the island of San Francisco, is an ideal site.
The theory, if proven correct, would also mean that Lapulapu would name his new settlement like that of the old, which is in this case, Maktang. Here, the significance of the find in Camotes would become definitely greater. For who could not discount the possibility that Lapulapu, the faceless hero of the Filipinos, died and was buried there?
Note also that Raia Siaui, who was the visitor of Raia Colambu in Mazaua, might also be a Lutao judging from the description made of transportation, the balanghai’s, which are bigger and more powerful than the ordinary boloto (baroto). And Siaui, a king, had three spots of gold on each tooth reflecting his social status.
If Raia Siaui, king of Butuan and Calagan, was not buried in Maktang, then who owned the teeth with three spots of gold? Pigafetta himself had never seen nor described Lapulapu. Is it possible then that he, too, had spots of gold in his teeth befitting a king of the Lutao’s?
And more importantly, did the diggers in Maktang, Esperanza finally stumbled upon the most important find of all which is the grave of the chieftain Lapulapu?
TIME TO ACT
It is heartening to note that the municipal government of Poro has finally taken cognizance of the need to preserve the remaining artifacts and stop further diggings. An ordinance is in place banning the operation of treasure hunters searching for pre-Spanish artifacts.
Poro Councilor Ronald Carcellar, chairman of the council’s committee on tourism, has solicited the help of PB member Agnes Magpale, chairman of the committee on tourism of the provincial board and PB representative of the fifth district where Camotes belongs.
Carcellar also asked the Gonzaga family and the others who still have in their possession the different artifacts not to dispose them but keep them until a study will be completed. Magpale herself has requested experts to look into the find in Camotes.
Vice-Mayor Valeriano Rosauro has also promised to look deeper into the issue. As the presiding officer of the Municipal council, he is expecting that more legislative measures will be enacted to aid further investigations on the diggings.
Poro Mayor Isaar Rama suggested that a fence be set up in the road leading to Maktang to prevent treasure hunters from clandestinely doing their thing in the area despite the ban. But since the Municipal Government do not have the funding for it, the mayor is calling on the provincial government to extend its help to them.
The most important step to be taken, however, is for the National Historical Commission or similar agencies to send their experts to Camotes and start looking into the matter. It is a fact that aside from mediamen , nobody from the provincial or municipal government have as yet taken the significance of the find seriously.
Beyond the historical significance however is the fact that Poro, like the other municipalities in the Camotes group of islands, has remained backward and largely neglected by the provincial and national governments. It doesn’t need but a second look for visitors in the island to find out this truth.
“Perhaps with this development, our national leaders will finally rediscover us, will finally find out that there exists a municipality called Poro. And then, hopefully, the will finally give us all the attention we needed for quite a long time now,” the mayor said.