"Here’s more of the essay by rising historian and diplomat, Raisa Mabayo."
Indeed, as we moved on from being a Spanish colony for over 300 years after the first Spanish settlement in the Philippines was set up in Cebu almost 40 years after Magellan’s death, there has been a palpable divergence in our storytelling. Early on, the hospitality shown after Magellan’s expedition landed in Homonhon Island was memorably recorded and even highlighted in the Pigafeta journal after the Cebu royal, Rajah Humabon and his wife, together with 800 of their followers were baptized by Magellan’s priest, Fr. Pedro Valderama immediately after they landed in the island from Homonhon. But that friendly tale receded into the background after Magellan’s death at the hands of Lapu-lapu and his fighters.
Then, 40 years after, the natives’ hospitality was again highlighted in the Spanish journals when another Cebu royal, Rajah Tupas, openly received Miguel Lopez de Legazpi who then set up the first Spanish settlement in the country in the island. Since then our rebellious side gained prominence in Spanish storytelling, becoming even more pronounced toward the end of the 19th century culminating in the 1896 revolution.
Mabayo’s article provides more fascinating details of such divergent story telling as she relates the many twists and turns of the complex relations of the Philippines and Spain. In this second part of the abridged version, the death of Magellan at the hands of Lapu-Lapu and native fighters is prominently mentioned as well as the discovery of artifacts dating way, way back in time before Magellan landed in the islands. Mabayo herself said that these discoveries and specially the uninterrupted use of the many (175 recorded so far) languages (dialects as the West pejoratively these) are the most telling facet of our identity as a people which should finally put the Western “discovery” story to rest. These and other stories of divergence in our story telling are printed below:
“Should you ask Spaniards what they know of how Magellan died, they would tell you that as taught in school, he died from a poisoned arrow. The emphasis on poison — in literature, a gendered weapon, associated with cowardice and the disempowered — alludes to the rejection of the narrative that a larger-than-life character like Magellan was killed by indigenous peoples living in a far-away land.
“In contrast, in the Philippines, Magellan’s arrival in the country is presented as the arrival of a foreign subjugator. Magellan’s story begins upon arrival, and quickly ends in his death at the hands of a local warrior. This credit has traditionally been given to Lapu-Lapu, though according to Pigafetta, it was a joint effort by native fighters.
“Constantly highlighting Magellan’s defeat has served as a persistent reminder of that first and rare victory against imperial Spain. This is rooted in Filipino nationalism that has largely been shaped by the colonial experience, and often meant the purging of foreigners from Philippine history textbooks. Unlike in Latin America, it is rare to find in the country a public monument of a non-religious, political, historical figure with Caucasian features.
“The divergence in our retelling of a single history brings to the fore what ought to be underscored by both countries as we mark the Spanish and Filipino encounter in 1521. This is a story that, in reaching 500 years, has been reborn in a number of iterations. The main versions should be explored and reconciled.
“From the Filipino perspective, it is important to recall crucial elements in this story that have often been overlooked in Western narratives in the past 500 years. When Magellan reached the archipelago, the islands were already home to societies with varying degrees of sophistication. Several ‘Datus’ who allied themselves with the Europeans were clearly operating on their own network of trade and familial relations that enabled them to interact with Magellan and his crew confidently. From the 10th to 13th centuries, the archipelago was home to societies that cultivated the talents of goldsmiths who crafted jewelry, regalia and other artifacts made from gold, to be discovered later in 20th century Surigao.
“Until recently, March 16, 1521 was often, aggravatingly, marked as the date of the ‘discovery’ of the Philippines. This fallacious, Western-centric phrasing has been repeated so many times in history textbooks that it will take several generations to expunge such language from educational materials. It would take longer to change the national mindset that the presentation of this event helped to mold. Arguably this has created a conviction of inferiority among generations of Filipinos, told through Western-oriented social science classes that their country was discovered by a European, and that their heritage began from that moment of discovery.
“Yet the ultimate evidence of the strength of Filipinos’ pre-colonial identity thrives to this day in the existence and uninterrupted use of Filipino languages. Unlike Latin America, the Philippines has never been a fully Spanish-speaking country. This is another thing, perhaps, that makes this country different from the rest of Spain’s former colonies.
“Remarkably, Pigafetta wrote a brief glossary of the Butuanon and Cebuano languages, with most of the words still widely used to this day by native speakers of those language. The fact is, after three centuries of Spanish, and almost half a century of American rule, the Philippines can count more than 175 languages. One may therefore argue that Spanish did not become a lingua franca because in the same way that Tagalog is not widely spoken outside of Luzon and parts of Mindanao dominated by Tagalog settlers, the local languages were more than sufficient in communicating effectively among each other.
“The Philippines is a country of passing conquerors and politics, but what remains constant through it all is its languages. Unlike the physical markers of culture, language is disaster-proof.
“It is important to note that the Philippines has only ever been independent for 120 years, versus the 333 years of Spanish rule from 1521-1898. There is so much in the Filipino psyche, language and traditions that come from Spain, unknown to Filipinos, as they’ve been entrenched so irrevocably in the modern Filipino way of life. It is also hard to speak of the Filipino-Spanish relationship without mention of Catholicism, which was wholeheartedly embraced by Filipinos much more so than the Spanish language.
“The scars of history are long and deep for both sides, but the 500-year-old ties that bind the Philippines and Spain are long, enduring, rich and very complex. Our understanding of these ties is certainly worth rediscovering and long overdue for updates.
“As Spain and the Philippines celebrate 500 years of knowing each other, it is important to take stock of the things that define this relationship and find relevance and common meaning from this crucial, watershed moment in world history. Understanding the reasons behind certain narratives through a pragmatic view of history will surely allow both to learn more from each other, and from there, further develop bilateral and people-to-people relations that are forward-looking but knowingly carry the burden and the glories of the past.
“Narratives, after all, can be deliberately shaped and both countries have to be precise and measured in coming up with new ones, as we celebrate the quincentenary of Philippine-Spanish encounter in two years’ time.”