In December, I had my first visitor from the United States. My mom braved almost twenty four hours of travel to meet me in Cebu City, the Philippines’ first capital and the economic heart of the Central Visayas. With only one week’s vacation time between the two of us, a visit to my site up north in the mountains of Ifugao wasn’t going to be possible. The bus trip alone would carve two days off of our trip. Rather than run ourselves ragged, we decided it would be best to spend this time exploring a new place together. We chose Cebu as a fortuitous location for our long-awaited reunion—a perfect destination for both its rich cultural history and ease of access by airplane.
Wending through the gritty pre-dawn streets of Manila on the way to catch my flight to Cebu, I was feeling nervous about the meeting of our two worlds. Undoubtedly, my experience in Peace Corps has changed me. Would I be able to relate? Or would I be transformed, or damaged, or just plain haggard beyond recognition?
Upon greeting my mom in our luxurious hotel room (a parent’s budget allows for decadence unimaginable by penny-grubbing Peace Corps volunteers), I recognized that I had little to worry about. We had both changed, and this was normal. My mom had more “wisdom highlights” than I remembered and she revealed that she is planning to buy a new condo—too nervous to tell me over the phone that returning “home” in eight months might look a little different than expected. I’m sure she noticed some things have changed about me too—like how I ask for “service water” at restaurants or how I don’t bat an eye at waiting over an hour for an available taxi. We spent a wonderful week lounging in malls, getting foot massages, and taking in some of the beautiful sites that Cebu City and Bohol, another island in the Visayas, have to offer.I was surprised at the ease with which our two worlds converged and hope that she can manage to fit in another trip before my service is over!
In many ways, our “meeting of two worlds” in Cebu City was not without historical precedent. The city has long been a hotspot for cultural convergence. In fact, Cebu was the first region of the Philippines explored and colonized by the Spanish. However, it was not the Spanish alone who made their mark upon the native inhabitants of the Philippines living in Cebu. For centuries before the arrival of the first colonists, Chinese merchants traded their wares throughout the region and spread their cultural practices, as well as their goods and technologies. Much later, following the Spanish-American War and during World War II, Cebu would have to adapt to American and Japanese cultures while under foreign rule.
In honor of Blogging Abroad’s New Years Blog Challenge to write about global citizenship, I offer you this (very) brief history of one of the Philippines’ first entanglements in the increasingly complex web of connections and interdependencies that define our world. As stated earlier, the Philippines and its people have a long history of adapting to other cultures; I continue to encourage my family and friends in the States to learn more about the Philippines under American colonial rule—an often overlooked chapter of our own complicated and not-always-pretty history. However, centuries later, it appears as if the arrival of the Spanish in 1521 has borne the most dramatic impact on the Philippines’ culture, economy ,and societal values.
For now, enjoy this hasty historical timeline. I would like to thank the ever-trusty Wikipedia the background info. Time to start reading up on some of this history myself!
1521: Magellan Shows Up
The arrival of explorer Ferdinand Magellan in Cebu in 1521 marked the beginning of a centuries-long period of Spanish colonization in the Philippines. Although he was Portuguese by birth, Magellan sailed at the behest of King Charles I of Spain. Magellan’s mission was to find a new trade route to the Spice Islands by sailing west from Europe to Southeast Asia via the Americas and the Pacific Ocean. In March 1521, Magellan and his crew arrived in the Philippines and sailed onwards to Cebu City, which at the time was a kingdom ruled by Rajah Humabon.
“I Pledge Allegiance to the Spanish (And Jesus Christ)”
Through persuasive methods, Magellan and his expedition’s priests convinced the natives to pledge allegiance to King Charles I of Spain. This pledge to obey the mandates of King Charles I required conversion to Christianity. Around 700 islanders were baptized by Magellan’s priests. Rajah Humabon, his queen, and his family members were among the first to be baptized. The native queen of Cebu was presented with an icon of the Santo Niño, an image of the baby Jesus, as a symbol of peace and friendship between the Spaniards and the Cebuanos. On April 14th, 1521, Magellan erected a large wooden cross on the shores of Cebu to celebrate his conquering of the area.
Lapu Lapu vs. Magellan: The Fight for Mactan Island
Emboldened by the success of his initial religious conversions, Magellan sought to continue to use religion to bolster his trade forays into the Philippines. Rajah Humabon—now baptized as Don Carlos in honor of the Spanish king—advised Magellan of the longstanding rivalry between the rajahs of Cebu and Datu Lapu-Lapu, a native chieftan in nearby Mactan island. Magellan travelled to Mactan Island to try to force Lapu-Lapu into becoming a Christian, but the cheiftan was interested neither in converting nor ceding his power. On April 27, 1521, Magellan was killed in the Battle of Mactan when native soliders fiercly defended their home. Magellan’s body was never recovered. Today, Lapu-Lapu is honored as a Filipino hero for resisting colonizing forces.
Round #2: Forty Years Later (And for the Next 300+years)
Over forty years would pass before another Spanish explorer dared to establish a foothold in the Philippines. In 1564, Spanish explorers led by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi sailed from Mexico to establish a colony in Cebu. In 1565, the newly occupied territory—the first European settlement in the Philippines–was christened “Villa del Santísimo Nombre de Jesús” (Town of the Most Holy Name of Jesus). Spanish colonial rule in the Philippines saw the introduction of Christianity, the code of law, and the oldest modern university in Asia. The Philippines was ruled under the Mexico-based Viceroyalty of New Spain until Mexican independence. After which, the colony was directly governed by Spain.
Cebu and the rest of the Philippines would remain under Spanish control until 1898, when the territory was ceded to the United States following the Spanish-American War. American rule in the Philippines was not uncontested. The Philippine Revolution had begun in August 1896 against Spain, and after the defeat of Spain in the Battle of Manila Bay began again in earnest, culminating in the Philippine Declaration of Independence and the establishment of the First Philippine Republic. Following the annexation of the Philippines by the Americans, the Philippine–American War ensued, with extensive damage and death, and ultimately resulting in the defeat of the Philippine Republic
This post is part of Blogging Abroad’s 2017 New Years Blog Challenge.