When traveling to Cebu, one cannot help but marvel on the rich culture and history this island in the south have.
Being the Queen City of the South, this quaint and humble island rose from being a humble fishing village with a vast waterfront to a bustling hub of commerce and trade. From its sky rise buildings to its fine white sand beaches to its marvelous mountains and ridges, to its rich underwater reefs teeming with biodiversity and marine life, ever wondered how it came about?
Rajahnate of Cebu [Pre Spanish Colonial Era]
Between the 13th and 16th centuries, Hindus, Buddhists, and animists inhabited the island of Cebu, then known as Zubu (or Sugbo). Rajahs and Datus ruled over the island during this time. It was a kingdom of the defunct Rajahnate of Cebu.
The Rajahnate of Cebu was a native kingdom which used to exist in Cebu prior to the arrival of the Spaniards. Sri ‘Lumay,’ also known as ‘Rajamuda Lumaya,’ a prince of the Chola dynasty with both Malay and Tamil heritage, founded it. The Chola dynasty had invaded Sumatra in Indonesia.
The Maharajah sent him to establish a base for expeditionary forces to subdue the local kingdoms, but instead, he rebelled and established his own independent Rajahnate.
When East Meets West
On September 20, 1519, Magellan led five ships with a crew of 250 people from the Spanish fort of Sanlúcar de Barrameda en route to Southeast Asia via the Americas and Pacific Ocean. They reached the Philippines on March 16, 1521. Rajah Kolambu the king of Mazaua told them to sail for Cebu, where they could trade and have provisions.
Arriving in Cebu City, Magellan, with Enrique of Malacca as translator, befriended Rajah Humabon the Rajah or King of Cebu and persuaded the natives of allegiance to Charles I of Spain. Humabon and his wife were given Christian names and baptized as Carlos and Juana.
The Spaniards presented the Santo Niño to the native queen of Cebu as a symbol of peace and friendship between them and the Cebuanos. On April 14, Magellan erected a large wooden cross on the shores of Cebu. Afterwards, about 800 islanders were baptized.
Battle of Mactan
Magellan soon heard of Datu Lapu-Lapu, a native king in nearby Mactan Island, a rival of the Rajahs of Cebu. People thought that Humabon and Lapu-Lapu were fighting for control of the flourishing trade in the area. On April 27, the natives of Mactan in Mactan Island defeated the Spaniards, and the natives killed Magellan in the Battle of Mactan.
According to Italian historian and chronicler, Antonio Pigafetta, despite efforts to trade for it with spice and jewels, they never recovered Magellan’s body. Magellan’s second in command, Juan Sebastián Elcano took his place as captain of the expedition and sailed their fleet back to Spain, circumnavigating the world.
Survivors of the Magellan expedition brought tales of a savage island in the East Indies with them when they returned to Spain. Consequently, several Spanish expeditions were sent to the islands but all ended in failure.
In 1564, Spanish explorers led by Miguel López de Legazpi sailing from Mexico arrived in 1565 and established a colony. The Spaniards fought the King, Rajah Tupas, and occupied his territories.
Cebu became the first European settlement established by the Spanish Cortés in the Philippines. In 1595, the University of San Carlos established itself, and in 1860, Cebu opened its ports to foreign trade.
The first printing house, ‘Imprenta de Escondrillas y Cia,’ came into existence in 1873. In 1880, they established the College of the Immaculate Conception, and in 1886, they began publishing the first periodical, ‘The Bulletin of Cebu’ (‘El Boletin de Cebú’).
In 1898, the United States acquired control of the island after the Spanish–American War and the Philippine–American War. Then, in 1901, the United States briefly governed Cebu. However, on February 24, 1937, Cebu became a charter province and was independently governed by Filipino politicians.
Of Forts and Colonizations
Within the old city lies the oldest and smallest fort in the country: Fort San Pedro. As Spain intensified its colonization efforts, indignant islanders showed opposition by way of intermittent attacks against the colonizers. The rebellion paved the way to the construction of Fort San Pedro, a Spanish military stronghold.
American Era and Cebu
The Filipino-American war between Filipino revolutionaries and the United States that lasted from 1899 to 1902 resulted in the American colonization of the Philippines. Cebu was placed under control by American forces in 1901.
During the American colonial period, Cebu grew and expanded as the Americans improved and built new public works infrastructure like roads, bridges, public utilities, ports, and they also developed the public educational system. The American built civic buildings like the Cebu Capitol and the Rizal Library, which can still be seen today.
Cebu also became an important regional commerce and trade center in Asia. Cebu City became a charter city in 1936 and the island became a chartered province in February 1937.
World War II and Cebu
Cebu also served as a Japanese base during their occupation in World War II which began with the landing of Japanese soldiers in April 1942.
From 1942 to 1946, the Philippine Commonwealth Army reestablished the 3rd, 8th, 82nd, and 85th Infantry Divisions, while the Philippine Constabulary reestablished the 8th Infantry Regiment from 1944 to 1946. These military units stationed themselves at the military general headquarters and camps, garrisoning Cebu City and Cebu Province.
They started the Anti-Japanese military operations in Cebu from April 1942 to September 1945 and helped Cebuano guerrillas and fought against the Japanese Imperial forces. Almost three years later in March 1945, combined Filipino and American forces landed and reoccupied the island during the liberation of the Philippines.
An American named James Cushing led Cebuano guerrilla groups credited with establishing the Koga Papers. In 1945, these papers reportedly altered American plans to reclaim the Philippines from Japanese occupation in 1944 by aiding the combined forces of the United States and the Philippine Commonwealth Army in entering Cebu.
The following year the island achieved independence from colonial rule in 1946.
Cebu and Beyond
In April 1965, the entire Christian world focused its attention on Cebu City, considered as the cradle of Christianity in the Far East as it played host to the 400th Anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines.
The celebration highlighted the contributions of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and Fray Andres de Urdaneta in proselytizing Christianity by way of establishing a Spanish settlement in the province.
In a country where Catholics predominate, the conferment of the San Agustin Church to the title Basilica Minore del Santo Niño proved to be a momentous occasion as Rome sent its representative Papal Legate, His Eminence Ildefonso Cardinal Antonuitte.
Time, war and circumstance paved the way in changing the not just the historical but as well the cultural landscape of Cebu. CEBU has undertaken a lot already while traversing the path of time, but despite that, it has never failed to capture the attention of travelers, both foreign and local, eager to acquaint themselves with its colorful past.