History of Cebu

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 century Cebu then known as Zubu (or Sugbo) was an island inhabited by Hindus, Buddhists and animists ruled by Rajahs and Datus. It was a kingdom of the defunct Rajahnate of Cebu.

Rajahnate of Cebu. Image Courtesy of

The Rajahnate of Cebu was a native kingdom which used to exist in Cebu prior to the arrival of the Spaniards. It was founded by Sri ‘Lumay’ otherwise known as ‘Rajamuda Lumaya’, a half Malay and Half Tamil prince of the Chola dynasty which had invaded Sumatra in Indonesia. He was sent by the Maharajah to establish a base for expeditionary forces to subdue the local kingdoms, but he rebelled and established his own independent Rajahnate instead.

When East Meets West

Magellan led five ships. Image Courtesy of

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 Santo Niño was presented to the native queen of Cebu, as a symbol of peace and friendship between the Spaniards 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

Datu Lapu-Lapu. Image Courtesy of

Magellan soon heard of Datu Lapu-Lapu, a native king in nearby Mactan Island, a rival of the Rajahs of Cebu. It was thought that Humabon and Lapu-Lapu had been fighting for control of the flourishing trade in the area. On April 27, the Battle of Mactan occurred where the Spaniards were defeated and Magellan killed by the natives of Mactan in Mactan Island. According to Italian historian and chronicler, Antonio Pigafetta, Magellan’s body was never recovered despite efforts to trade for it with spice and jewels. 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 Universidad de San Carlos (University of San Carlos) was established and in 1860, Cebu opened its ports to foreign trade. The first printing house (“Imprenta de Escondrillas y Cia”) was established in 1873 and in 1880, the Colegio de la Inmaculada Concepcion (College of the Immaculate Conception) was established and the first periodical The Bulletin of Cebu (“El Boletin de Cebú”) began publishing in 1886. In 1898, the island was ceded to the United States after the Spanish–American War and Philippine–American War. In 1901, Cebu was governed by the United States for a brief period, however it became a charter province on February 24, 1937 and was governed independently by Filipino politicians.

Of Forts and Colonizations

Fort San Pedro. Image Courtesy of

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

World War II and Cebu. Image Courtesy of

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. The 3rd, 8th, 82nd and 85th Infantry Division of the Philippine Commonwealth Army was reestablished from 1942 to 1946 and the 8th Infantry Regiment of the Philippine Constabulary was reestablished again from 1944 to 1946 at the military general headquarters and the military camps and garrisoned in 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. Cebuano guerrilla groups led by an American, James Cushing is credited for the establishment of the Koga Papers which is said to have changed the American plans to retake the Philippines from Japanese occupation in 1944, by helping the combined United States and the Philippine Commonwealth Army forces enter Cebu in 1945. The following year the island achieved independence from colonial rule in 1946.

Cebu and Beyond

Fray Andres de Urdaneta and four other Augustinians. Image Courtesy of

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 Niñoproved 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. Traversing the path of time, CEBU has undertaken a lot already but despite that, it never failed to catch the attention of the travels, both foreign and local to get acquainted of its colorful past.
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