June 5, 2004  (STAR) (PHOTO AT RIGHT: GOING FOR THE RECORD - Filipina model Bianca Valerio displays a five-foot-tall hairstyle — which she hopes will make it to the Guinness Book of World Records — at the Philippine Tourism Authority pavilion in Intramuros, Manila yesterday. - Photo by Val Rodriguez)

Battle of Mactan brought to the fore Filipino martial arts

(BULLETIN) By DON JOSE DION D. DIAZ (Deputy-General Manager, Philippine Tourism Authority; an Arnis Guru)


Panay, the central Philippine island can be considered the place where the Filipino art of kali, the techniques of which are structured around the use of the kalis sword (also phonetically spelled keris and kris), were originally structured and developed. From early childhood, the Bornean inhabitants of Panay were said to have learned the art of weaponry, which included the blowgun (sumpit), bow and arrow (busog at pana), spear (sibat), daggers (balaraw), serpentine-shaped swords (kris), leaf-shaped swords (barong), and long, dual-pointed swords (kampilan). These warriors were also trained to carry handheld circular shields (taming) and make and wear various sorts of armor (pakil) made of carabao hides, cotton, knotted hemp, and woven rattan.


In 1800, Don Baltazar Gonzales wrote De Los Delitos (Of the Crimes). In this book, Gonzales credits Datu Mangal with bringing the art of kali to Mactan Island. Through constant struggle and wars with neighboring islands, Mangal’s son, Rajah Lapu-lapu (a.k.a. Tanday Lupalupa) developed a fighting system called pangamut. According to Gonzales, pangamut consisted of six slashes (i.e. to the head, chest, and kidneys – both left and right sides), and two thrusts (i.e., to the face and abdominal region). In the sixteenth century, Lapulapu and Rajah Humabon, the son of Sri Bantug Lumay, began to quarrel. Tensions were rising and battle was imminent when Lapulapu accused Humabon of wrongfully taking land that belonged to his father. This battle, however, never occurred as the Philippines was unexpectedly visited by the trading vessels of Spain.

The Spanish methods of employing the rapier and dagger was taken to the Philippines in 1521 by way of ships of the Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan. Magellan, sailing under the flag of Spain was in search of a westward route across the Pacific, but was killed soon after his arrival in the Philippines at the battle of Mactan.

On Saturday, March 17, 1521, Ferdinand Magellan’s ship came across an archipelago unknown to the Western world. He docked off the coast of what is now known as the island of Samar. On March 18, he made the acquaintance of Rajah Kolambu, the chief of Samar, as well as Rajah Humabon, the chief of Cebu. He converted them to Catholicism and a short-lived Spanish allegiance. Rajah Humabon, anxious to take advantage of this new situation, convinced Magellan to agree to conquer Mactan Island on April 26, and offer it to the Rajah as a token of friendship. Armed with their kampilan (long, dual-pointed cutlass), sibat (spears), sinugba sa apoy (sticks hardened in fire), and kalasag (protective shields), Lapulapu’s mandirigma (warriors) repelled these invaders, killing Magellan in the low tide that forced him into a hand-to-hand battle instead of a ship-based bombardment of the island. Pigafeta described the battle that followed:

“Our large pieces of artillery which were in the ships could not help us, because they were firing at too long range, so that we continued to retreat for more than a good crossbow flight from the shore, still fighting, and in water up to our knees. And they followed us, hurling poisoned arrows four and six times; while, recognizing the captain, they turned toward him in-as-much as twice they hurled arrows very close to his head. But as a good captain and a knight he still stool fast with some others, fighting thus for more than an hour. And as he refused to retire further, an Indian threw a bamboo lance in his face, and a captain immediately killed him with his lance, leaving it in his body. Then, trying to lay his hands on his sword, he could draw it out but halfway, because of a wound from a bamboo lance that he had in his arm. Which seeing, all those people threw themselves on him, and one of them with a large javelin thrust it into his left leg, whereby he fell face downward. On this all at once rushed upon him with lances of iron and bamboo and with these javelins, so that they slew our mirror, our light, our comfort, and our true guide.”

Although the battle of Mactan establishes Spain’s “Western discover” of the Philippines…. the historical importance of Filipino martial arts has been brought to the fore!

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved