Cebu Urban Legend: The Curse of Lapulapu the Archer

We often see Lapulapu with his large kampilan and shield in various photos, illustrations, films, and monuments and it would be quite outrageous to se


Editor's Note: Urban legends are tall tales that emerged from stories shared in small circles that eventually grow to a point it gains a life of their own. With little or no supporting evidence, these stories are somewhat based on real events but often intertwined with outright lies and half-truths. Usually, these are passed down to the next generation where they evolved to describe certain elements of horror, humor, and even morality.

For many of us Filipinos, Lapulapu is a national hero as he's considered one of the most recognizable figures in Philippine history. It was he who led a band of warriors in Mactan to defeat the first Western attempt to colonize the region, which further delayed Spanish colonization by almost half a century. In our collective consciousness, it was he who vanquished the Portuguese navigator (serving the Spanish flag) Fernão de Magalhães in that famous battle. However, Lapulapu's origins and life story remain shrouded in mystery as urban myths and legends were later attributed to him.

We often see Lapulapu with his large kampilan and kalasag in various photos, illustrations, films, and monuments and it would be quite outrageous to see him with a bow and arrow. Yet there was a time when his monument would have been different if the original design was used.

The Story

The 20-meter bronze statue of Lapulapu in Punta Engaño is the most notable relic that paid homage to the native hero. It's only a few meters away from the monument of his vanquished enemy, where it stood since 1866. If Magalhães already had his own monument, why did it take 400 years before Lapulapu got his own?

According to Ahmed Cuizon, the first attempt to build a Lapulapu statue was in 1917 and it took 16 more years before the controversial Lapulapu the archer statue was constructed. Something may have prevented them from building it earlier. Maybe it was not possible when the Spaniards were still around. If you come to think of it, it wouldn't have prevented them when the Americans were already in charge right? In fact, the Americans even acknowledged the historicity of Magalhães' death in Mactan.


The plans for erecting his statue were realized when his likeness armed with a bow and arrow was finally constructed on December 31, 1933. It may have been influenced by old illustrations and engravings that showed natives armed with bows and arrows attacking the Spaniards. It is interesting to point out that the Lapulapu archer statue has its arrow pointed toward the direction of the old Opon municipal hall across the town plaza.

Soon three mayors died in succession and people have started to attribute these deaths to the Lapulapu statue. Was there more to the statue that caused such deaths? Is there a curse to befall them?


Well, it didn't take long when town mayor Mariano Dimataga assumed the chief executive post in 1938 and a modification of the statue was needed to finally kill the curse once and for all. The photo on top was reportedly taken in 1939 so that was perhaps the last time the archer version of the Lapulapu monument was seen. The bow and arrow were replaced with a staff or club.

The Myth and Legend

As much as we all want to believe Lapulapu's historical existence, there are a lot of myths and legends that have been shared and perpetuated across time. There is a secret oral history about the hero passed down by his purported "descendants."

The Superhuman and his 'Alho'

There was this mythical Datu Mangal, said to be his father, who asked him to make an alho out of a biyanti and hurl it against a coconut tree. If the pestle pierces the trunk then it goes to show that there is a good omen. Meaning, that he won't be defeated in the upcoming battle against the Spaniards and their Sugbuanon allies. This folk tradition was perpetuated as Lapulapu did the unthinkable and pierced the coconut trunk with his alho. Furthermore, Lapulapu landed a killing blow on the Magalhães with his alho and not the poisoned arrow that Pigafetta has written about.


Alho is a pestle or wooden club that is used to pound rice. One of the local chieftains who looked up to Lapulapu was the ruler of present-day Marigondon was Bali Alho, someone who could break the pestle with his bare hands effortlessly. Another leader named Bugto Pasan was known to have broken sturdy vines like pieces of string. In present-day Pusok, the chief Sagpang Baha had the strength of slapping onrushing floodwaters. There was Datu Umindig of present-day Agus, who beats other chieftains in wrestling bouts.

All these mythical chieftains bow down on Lapulapu because of his physical prowess and supernatural powers thanks to his anting-anting.

The Archer 'Theory'

There have been a lot of versions of the Lapulapu story aside from the iconic kampilan-kalasag combo he used. Some versions show his men using bows and arrows while other skirmishers were using battle axes, hardened alhos, sharpened bamboo spears, and some throwing stones at the invaders. You have to understand that using kampilans would have been costly for this society since they have to trade a lot of goods to acquire iron or bronze that they can use to forge metal weaponry.

Using bows and arrows is the most cost-effective way of building up their arsenal against any potential invaders. Pre-colonial Filipinos tend to build strong fortresses called kota or moog to protect their communities from Moro raiders and other hostile neighbors. It usually consisted of raised earthworks with wooden palisade along the top and then surrounded by a ditch or moat. Bamboo towers were constructed along the coast and manned by archers with longbows.

The inhabitants of Mactan may have built bamboo towers along the shore to keep track of every ship that passes by their territory. They may have prepared long enough before the Spanish started rowing into the shore. The idea of archers firing at will against the invaders is more likely.


Variations of the story emerged as a way to cover up the canonical story. Portraying a heroic character (whether it's Lapulapu or Magalhães, depending on the perspective) would mean fighting the enemy in a swashbuckling duel with swords. However, the poisoned arrow wound remains the cause of death as mentioned in major historical contexts.

The tide may have played a role in the death of Magalhães as it prevented the ship from providing accurate artillery support to the stranded lumbering Spaniards on the shore. The rocky shore coupled with coral reefs made it difficult to walk at all. The weather may have forced them to shed their leg armor so they can maneuver on the sandy beach so it opened the possibility that they will potentially get hit by arrows. 


Pigafetta has described Lapulapu as 'viejo,' at about 60-70 years old, a wise and expected elder. That means the image would clash with the popular belief of an agile and fierce warrior. However, it doesn't mean he can't wield his weapons effectively. It is also unlikely for Lapulapu to use a bow and arrow since only low-ranking warriors or slaves can use them.

As none of the battle accounts mentioned Lapulapu as a direct participant. It is highly probable that he may have been in the background doing all the strategizing and commanding his men while also monitoring the progress of the pitched battle. He may have entered the fray when the coast is clear and chopped off the head of the enemy leader.

The Mysterious Death of Town Mayors

If Egyptian mummies caused a lot of deaths from unlucky explorers, it is said that the first Lapulapu monument caused mysterious deaths as well. Maybe Magalhães is trapped on the island and he's trying to get back on Filipinos after he was killed by Lapulapu and his warriors 500 years ago!

When the statue was unveiled in 1933, Opon Municipal President Rito de la Serna suddenly died on March 30, 1934, according to the "Bag-ong Kusog" newspaper. The article, written by Primo Alvez and published on May 13, 1938, went to mention that his successors have also died mysterious deaths with Simeon Amodia on August 20, 1935, and cousin Gregorio de la Serna on October 27, 1935. Surely, there must have been a coincidence with their passing.


Gossips and urban legends took root as residents blamed the statue for their deaths as they were shot by Lapulapu himself as the heroic chieftain never died and went to the depths of the sea.

Vice Mayor Fortunato Mata has avoided the same fate as the previous town executives who died but he almost did and blamed the supposed curse on his ill health.

By the time Mariano Dimataga took office, he ordered the removal of the bow and arrow from the Lapulapu statue on January 15, 1938. Based on the folk traditions, the alho will be the replacement. Dimataga went on to become the town's longest-serving mayor and the first city mayor when the town was renamed after the Mactan chieftain in 1961.

The Lost Artifacts

Self-claimed Lapulapu descendant Canuto Baring has been said to have the possession of his forefather's mythical alho. He even exhibited these "ancient" artifacts, which also included a kuwako (pipe), at the Cebu Carnival. Since the exhibition happened three years before the statue was completed and the curse started, does it mean that the exhibition caused it? After all, desecrating the artifacts of the long-dead Lapulapu could make the existence of the curse plausible.


However, his daughter Antonia said in an interview that "these were just old artifacts that were dug up and 'ascribed' to the hero." Since then, no one knows what happened to these artifacts.

Finding the Truth

It is difficult to verify the truth behind the curse since understanding Lapulapu in historical and cultural context would clash with urban legends, folk traditions, and the typical Filipino gossip culture. There is one thing to describe it - a series of unfortunate events that gained a life of its own.

If the current location of the monument is where the actual battle happened and where a lot of people died on that faithful day then it would be likely to cause paranormal events like people dying mysteriously. If there has been an attempt to build the monument 16 years earlier then there must be something that prevented them from starting it. But it doesn't explain why managed to construct it eventually.

It is convenient to attribute the lifting of the curse when the statue was modified. Since then, all Lapulapu monuments throughout the country have the kalasag and kampilan on hand and not the bow and arrow.

Sources:
"Lapulapu: Hero behind the myth," by Ador Vincent Mayol

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Istoryadista | History Blog | Cebu Blogger: Cebu Urban Legend: The Curse of Lapulapu the Archer
Cebu Urban Legend: The Curse of Lapulapu the Archer
We often see Lapulapu with his large kampilan and shield in various photos, illustrations, films, and monuments and it would be quite outrageous to se
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