History of Cebu

By on March 13, 2009

Often called as the Queen City of the South, Cebu City is located in the island of Cebu and is the Philippines’ second largest city.

Pre-Spanish Colonial Period

As early as the 9th century until the 15th century, Cebu was inhabited by people of Malay origin who practiced pagan or Islamic religions. It was formerly called by various names like Sugbu, Zebu, Zubu, Sebu, and Sibuy.

It was a flourishing fishing and trading village in the island that engaged in trade with China, Malaysia, Japan, India, Burma and other civilizations in Asia. The inhabitants during this time lived in stilt houses made of bamboo, wood and nipa.

Most of the people were ornamented in their ways as they had tattoos on their bodies, used gold jewelry and silk clothing, and colored their lips.

tacloban settlers History of Cebu

a Manuel Pañares painting of Magellan’s arrival

Spanish Colonial Period

On April 7, 1521, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan and his fleet of ships under the flag of Spain arrived in Cebu. Magellan was welcomed by the native chieftain of Cebu, Rajah Humabon, his wife Queen Humammay, in their village. On April 14, 1521, Humabon, his wife and about 400 of their subjects were baptized into Christianity and pledged their allegiance to Spain. Magellan gave the image of the Santo Nino or the Child Jesus to the queen as a gift and the symbol of the natives’ alliance to Spain.

However, Magellan’s plans to claim the whole of the Philippines Islands for Spain encountered stiff resistance from other natives, particularly from Lapu-Lapu, the chieftain of neighboring Mactan Island. In what is known as the Battle of Mactan that was fought on April 27, 1521, Magellan and his 100 soldiers fought Lapu-Lapu and his 1,000 warriors. Clearly outnumbered, Magellan and most of his soldiers were killed.

battle of mactan History of Cebu

Battle of Mactan, painting by Manuel Pañares

In spite of the defeat of Magellan, Spanish conquistadors led by Miguel López de Legazpi together with Augustinian Friar Andrés de Urdaneta returned to Cebu on April 27, 1565, to continue the Spanish colonization of Cebu and the rest of the Philippines. By that time, the chieftain of Cebu was Rajah Tupas.

Determined to conquer Cebu, Legazpi and his soldiers defeated Rajah Tupas and his warriors and they destroyed the natives’ villages. The Spaniards then built fortified settlements with the main settlement named as Villa del Santíssimo Nombre de Jesús in honor of the Santo Nino, the same image that was given by Magellan to Humabon’s wife 45 years before. The image was found relatively undamaged in one of the villages destroyed by the Spaniards.

As the Spaniards expanded their colonization efforts in the Philippines, Legazpi built the Fort San Pedro military fortification to protect the Spanish settlement in Cebu from intermittent attacks from natives opposed to the colonization. The Spaniards eventually established their colonization of the Philippines and agriculture, trade and commerce flourished in Cebu as it grew and its population expanded through the centuries.

fort san pedro History of Cebu

image source: kegler747.blogspot.com

Cebu opened its ports to foreign trade in 1860 and by end of the 19th century, cities in Cebu were flourishing and new communities began to develop around them as the economy grew and develop. The war for independence against Spanish occupation began in the country in 1896 and Cebuano revolutionary soldiers eventually ousted the Spanish forces from Cebu in 1898.

American Colonial Period to the Present

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.

During World War II, Cebu and the rest of the Philippines was occupied by Japanese forces. Cebu City became an important base for the Japanese during the war, which led to it being subjected to aerial bombardment by U.S. forces and leading to heavy damage throughout the city. Combined American and Filipino forces liberated Cebu in March 1945.

After the war, Cebu recovered and it grew and developed to become an important economic center in the southern Philippines and contributed to the country’s economic growth and development. Cebu City today is a vast cosmopolitan city described as one of the busiest and most thriving in Asia.

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