It is rare that the study of history makes a difference, but it did in the case of the Balangiga Bells. The town, and its bells, have been part of my life for a quarter of a century and the work that I and Rolando Borrinaga put into establishing the real history of what happened played a role in the education program launched by US Veterans to get the bells returned.
Although my role was modest it is, nevertheless, one I am quite proud of.
The bells were returned to Balangiga on 15 December 2018. Sadly, I could not be there to greet them but I did get to see and touch them for my birthday two weeks later.
It was, for me, a moving and emotional moment as you can see below.
The following is an extract from Fool’s Gold 500: Fraud, Fallacy, Fable, Ferdinand Magellan, and Lapulapu, to be published in August 2021
Much of the myth and misinformation about Enrique can be laid at the door of eminent historian Carlos Quirino, a formidable figure in the Philippine historical community and National Artist for historical literature, honoured on a postal stamp,who single-handedly created the myth of Enrique speaking Cebuano and his imaginary origins in the Philippines.
The first time I engaged with Quirino’s lack of historicity was while researching the Battle of Balangiga of 28 September 1901. A claim that guerrilas were smuggled into the town of Balangiga under cover of a cockfight came from his pen and was consistently repeated in other historical works. In fact he had mistranslated the Waray word ‘Pintakasi’, which actually means communal work in Waray but which many Tagalogs use to mean a cockfight.
This error is relevant to his creation of a Cebuano Enrique de Malacca.
Being the site of the first Catholic First Mass in the Philippines is a matter of intense regional pride and a source of income from tourists and pilgrims. The discussion over whether it occurred in Leyte or Butuan has been heated over the years and continues to be so, with criminal libel charges being filed against, historians for the first time in Philippine history, who upheld the Limasawa location, despite the findings of the National Quincentennial Commission’s, NQC, Mojares panel report placing it, with finality, in Limasawa.
Apart from the claim made in a fraudulent document forged by Jose E. Marco in the early 20th century, one other claim has gained traction – An alleged 1324 Mass by Odoric of Porendone in Bolinao, Pangasinan which is recorded in a plaque on the wall of the Church of St. James The Great. The event is mentioned in the official history of the church.
Until 1934 there was no question that, setting aside a probable undocumented Mass onboard ship when the Armada de Malluco of Ferdinand Magellan and Sebastian Elcano anchored off Homohon Island on the pointy end of South East Samar on March 16, 1521, the first Catholic Mass on Philippine soil took place at Mazaua on March 31 that year, Easter Sunday ship time. However, in the August, 1934 edition of Philippine Magazine, Percy A. Hill, an associated of eminent peopole like Otley-Beyer, Robert Fox, and James Robertson, revealed a simplified translation of a Spanish document found in an ancient chest in the archives of the Audencia in Manila in 1867 by a Gil Piamontes de Alazerna which would rewrite the history of the First Mass if validated.
Flat Earth references did crop up between the 17th and 19th centuries, mostly for comic effect rather than as commentary on medieval belief. Cyrano de Bergerac in the 1600s in a comedic book invents a fake quote from St Augustine saying that the Earth was a flat as a stove lid. His educated audience might have laughed not only because they knew the Earth to be a sphere but also that Augustine said nothing of the sort.
It was a symptom of growing distrust of the establishment, and of religion, especially Catholicism and, in the case of the United States, the vibrant rational commonsense of the New World against the fuddy-duddy stick-in-the-muds of the Old World. So it was that Thomas Jefferson claimed in 1784 that Gallileo was punished by the Catholic Church for promoting the idea of a spherical Earth, a false claim that Jefferson, as an educated man, would have known, but facts are of little importances in polemic.
By the late 19th century and into the late 20th century, and until today, textbook after scholarly textbook repeated what Jeffrey Burton Russell calls “The Flat Earth Error” that even the educated or a significant portion of them, believed the Earth was flat prior to the voyage of Columbus. Textbook writers tend not to do their own research but to copy and rephrase statements made in other textbooks and reference works.
By the time the Vatican developed into the centre of the Catholic Church around 500CE with the building of St. Peter’s Basilica the Earth was known to be a sphere. At no time has the flat earth concept been a teaching of the Catholic, or the later Protestant faiths. Students going to any of the universities later established under the church were taught that the Earth was a globe.
Historian Jeffrey Burrell surveyed some 10,000 relevant documents relating to the shape of the Earth, of which only two defended a flat Earth and three were ambiguous.
There were two main outliers, the 3rd Century Christian apologist Lactantius, for whom anything smacking of Pagan beliefs was wrong and the spherical Earth was a pagan idea, and Comas Indicopleustes, a sixth century Byzantine monk whose work appears to have gone unread for two centuries. Neither were influential in the cosmography of the Catholic Church.
Lactantius was so far out on the periphery of church thought that when Copernicus wrote his treatise on heliocentricity – the Earth orbiting the Sun – he likened Lactantius’s views on the flat Earth to the belief that the Earth was the centre of the universe because he knew the views of Lactanius had been rejected and that to reject the heliocentric view in the face of the evidence he provided was just as irrational as Lactantius.
One comment on a Facebook thread in 2021 referred to “…Magellan who Lighted the Dark Medieval Flat mind of Ignorance & Superstition…”, a statement which shows that the myth that Magellan proved the Earth was round and that the common belief that in the ‘Dark Ages’ there was a common belief that the Earth was flat, is still in circulation.
Not only did Magellan ‘prove’ nothing of the sort, the Dark Ages of myth never existed and were an invention of 17th and 18th century writers. How did these myths arise?
It widely assumed, wrongly, that present day humans are more intelligent and resourceful than their ancestors of thousands of years ago. It is the sort of thinking that Erik Von Daniken depended upon for his popular books about aliens building the Egyptian pyramids, and which still produces fanciful History Channel series like Ancient Aliens.
In 1523, Peter Martyr d’Anghiera wrote to Pope Adrian VI, the first non-Italian pope and the only one until the election of John Paul II in 1985, about the Magellan-Elcano Expedition, properly called the Armada de Malucco. He had been chaplain to the court of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile, and was a historian of Spanish explorations, who became a member of Emperor Charles V’s Council of the Indies in 1518.
In his letter, he says: “Let us now try to explain how the Spaniards have completed the circuit of the globe, for the fact is difficult to believe. There, however, one proof: let Your Holiness have a terrestrial sphere marked with the different continents brought…” and proceeded to describe the journey of the Magellan expedition.
His surprise at the success of the journey had nothing to do with the shape of the Earth but the surmounting of the great odds against the success of the expedition.
There was no question that time that the Earth was considered a globe, and not a shred of evidence that any significant number of people believed to the contrary. The oldest terrestrial sphere in existence dates from 1492 and may have inspired the first expedition of Columbus that year. Maps of the period clearly show the lines of latitude and longitude, the latter curved to represent the spherical shape of the Earth.
At the time of writing celebrations are underway to commemorate the first circumnavigation of the world by the Elcano-Magellan expedition. That remarkable, courageous endeavour was a success, it repaid its investors handsomely, laid the foundation for the Manila-Acapulco galleons which inaugurated truly global trade for the first time, linking Asia, the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, India, and Southeast Asia.
And, of course, the Spanish occupation of the archipelago later to be named after Felipe, prince of Asturias, later the King of Spain and, for a brief four year period King of England, co-ruling with Mary Tudor until her death in 1558.
It is also the 500th anniversary of the victory of Lapulapu, the chief of Mactan, against Magellan’s forces.
In the predominantly Catholic Philippines the event is also being celebrated as the planting of Christianity with the first Easter Sunday Mass on 31 March 1521, and thereby hangs a tale, or at least many questions. First instance, why First Easter Sunday Mass?
Oplan Merdeka was the failed attempt by the disgraced President Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines to conduct a terrorist campaign on the state of Sabah in the 1960s. It was a project that would have pitched the Philippines not just against Malaysia, but also Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore. It was a foolhardy effort and Malaysia and its allies had seen off an attempted Communist takeover in the Malayan Emergency and an invasion by Indonesia during the Konfrontazi.
The scheme was shattered by the massacre of Muslims on Corregidor who were recruited to terrorise Sabah, known as the Jabidah Massacre. While revisionists like the notorious Roberto D. Tiglao of the pro-Marcos Manila Times claim the whole thing to be a hoax, the evidence for it is solid.
There were brief flash reports on radio broadcasts but the story was suppressed early enough to keep it out of print media. The incident became common knowledge. The suppressed story broke through when Senator Ninoy Aquino, former journalist, gave a privilege speech in the Senate.
After the embarrassing incident on Corregidor, there was a secret court martial of those involved, blood-money was paid to the families of those who were executed, and the prosecutor in that case is still alive.
The video below has technical issues, for which I apologise, but it demolishes the claim that the massacre never happened.
Not many people know that Tinikling1, the bamboo dance often considered the national dance of the Philippines, can be performed to the tune of Queen’s We Will Rock You2. Far fewer know its origins – in fact, nobody really seems to know, and what we do ‘know’ may be very wrong.
Which is the sort of challenge that sends the cold, wet noses of history bloodhounds quivering.
I had not thought much about Tinikling over my three decades in the Philippines, it was just there, part of the cultural background that surrounded me. You’ll find a link to a video below so I will not describe the dance itself here.
All I seemed to find in netsurfing was that it is a mimetic dance: The dancers imitate the movements of the Tikling Bird as it hops among rice stalks and evades bamboo traps set by farmers. It is variously said to have been introduced during the Spanish occupation of the Philippines in either Pampanga or Leyte3. Some of the more confusing versions have it as being both pre-Hispanic and of the Spanish era. The dance only seems to have surfaced during the American occupation of the Philippines as part of physical education.
The first mention of the dance I have found is in The Philippines progressive music series for the primary grades , compiled by Norberto Romualdez, et al. published in 1914, where it is creditted to Samar-Leyte and includes lyrics.