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The history of Cebu goes way beyond 439 years ago when the island became a province at the start of the Spanish colonization.
Long before that, Cebu was already the center of trade of what is now the southern Philippines, dealing with traders from China, Malaysia, Japan, India, Burma and other parts of Asia.
Cebu had an organized social structure before the Spaniards came — with small groups headed by a datu who served as leader.
A datu governed his community, settled disputes, made decisions, protected his village from enemies, led them into battle, and received labor and tributes from his people. The position being both a political office and a social class, his authority was taken from his lineage.
A community ranged from 30 to 100 households grouped as a barangay and based mostly on kinship. Aside from the datu, there were free men called timawa and olipon. Spanish reports called the role of an olipon as dependent rather than a slave because of the absence of violence and harshness notable in European slavery.
People in Cebu then were called pintados because men were heavily tattooed. Lavish ornaments such as gold jewelry were used not only by women but also men.
Prior to Spanish colonization, there were already permanent townhouse-looking wooden structures where the datus lived. Ordinary people lived in field cottages or balay-balay that were on stilts. Hagdan (house ladder) was a common sight, with floors (salog) made of bamboo or wood and roof (atop) made of palm tree shingles.
In the summer of 1521, Ferdinand Magellan and his troops on board five ships arrived in Cebu. They were warmly welcomed by Rajah Humabon’s community.
Magellan’s group was sailing from Sanlucar de Barrameda in Spain.
But Magellan was not received well at the island of Mactan, where he was slain by the local chieftain, Lapulapu. Cebu remained free until Miguel Lopez de Legazpi arrived in 1566.
It was then the start of the transformation of Cebu’s civilization under the Spanish regime: Catholic churches were built, priests ruled communities alongside civil leaders, watchtowers were scattered along the island to guard against Moro raids.
On the economic and cultural side, fiesta celebrations were embraced, new agricultural products were introduced, royal decrees led to commercial and agricultural expansion and the establishment of elementary schools in every municipality.
From 1872 to 1896 however, there were extensive propaganda against abuses of Spaniards. A sugar crisis ended the agricultural prosperity Cebu province enjoyed and in 1892, sugar barons or hacienderos were forced to declare bankruptcy.
Philippine Revolution began against Spain in 1898, but before the fruits of independence could bloom, the American troops arrived. United States sovereignty over the Philippines was declared and in February 7, 1900, the Filipino-American war broke.
The rest of Cebu’s history was tied to events in the country and the rest of the world — World War 11, Japanese occupation, postwar reconstruction, Philippine independence, then the declaration of Martial Law, and so forth.
But amid all these events, history has witnessed the valiant spirit of the Cebuanos — principled and resilient, exercising hard work and high standards of morality and professionalism that have since made Cebu a cut above the rest.
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