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Cebu: Let's Look Back

About thirty thousand years ago, Aetas crossed the Asian continents through land bridges. They were the earliest inhabitants of the Philippines. But as the land bridges disappeared, islands started to emerge. One of those isles is Cebu.

Early inhabitants referred this island as Zebu or Sugbu, whose trade or commerce reached as far as China, Thailand, and other neighboring countries.  The people lived in lanky houses made of bamboo, wood, and nipa. They used porcelain wares and earthen jars to contain wine and water. Men were hugely tattooed, and they wore bahagui at the lower torso and silk turbans on their heads.  On the other hand, women wore a sack-lined blouse (chambara) on tops of a square length cloth skirt around their waist. They were abundantly ornamented with jeweleries and other knick-knacks to embellish themselves and their clothes. Others did not even wear anything from waist up, but they painted their lips and nails, decorated their hair with multicoloured turbans and flowers, and adorned themselves with jeweleries.

Before the Spanish colonization, the city was the center of commerce in the south, where Chinese ships disembarked with porcelains and silks which they bartered for honey, gold, wood and spices from Mollucas. However, during Spanish colonization, trade restrictions caused the rapid decline of Cebu as a trading port. But, in the 19th century, restraints were revoked and the commercial life of the city was brought back.

The arrival of Fernando de Magallanes in the later part of the year 1521 marked the Spanish era and the baptismal to Christianity of Datu Humabon and Queen Juana, together with their followers. Fernando de Magallanes was a Portuguese voyager who sailed under the Spanish expedition of five vessels and more than two hundred men. Consequently, he died in the hands of Datu Lapu-Lapu, a tribal chief in the island of Mactan. The legendary combat marked the Filipinos’ repugnance to foreign supremacy and rule. Forty-four years later, after Magallanes’ death, when the expedition of Don Miguel Lopez de Legaspi and Fray Andres de Urdaneta (April 1565) that Christianization and Spanish colonization took place. Legaspi bombarded the palisades of Rajah Tupas, shattered the village, and called it Villa del Santisimo Nombre de Jesus and the Spanish Cortes established the first Spanish city in 1571.

In April 3, 1898, General Leon Kilat of Bacong, Negros Oriental, organized a rebellion against the Spanish colonialism. The Spaniards then decided to build a shelter for themselves. It was Legaspi who insisted on building a fort, which is now recognized for being the smallest fort in the country, the Fort San Pedro.

Although the revolution did not last, the Spanish-American War finally ceased the Spanish rule when the Americans won in the Battle of Manila Bay. Spain formally turned over the Philippines to the Americans in the Treaty of Paris.

The American set the country to a semi-autonomous rule when the Philippine Commonwealth was establish in 1935, with Manuel Quezon as president and Sergio Osmeña, a Cebuano, as vice-president.

Cebu, being the most densely populated island in the country, served as a vital Japanese base during the Japanese occupation in the Second World War, which began, with the landing of the Japanese Imperial Army on April 1942.

Today, Cebu City is an important economic center not only for Cebu Island but for the Visayas Islands, and Mindanao as well. Cebu Island’s economy includes agriculture, mining (coal, copper, limestone, silver), and small-scale manufacturing, such as food processing, textile, footwear, and furniture. Cebu City is also the educational center of the southern Philippines, with several major universities and colleges. The city has an international airport, and the port has maintained its international importance through the centuries.


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