Limasawa Island: A glimpse of the past

Ring a bell?

Yep, this is the island that our history teachers had been talking about way back elementary years about how Magellan discovered the Philippines and the story of Yoyoy Villame’s famous song “Magellan”.

First, let’s have a quick refresher on one of the most significant events in our history.

When Ferdinand Magellan and his European crew sailed from San Lucar de Barrameda for an expedition to search for spices, these explorers landed on the Philippines after their voyage from other proximate areas. On March 28, 1521, while at sea, they saw a bonfire which turned out to be Limasawa where they anchored.

Blood compact

The island’s sovereign ruler was Rajah Siaiu. When Magellan and comrades set foot on the grounds of Limasawa, he befriended the Rajah together with his brother Rajah Kulambu of Butuan. In those days, it was customary among the indigenous—and in most of southeast Asia—to seal friendship with a blood compact. On instigation of Magellan who had heard the Malayan term for it, casi casi, the new friends performed the ritual. This was the first recorded blood compact between Filipinos and Spaniards. Gifts were exchanged by the two parties when the celebration had ended.

First mass

On March 31, 1521, an Easter Sunday, Magellan ordered a mass to be celebrated which was officiated by Father Pedro Valderrama, the Andalusion chaplain of the fleet, the only priest then. Conducted near the shores of the island, the Holy First Mass marked the birth of Roman Catholicism in the Philippines. Colambu and Siaiu were the first natives of the archipelago, which was not yet named “Philippines” until the expedition of Ruy Lopez de Villalobos in 1543, to attend the mass among other native inhabitants.

Planting of the cross

In the afternoon of the same day, Magellan instructed his comrades to plant a large wooden cross on the top of the hill overlooking the sea. Magellan’s chronicler, Antonio Pigafetta, who recorded the event said:

“After the cross was erected in position, each of us repeated a Pater Noster and an Ave Maria, and adored the cross; and the kings [Colambu and Siaiu] did the same.

Magellan then took ownership of the islands where he had landed in the name of King Charles V which he had named earlier on March 16 Archipelago of Saint Lazarus because it was the day of the saint when the Armada reached the archipelago.

Source: Wikipedia

Limasawa is a 6th class island municipality in the province of Leyte, Philippines with a population of 6,061 people according to the 2015 census. It is also the smallest municipality in the province, in both area and population.

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Because of its historical and religious significance, Limasawa is considered as one of the places in the country with high tourism potential. With the help of local and national government agencies, tourism projects have already been implemented in the area.

HOW TO GET THERE

From Cebu City

You can buy tickets for passenger ferries bound for Leyte and there are a number of ferries to choose from. You can refer to the link below for the sailing schedules of ships operating Cebu to Leyte.
http://www.cpa.gov.ph/external/sailing_schedules_cebu-leyte.pdf

In our case, we took the Gabisan (Cebu – Hilongos) 9PM trip at Pier 3. Fare is P500.00 (two-way) and there is a terminal fee of P25.00. Travel time is approximately five hours and we arrived at Leyte around 2:30 AM. You have the option to stay and sleep in the boat if you want to wait until morning.

Maasin City is the nearest gateway to Limasawa island so I suggest you take the Cebu-Maasin trip. From Maasin, take a 30 minute vhire/jeepney ride to Padre Burgos where the small port for boats/bangkas bound for Limasawa is located. Bangka schedules are 7:00AM and 1:00PM daily, or you can charter bangkas if you miss both trips. Travel time is 40 – 45 minutes.

ACCOMMODATION

You can stay at the island’s famous resorts or at a guesthouse run by the local government unit near the municipal hall.

TOURIST SPOTS

Island Lagoon Resort

The resort has no shoreline and situated on the island cliffside in Brgy. San Agustin.

There is an entrance fee of P10.00 and if you love cliff jumping, then this is the place for you.

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A part of the cliff serves as an entrance where they placed bamboo sticks and sand embankments for support.

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There is a wooden raft in the middle of the ocean in which you can swim to. No need to worry if you don’t know how to swim because there are life savers available for rent.

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One good thing about this place is it is very instagrammable. You can snap good photos of the cliffside and the gorgeous view of the ocean.

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We did not stay in the resort long so I was not able to get the cottage rates, but you can contact them through this number or you can check their Facebook page for inquiries.

Contact Number: 0916 360 8595
Faacebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/eveestemada/?fref=ts

Magellan’s cross

In Brgy. Magallanes lies the first cross that Magellan planted in the country.

The shrine where the first mass was held and a replica of the “Masaua Balangahai” long house can also be found in the same area.

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The cross is situated on top of a hill so you have to climb 450 steps to get there.

The trail is already cemented and concrete benches are placed along the way if you want to take a rest.

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Unlike the Magellan’s cross here in Cebu, Leyte’s version of the cross is not housed in a chapel.

There is no sign whatsoever if this is a replica or if this is the original cross that was planted on March 31, 1521.

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Shrine where the first mass was held

The shrine where the first Catholic mass in the Philippines was held is located just around the area.

Republic Act No. 2733 (also called the “Limasawa Law”) was enacted on June 19,1960 declaring that the site in Magallanes, where he first mass was held, is hereby declared a national shrine to commemorate the birth of Christianity in the country.

In 1984, Imelda Marcos had a shrine built on top of a hill but a strong typhoon wiped it out thus, another shrine was inaugurated in 2005.

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The shrine was not open when we went there and there were no local tour guides present in the area so we were not able to see the interior.

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There is also a wishing well beside the shrine.

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Replica of the “Masaua Balanghai”long house

I did some research on the meaning of “Masaua Balanghai” but found nothing on the internet.

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Inside the house, there is a lightly elevated platform with ethnic decorations that is similar to the datu houses we see on television programs.

There is nothing much to see inside the house except for that platform and the historical facts they pasted on the walls.

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TIPS

  • I did not notice any ATM machine in the island so it is best to bring enough/extra cash with you.
  • Bring powerbanks or extra batteries for your gadgets because the island’s electricity power is from 6PM to 1:00AM only.

Aside from the historical and religious sites, Limasawa is also surrounded with white sand beaches, caves, and fish sanctuaries. The island’s humble and simple lifestyle is a perfect choice for those who want to experience a quiet and peaceful vacation.

This island gives both tourists and locals a rare opportunity to relive the events of the past. As I retraced the footsteps of the famous Portuguese explorer, I had a better understanding of how significant Magellan’s exploration is to the country’s history and culture. His exploration paved the way for the Spanish colonization that left influences in our culture that is still very evident even until today.

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