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Looking for Lapu-Lapu and the Bisaya in me

07:30 PM July 16, 2011

I speak, think, write, even dream in Tagalog. It’s my first language. Yes, I also refer to it, as many others do, as Pilipino.

I know that rubs many Visayans the wrong way.

But perhaps they would be appeased by me saying that I also love Cebuano.

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It’s the Bisaya in me, maybe. (Not sure if there is any technically. My wife has Visayan blood, though she grew up in Quezon City. My mother is Ilocano.  My father is Bicolano. And I’m a full-blooded Cubaeño.)

Now, I must clarify that I neither speak nor write in Cebuano. I don’t understand it.

But I enjoy listening to it. It’s musical, soothing. It’s very pleasant to the ears. (But let me say this too: I actually think Ilonggo even sounds more musical, more relaxing to the ears.)

Being embraced by Cebuano was one of the best things about my recent visit to the Visayas, my first in 25 years.

The last time I was in the Visayas was in the late 1980s. I was in Iloilo and Cebu for student conventions in the final years of the fight against the Marcos dictatorship. I spent a week in a Negros jungle as a reporter covering the New People’s Army.

Things have calmed down since then. A lot has changed—but not the playful rhythm of Cebuano which greets us as my family and I land at Mactan airport.

The city has grown, is alive. Traffic can be just as crazy as in Manila.

But with Auntie Cory at the wheel, we are in good hands.  A native Cebuana, she knows the streets, can outdrive, outmaneuver the toughest, the most aggressive of Cebu’s taxi and jeepney drivers. But always she does so with a pleasant disposition, a smile on her face.

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A truck swerves to her lane. No problem—she simply steps on the brakes.

“Ay wala mang abiso,” she says, bursting out laughing.

She says it in Tagalog, but with Cebuano soul, as if to say, ‘Oh, okay so you got cut off. No big deal. Life’s short. Don’t worry. Be happy.”

She is so good on the road that she’s able to navigate the crazy streets of Cebu while explaining to me a big mystery about Cebuano and the Cebuanos: What’s up with the habit of mangling vowel sounds?

Why does “Boying” become “Buyeng?” How can “bola” end up as “bula”?

“I don’t know,” Auntie Cory answers, laughing again.

Then she says something that I found puzzling, and sad. She said that growing up in Cebu, they didn’t read books or other materials in Cebuano, but they did read books in Pilipino (or Tagalog.)

Now, that’s just wrong, I think. A language so pleasant to the ears should also be enjoyed in print, in books.

We arrive when, like the rest of the country, Cebu is also remembering Jose Rizal, the national hero. But, of course, the most famous Filipino hero here is Lapu-Lapu.

Even my son notices. “This Lapu-Lapu is pretty popular around here, isn’t he?”

For, indeed, it is the land of Lapu-Lapu.

The tribal chief who (reportedly) cut short Ferdinand Magellan’s globe-trotting career. The tough guy who didn’t let a bunch of sword-and-cross-waving white dudes push him and his people around.  The warrior with the sharp battle instincts, the fierce fighting spirit.

The first Filipino hero.

Of course, Lapu Lapu would probably be puzzled by that honor. “Unsa ang usa ka Pilipino?” “What the heck is a Filipino?” There was no such thing as a “Filipino” in his day, after all.

Our visit, our bakasyon, turns into a search for signs of Lapu-Lapu.

We encounter his legacy as we land in Lapu Lapu City on the island of Mactan where the historic battle with Magellan is said to have taken place.

In nearby Bohol, off the island of Balicasag, we come across him again while snorkeling in the crystal clear waters among the corals and bright-colored fish near Panglao. My eldest son points to one. “I think that was a Lapu-Lapu.”

There was no doubt about our next encounter.

Auntie Cory and Uncle Danny take us to the Mactan shrine, where the historic showdown took place. At Lapu-Lapu’s monument, they say with a wink, we are to discover the secret of his victory.

And indeed, there it was. At the shrine, Lapu-Lapu stood at more than 60 feet, a giant of a man in bronze, with a sword and shield.

“You see,” Uncle Danny says, laughing.

Yep, no way he could have lost to supposedly taller, heftier Europeans.

And in the city of Talisay, yet another encounter with the big guy. And this time, he’s not just big—he’s also mean-looking.

In Crocolandia, Lapu-Lapu is the king of the crocodiles and all the creatures at the wonderful nature conservation center.

One tip about visiting Crocolandia, by the way: Don’t go when it’s hot, because the crocodiles then would likely be hiding underwater. We went there after Cebu had just been cooled down by a heavy rain—the perfect time to see Lapu-Lapu and his gang.

And no doubt about it, Lapu-Lapu is the king of the gang, the pride of Crocolandia.

Even the sign at the entrance says so: “Crocolandia’s Pride.  The Largest … The Oldest croc in the park. Over 1000 kilograms … more than 15 feet … living more than 50 years …”

Indeed, he is a Lapu-Lapu that would scare away any arrogant, globe-trotting conquistador.

But while he was out in the open that day, he was not that excited about having visitors. My sons and I wave and call out to him. But Lapu-Lapu just makes a slight movement, opens his mouth a tad. Then he goes back to staying still.

Lapu-Lapu is bored.

We ask if we could feed him. You can buy two dead chickens for 120 pesos that a caretaker would then toss over the fence to the croc. But Lapu-Lapu is only fed on Sundays, we’re told.

Lapu-Lapu isn’t hungry.

Instead, we feed Lapu-Lapu’s neighbor, Aloha. But this apparently makes Aloha’s neighbor, Britney, jealous — and irritable.  (Nope, I don’t know how they came up with these names.)

When I extend my hand over the fence to take Britney’s picture, she suddenly leaps up hoping for a bite.

My sons and their Nanay, and even Uncle Danny, yell out in shock. But there’s nothing to worry about.

I’m too quick. I’m too alert. I could sense the attack coming. Like Lapu-Lapu, the hero, when he and his men took on the cunning conquistadors.

It’s the Bisaya in me, perhaps, the battle instincts of a Mactan warrior.

On Twitter @KuwentoPimentel.

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TAGS: Balikbayan, Bisaya, Cebu, Cebuano, hero, history, Language, Lapu-Lapu, Pilipino, Travel, Visaya
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