Cebu (historical state)

Cebu, or Sugbu, also called the Cebu Rajanate, was an Indianized raja (monarchical) mandala (polity) on the island of Cebu[3] in the Philippines prior to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. It is known in ancient Chinese records as the nation of Sokbu (束務).[4] According to Visayan oral legend, it was founded by Sri Lumay[3] or Rajamuda Lumaya, a minor prince of the Tamil Chola dynasty.[3] He was sent by the maharajah from India to establish a base for expeditionary forces, but he rebelled and established his own independent polity.[5] The capital of the nation was Singhapala (சிங்கப்பூர்)[6] which is Tamil-Sanskrit[7] for "Lion City", the same rootwords with the modern city-state of Singapore.

Approximate map of the Rajahnate of Cebu in 1521.
CapitalSinghapala[1] (Modern Mabolo district in Cebu City)
Common languagesOld Cebuano, Old Malay, Middle Tamil
Syncretic form of Hinduism, Buddhism and Animism (see also Polytheism)
Roman Catholicism (since 1521)
Rajah Humabon
Rajah Tupas (last)
4 June 1565
Today part ofPhilippines


Foundation of the rajahnate

A picture of a Bronze Image of the Hindu God Shiva (lost during World War 2), found at Mactan-Cebu. It shows how the culture of the area was Hindu and Indianized.

According to Visayan folklore, Sri Lumay was a half-Tamil[3] and half-Malay[8][3] Chola king[9][3][10], who settled in the Visayas, and had several sons. One of his sons was Sri Alho, who ruled a land known as Sialo which included the present-day towns of Carcar and Santander in the southern region of Cebu. Sri Ukob ruled a polity known as Nahalin in the north, which included the present-day towns of Consolación, Liloan, Compostela, Danao, Carmen and Bantayan. He died in battle, fighting with the Muslim Moro pirates known as magalos (literally "destroyers of peace") from Mindanao.[11] The islands they were in were collectively known as Pulua Kang Dayang or Kangdaya (literally "[the islands] which belong to Daya").[12]

Sri Lumay was noted for his strict policies in defending against Moro Muslim raiders and slavers from Mindanao. His use of scorched earth tactics to repel invaders gave rise to the name Kang Sri Lumayng Sugbu (literally "that of Sri Lumay's great fire") to the town, which was later shortened to Sugbu ("scorched earth").[12]

Reign of Sri Bantug

Sri Lumay was succeeded by the youngest of his sons, Sri Bantug, who ruled from a region known as Singhapala, which is now Mabolo of Cebu City. He died of disease. Sri Bantug had a brother called Sri Parang who was originally slated to succeed Sri Bantug. But he was a cripple and could not govern his polity because of his infirmity. Parang handed his throne to Sri Bantug's son and his nephew, Sri Humabon (also spelled Sri Hamabar), who became the rajah of Cebu in his stead.

Reign of Rajah Humabon

During Rajah Humabon's reign, the region had since become an important trading center where agricultural products were bartered. From Japan, perfume and glass utensils were usually traded for native goods. Ivory products, leather, precious and semi-precious stones and śarkarā (sugar) mostly came from India and Burma traders.[8] The harbors of Sugbu (the modern-day Parián district of Cebu) became known colloquially as sinibuayang hingpit ("the place for trading"), shortened to sibu or sibo ("to trade"), from which the modern Castilian name "Cebú" originates. It was also during Humabon's reign that Lapulapu arrived from Borneo, and was granted by Humabon the region of Mandawili (now Mandaue), including the island known as Opong or Opon (later known as Mactan). First contact with the Spanish also occurred during Humabon's reign, resulting in the death of Ferdinand Magellan.[12]

The phrase Kota Raya Kita[13] was documented by historian Antonio Pigafetta, to be a warning in the Old Malay language, from a merchant to the rajah and was cited to have meant:

"Have good care, O king, what you do, for these men are those who have conquered Calicut, Malacca, and all India the Greater. If you give them good reception and treat them well, it will be well for you, but if you treat them ill, so much the worse it will be for you, as they have done at Calicut and at Malacca."[14]

In reality, this phrase is that of Kota Raya kita, an indigenous Malay phrase of merchants under the authority of Rajah Humabon, with a meaning in English of: "our capital city": Kota (fortress), Raya (great, hence Kotaraya (capital city)), kita (we).

Diplomacy with other Southteast Asian Kingdoms

The Rajahnate of Cebu had diplomatic recognition among the other kingdoms of Southeast Asia. When Ferdinand Magellan's expedition landed on the port-kingdom of Cebu; the expedition scribe noted that not long before, an embassy carried by a ship from Siam (Thailand) arrived at the Cebu Rajahnate and paid tribute to Rajah Humabon.[15][16]

Dependencies of Cebu

Antonio Pigafetta, the expedition scribe, enumerated the towns and dependencies the Rajahnate of Cebu had.[17]

“In this island of Zubu there are dogs and cats, and other animals, whose flesh is eaten; there is also rice, millet, panicum, and maize; there are also figs, oranges, lemons, sugar-canes, cocos, gourds, ginger, honey, and other such things; they also make palm-wine of many qualities. Gold is abundant. The island is large, and has a good port with two entrances: one to the west, and the other to the east-north-east. It is in ten degrees north latitude and 154 east longitude from the line of demarcation.”

“In this island there are several towns, each of which has its principal men or chiefs. Here are the names of the towns and their chiefs:—

Cingapola: its chiefs are Cilaton, Ciguibucan, Cimaninga, Cimaticat, Cicanbul.

Mandani: its chief is Aponoaan.

Lalan: its chief is Teten.

Lalutan: its chief is Japau.

Lubucin: its chief is Cilumai.

Antonio Pigafetta

It is notable how the Spanish mispronounced the Tamil "Singhapala" (சிங்கப்பூர்) as "Cingapola".

Battle of Mactan

The Battle of Mactan was fought on 27 April 1521 between forces of Rajah Humabon which included the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan hired by Spanish empire and Lapulapu, it ended with the death of Ferdinand Magellan.

Reign of Rajah Tupas and subsumation by Spanish

Sri Parang, the limp, also had a young son, Sri Tupas, also known as Rajah Tupas who succeeded Rajah Humabon as king of Cebu.[5] There is linguistic evidence that Cebu tried to preserve its Indian-Malay roots as time wore on since Antonio Pigafetta the scribe of Magellan described Rajah Tupas' father, the brother of Rajah Humabon as a "Bendara" which means "Treasurer" or "Vizier" in Sanskritized Malay[6] and is a shortening of the word "Bendahara" (भाण्डार) which means "Storage house" in Sanskrit.[18] The Hindu polity was dissolved during the reign of Rajah Tupas by the forces of conquistador Miguel López de Legazpi in the battle of Cebu during 1565.[2]

Relations with other rajahnates

The rajahs of Cebu were relatives to the rajahs of Butuan.[20] Thus the Rajahnates of Cebu and Butuan had relations with each other, as evidenced by the fact that Rajah Colambu of Butuan gave guidance to the Magellan expedition to reach Cebu.[21] The rajahs of Butuan were descendants of Rajah Kiling, who according to Researcher Eric Casino, were not Visayan in origin but rather, Indian, because Kiling refers to the people of India.[22] The Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals) of the nearby country of Malaysia, point to the similarly worded Keling as the immigrant people from India to Southeast Asia.[23] However, Cebu was not at peace with all Rajahnates. The Rajahnate of Maynila, which was a colony of the Brunei Sultanate[24] and would later become the city of Maynila[24] had an arrogant attitude against Cebuanos and Visayans as the rajah of Maynila who had an Islamic name, Rajah Sulayman, ridiculed the Visayans that came and assisted the Miguel de Legaspi expedition (Which also included the Cebuanos) as an easily conquerable people.[25] Fernao Mendes Pinto, among the earlier Portuguese colonists of Southeast Asia, pointed out that there were Muslims and non-Muslims among the inhabitants of the Philippines who fought each other.[26]


Indianization, although it was superseded by Hispanization, left markers in the Cebuano language and culture, such as religious practices and common vocabulary words whose origins are from Sanskrit.[27]

Social stratification and caste system

Below the rulers were the Timawa, the feudal warrior class of the ancient Visayan societies of the Philippines who were regarded as higher than the uripon (commoners, serfs, and slaves) but below the tumao (royal nobility) in the social hierarchy. They were roughly similar to the Tagalog maharlika caste.

Hindu-Buddhist artifacts

In 1921, Henry Otley Beyer found a crude Buddhist medallion and a copper statue of a Hindu deity, Ganesha, in ancient sites in Puerto Princesa, Palawan and in Mactan, Cebu.[28] The crudeness of the artifacts indicates they were of local reproduction. The icons were destroyed during World War II. However, black and white photographs of these icons survive.

Modern name usage

There have been proposals to rename the current Central Visayas region, which is dominated by the Cebuano ethnic group, into Sugbu region, the former name of the region prior to Spanish colonization in the 16th century.[29][30]

See also

Pre-colonial history of the Philippines
Barangay state
Social classes
Ruling class (Maginoo, Ginu, Tumao): Apo, Datu, Bagani, Lakan, Panglima, Rajah, Sultan, Thimuay
Middle class: Timawa, Maharlika
Commoners, serfs and slaves (Alipin): Aliping namamahay, Alipin sa gigilid, Bulisik, Bulislis, Horohan, Uripon
States in Luzon
Rajahnate of Maynila
States in the Visayas
Kedatuan of Madja-as
Kedatuan of Dapitan
Rajahnate of Cebu
States in Mindanao
Rajahnate of Butuan
Rajahnate of Sanmalan
Sultanate of Maguindanao
Sultanates of Lanao
Sultanate of Sulu
Key figures
List of recorded datu in the Philippines
Religion in pre-colonial Philippines
History of the Philippines
Portal: Philippines
Related to Cebu polity
Other related


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  2. Scott, William Henry (1992). Looking for the Prehispanic Filipino and Other Essays in Philippine History. Quezon City: New Day Publishers. ISBN 978-971-10-0524-5.
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  7. 5 other places in Asia which are also called Singapura By Joshua Lee
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  13. Approximated as Cata Raya Chita using Italianate orthography.
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  15. Notes from Mactan By Jim Foster
  16. "PRIMO VIAGGIO INTORNO AL MONDO"By Antonio Pigafetta. MS. composed ca. 1525, of events of 1519–1522 (Page 138)
  17. The First Voyage Round the World by Antonio Pigafetta, translated by Lord Stanley of Alderley (Page 105)
  18. Becoming Indian: The Unfinished Revolution of Culture and Identity by Pavan K. Varma p.125
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  20. The book Aginid recounts the beginning of Cebu as having been founded by Bataugong and Balintawak, supposedly Humabon's great-grandparents. The book further narrates how the descendants of this couple founded their own chiefdoms and the narrative shows that the rulers of Butuan, for instance, were relatives of Humabon.[19]
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  29. "Change in Name Will be Good for Philippines". July 15, 2016.
  30. "Should the Philippines be Renamed? Historian Weighs In". ABS-CBN News. June 13, 2017.

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