Music was so important in the culture of the natives of the diverse islands that eventually became the Republic of the Philippines we know today. However, there are no records about what music was like in the Visayan Islands 500 years ago. We can make educated guesses based on musical instruments we know were used long before Magellan arrived.
Singing, especially, was important particularly during the voyages of the balanghai. The term balanghai came from Antonio Pigafetta’s writings to describe the ships that our forefathers used to travel the oceans to migrate and fight wars. It was a misspelling of the native term barangay. In the 1668 manuscript of Francisco Ignacio Alcina, written for the Spanish King, he gave descriptions of the balanghai’s construction, speed and how they rowed. The balanghai was said to travel 12 to 15 knots compared to the Spanish ships that can move through the ocean at 5 to 6 knots. One particular description was that the mariners can paddle ‘from sunrise to sunset’ in unison to the songs and chants about heroes and their deeds.
In the high seas, the most important person on the balanghai was not the Datu, but the singer who stood at the prow. The islands did not have the tradition of drums, like in Japan or in China, to synchronize the rowers. Instead, our forefathers had a singer to accomplish the same effect as drums. Thus, in any voyages, the Datu from each ship often fight about who will sing on their ships.
Can you imagine how powerful that person’s voice must have been?

    Creating the concept based on the latest historical data on the actual event from Prof. Danny Gerona’s 2016 book, based on primary sources, entitled “Ferdinand Magellan. The Armada de Maluco and the European Discovery of the Philippines.” 

    Dr. Gerona is the adviser to this 12-month project by SULU GARDEN FOUNDATION that began in April 2020. The idea emerged after conversations between Jonathan R. Matias and Dr. Gerona at Sulu Garden in 2017 about how important this event will be for the awareness of our national heritage.

    The estimated number of miniature warriors of Mactan and Lapulapu’s allies, Conquistadores and Cebuano Allies, and village people of Mactan was 2,500+. The installation of the diorama will begin on March 1, 2021, a month and a half before the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Mactan. 

Watercolor painting by Noe Trayvilla (1998). (Jonathan R. Matias Collection, New York). The warrior standing on the bow of the balanghai sings for the rowers”

To complement the diorama, Sulu Garden Foundation had searched for a composer to create the sounds of 500 years ago.  While the musical re-construction is daunting, we are pleased that Peter Jan Melchor B. ”Armor” Rapista has accepted this unique challenge.

To balance the musical-historical accounts, the Foundation plans also to recreate the music of the Spanish during the 16th century.


Peter Jan Melchor B. Rapista is a musician, songwriter and composer. He is known to incorporate tribal instruments and modern sounds. 

During the 1990’s he was among the Ilonggo bands and musicians promoting Hiligaynon songs, with “Sa Gihapon”, a song he recorded with his band “Balangaw”. During the years that followed, he became a musician performing in bars and cafes around Iloilo City and overseas. By 2003 he started recording songs incorporating Philippine tribal sounds. His interest in promoting local culture resulted in various music projects funded by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts(NCCA) where he became a regular member of the National Committee on Music and as a musician and music workshop facilitator of the same government agency.

Among his notable music projects are the live musical scoring of the only Filipino film of the country’s silent film era, “The Brides Of Sulu”(2011) which was shown on the 5th International Silent Film Festival, and “Kapwa,Tubig, Buhay” (2014) and “Tunog Panayanon” (2018) album recordings promoting local ethnic instruments both funded by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts(NCCA)

Currently, Armor Rapista resides in Sta. Maria, Bulacan and continues recording his songs and music for online videos and films.

 Armor Rapista writes:

“This musical project has allowed me to go back in time and explore the world of music and sounds of our pre-colonial culture. The Team in Sulu Garden Foundation is helpful in providing creative inputs and materials to realize the music during that specific time and place in our history. Recording the music using my collection of Philippine tribal and various ethnic instruments, my music making sessions became a journey into the heart of Mactan Island 500 years ago. With the Project Mactan team’s collaborative effort, we are creating the music and sounds of the island’s scenery, of the balanghai, and of the heroes who fought in this very important event of our nation’s past.”



Our plan is not only to make a grand diorama display but also to create a video documentary and animation using the miniatures. To establish the mood and settings of the story, we incorporate the background music and sounds made by our composer, Armor Rapista. All the six music backgrounds are compressed into one full-length music and applied for copyright at the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines. We have granted the ownership and secured a copyright certificate on December 17, 2020.

Awakened by the sounds of nature, you hear the chirping of birds, the hoot of the chimps, and other acquainted hums from diverse animals, as fresh air caress your skin. You opened your eyes and saw several villagers busy doing their regular morning work – farmers and fishers alike. A few minutes later and you realized, you are on a serene and lovely Island of Mactan, sometime in 1521.

Mesmerized by the splendor of Mactan, your eyes take a tour around the environs of the island where you spot a wooden lashed-lug boat called “Balanghai” from afar, propelled by the sail of Buri or Nipa fiber padding. Inside the boat are few men with a variety of goods. Some are busy spanking their paddles, while others are chatting and chanting, creating melodies together with the waves. These men play an important role in trading goods from and to the island of Mactan using the Balanghai. Life in the village is as simple as that, not until non-islanders came.

The peaceful life of people in Mactan is challenged by a strange noise. The calming sounds of nature and bustling villagers is altered by resonances of tribal drums, medium gongs, and small metallic gongs. The light atmosphere suddenly changed to a serious gathering of Mactan’s chieftain, Rajah Lapulapu and its warrior, in an anticipation of a coming battle.

Tension increases as disagreements between Rajah Lapulapu against Rajah Humabon of Cebu and Portuguese navigator, Ferdinand Magellan continue to grow. And so the inevitable war began! Houses of ordinary villagers were put to ashes making Rajah Lapulapu and his warriors consumed with the fire of revenge. The sounds of drums become louder as two opposing tribes are fighting. The crystal waters of the sea slowly turned red. Likewise, chants became cries. It was an hour full of music but, in painful melodies as the battle comes closer to an end.

The great desire to protect the island against foreign invasion gave much energy and strength for Rajah Lapulapu and his warriors, finally putting the troop of Ferdinand Magellan down on their knees. It was a short time of the battle but the story of bravery and heroism of Lapulapu and his men lived forever. The final curtain has dropped, and so does Ferdinand Magellan and his warriors. Only a few left of Magellan’s troops including Antonio Pigafetta who eventually wrote the story of Batalla de Mactán (Battle of Mactan).

Celebrating the Victory at Mactan, the island is filled with jubilant music and sounds. The battle is over but, life will never be the same again on the island of Mactan.
The discovery of the Philippines and the introduction of Christianity will forever credit Ferdinand Magellan, and so does the heroism and bravery of Rajah Lapulapu to defend his people and their sovereignty.

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