Let Yoyoy Villame Remind You About What Happened On This Day 500 Years Ago
Today, we officially mark the 500th anniversary of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s arrival in a place that would later be called Las Islas Filipinas, or the Philippine Islands. The explorer had been on a voyage to the Moluccas and arrived here at dawn on March 16, 1521. He and his men were the first Europeans to land in the country.
Magellan stayed in the islands for a few weeks, converting the natives to Christianity and ordering mass to be celebrated on March 31, the first-ever in the country. Of course, we all know that Magellan would not be able to make it back to Spain, under whose crown the voyage was made. He was killed during a skirmish by forces led by local chief Lapu-Lapu.
This bit of history has been taught to schoolchildren in classrooms for years. But if you need a refresher, and don’t mind having it delivered to you via a novelty song, then the late composer, singer and comedian Ramon Tesorio Villame, or more popularly known as Yoyoy Villame, has got you covered.
Released in 1972, “Magellan” was one of the first songs Villame released in his career. According to Remembering Philippine History: Satire in Popular Songs, an academic paper written by Jocelyn Pinzon of the University of Cebu, Villame remembers history not only as a student learning through textbooks, but through folk tradition.
“To recall some details in his biography, he (Villame) would have fun crooning and drinking with his fellow drivers on the island of Bohol in the Central Philippines, the place where he composed his first hit song “Magellan” (Peñaranda, 1980),” Pinzon writes. “These occasions had been opportune times for tellings, retellings and exchanges not only of banter and teasing, as pointed out by Mojares (1977) and Alunan (2004), but of stories from the fantastic to the real, presented in a wide range of tones, from the bawdy, comic and irreverent to the serious and didactic—and this in a language accessible to all the members of the group.”
In her paper, Pinzon goes on a deep dive about “Magellan,” painstakingly searching for meaning in an otherwise innocent and benign novelty song. She talks of Villame's use of the word "bolo" in the song, when the locals actually used spears and lances during the battle; and how Villame describes Magellan being hit in the neck, when, according to chronicler Antonio Pigafetta, the explorer was actually hit in the leg. She also brings up Villame's decision to include the lyrics, ‘Oh, mother mother I am sick/ Call the doctor very quick/ Doctor, doctor shall I die?/ Tell my mama do not cry." All of these serve to offer satire and humor in the song.
“To sum up, satire in ‘Magellan’ is constituted by the bolo as an ironic metaphor of resistance; by the naliog trope, the stumbling and crying, the recitation of the nursery rhymes as burlesque and parody; and by the use of English to ‘sing back’,” she says.
While Pinzon takes great care in sifting through the lyrics and squeezing value and consequence out of the song, we can, of course, just choose to enjoy it for what it is: a fun, irreverent take on a pivotal moment in our history. It’s doubly significant that we can do it on this day, exactly 500 years from the events Villame sings about in his song.
Listen to "Magellan" here: