Between the 13th and 16th century Cebu then known as Zubu (or Sugbo) was an island inhabited by Hindu, animist and Muslim tribal groups ruled by Rajahs and Datus. It was a kingdom of the defunct Rajahnate of Cebu.
The Rajahnate of Cebu was a native kingdom which used to exist in Cebu prior to the arrival of the Spaniards. It was founded by Sri 'Lumay' otherwise known as 'Rajamuda Lumaya', a native prince of the Chola dynasty which had invaded Sumatra in Indonesia. He was sent by the Maharajah to establish a base for expeditionary forces to subdue the local kingdoms, but he rebelled and established his own independent Rajahnate instead. This rajahnate waged war against the 'magalos' or (Slave traders) of Maguindanao and had an alliance with the Butuan Rajahnate before it was weakened by the insurrection of Datu (chieftain or king) Lapu-Lapu who converted to Islam and swore allegiance toSultan Kiram.
Losing favor for his plan of reaching the Spice Islands from king Manuel I of Portugal, by sailing west from Europe, Magellan offered his services to king Charles I of Spain. On September 20, 1519, Magellan led five ships with a crew of 250 people from the Spanish fort of Sanlúcar de Barrameda enroute to Southeast Asia via the Americas and Pacific Ocean. They reached the Philippines on March 16, 1521. Rajah Kolambu the king of Mazaua told them to sail for Cebu, where they could trade and have provisions.
Arriving in Cebu City, Magellan, with Enrique of Malacca as translator, befriended Rajah Humabon the Rajah or King of Cebu and persuaded the natives of allegiance to Charles I of Spain. Humabon and his wife were given Christian names and baptized as Carlos and Juana. The Santo Niño was presented to the native queen of Cebu, as a symbol of peace and friendship between the Spaniards and the Cebuanos. On April 14, Magellan erected a large wooden cross on the shores of Cebu. Afterwards, about 700 islanders were baptized.
Magellan soon heard of Datu Lapu-Lapu, a native king in nearby Mactan Island, a rival of the Rajahs of Cebu. It was thought that Humabon and Lapu-Lapu had been fighting for control of the flourishing trade in the area. On April 27, the Battle of Mactan occurred where the Spaniards were defeated and Magellan killed by Lapu-Lapu in Mactan Island. According to Italian historian and chronicler, Antonio Pigafetta, Magellan's body was never recovered despite efforts to trade for it with spice and jewels. Magellan's second in command, Juan Sebastián Elcano took his place as captain of the expedition and sailed their fleet back to Spain, circumnavigating the world.
Survivors of the Magellan expedition brought tales of a savage island in the East Indies with them when they returned to Spain. Consequently, several Spanish expeditions were sent to the islands but all ended in failure. In 1564, Spanish explorers led by Miguel López de Legazpi sailing fromMexico arrived in 1565 and established a colony. The Spaniards fought the King Rajah Tupas and occupied his territories. The Spaniards established settlements, trade flourished and renamed the island to "Villa del Santíssimo Nombre de Jesús" (Town of the Most Holy Name of Jesus). Cebu became the first European settlement established by the Spanish Cortés in the Philippines. In 1595, the Universidad de San Carlos (University of San Carlos) was established and in 1860, Cebu opened its forts to foreign trade. The first printing house ("Imprenta de Escondrillas y Cia") was established in 1873 and in 1880, the Colegio de la Inmaculada Concepcion (College of the Immaculate Conception) was established and the first periodical The Bulletin of Cebu ("El Boletin de Cebú") began publishing in 1886. In 1898, the island was ceded to the United States after the Spanish-American War and Philippine-American War. In 1901, Cebu was governed by the United States for a brief period, however it became a charter province in February 24, 1937 and was governed independently by Filipino politicians.
Cebu, being one of the most densely populated island in the Philippines, served as a Japanese base during their occupation in World War IIwhich began with the landing of Japanese soldiers in April 1942. Almost three years later in March 1945, combined Filipino and American forces landed and reoccupied the island during the liberation of the Philippines. Cebuano rebel soldiers led by an American, James Cushing is credited for the establishment of the Koga Papers which is said to have changed the American plans to retake the Philippines from Japanese occupation in 1944, by helping the United States and the Philippine Army enter Cebu in 1945. The following year the island achieved independence from colonial rule in 1946.