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Lapu-Lapu is considered to be the earliest hero of the Philippines. As the chieftain of Mactan Island, he resisted the attempts of Ferdinand Magellan to colonize his island. While Magellan succeeded in befriending other inhabitants of the Philippine islands, he faced his first opposition in Lapu-Lapu, who refused to pay tribute to the Spanish king and be converted to Christianity.

On the morning of April 27, 1521, Magellan, together with his soldiers, went to Mactan Island with the goal of punishing Lapu-Lapu and setting an example. Magellan was killed instead, and his force defeated. Popular notion places Magellan's killer as Lapu-Lapu, but historians generally agree that it was one or two of Lapu-Lapu's people who wounded and killed Magellan. See Battle of Mactan.

In his honor, the town of Opon on Mactan Island in Cebu province was renamed Lapu-Lapu City. An early Church of Lapu-Lapu can be seen near the shoreline facing Mandaue City.

Lapu-Lapu is also the common name of the grouper fish in the Philippines, and was named after the hero. See Serranidae.