The Balangay or Butuan boat is a plank boat adjoined by a carved-out plank edged through pins and dowels. It was first mentioned in the 16th Century in the Chronicles of Pigafetta, and is known as the oldest watercraft found in the Philippines.
The balangay was the first wooden watercraft excavated in Southeast Asia and is evidence of early Filipino craftsmanship and their seamanship skills during pre-colonial times. The Balanghai Festival is also a celebration in Butuan, Agusan del Norte to commemorate the coming of the early migrants that settled the Philippines, on board the Balangay boats. When the first Spaniards arrived in the 16th century, they found the Filipinos living in well-organized independent villages called barangays. The name barangay originated from balangay, the Austronesian word for "sailboat".
The use of the balangay
With the balangay’s size, it was used for cargo and raiding purposes, giving proof that Butuan played a central role in trade throughout the region of the Philippine islands and with neighboring areas.
It is also held that the balangay also helped spread the settlement of the Austronesian people around the Philippines and neighboring regions of Maritime Southeast Asia and the Americas. The Tao people of Taiwan have traditionally been adept at crafting balangays, which are held as a symbol of their people.
Early boats in Butuan
Since the 10th century, Butuan appeared to have been in good relations with the Srivijaya. Being located on the coast of Mindanao, balangays were often docking at Butuan bay keeping good business between the local people of Butuan and traders from the neighboring empire and neighboring islands. Various goods, extending to the statue of Avalokiteśvara and the Golden Tara of Butuan, were traded across Maritime Southeast Asia.
The balangay boats were discovered in the late 1970s in Butuan City, Agusan del Norte by archaeologists from the National Museum of the Philippines. The site was in Ambangan, Libertad within an older dried-up river channel, perhaps a former tributary of the Masao River. Nine balangays were recovered in the province. The first balangay, now preserved and displayed in a site museum in Libertad, Butuan City, was radiocarbon tested and was dated to year 320. The second boat was dated to 1250, and is now located at the Maritime Hall of the National Museum in Manila. The third balangay was transferred to the Butuan Regional Museum and is undergoing preservation. The six other boats, which are yet to be excavated, remain in their original waterlogged condition which is proven to be the best way to preserve the said artifacts.
In 2012, National Museum archaeologists discovered what seems to be a massive balangay "mother boat", estimated to be 25 meters long, versus the average 15-meter length of the other balangays at the excavation site. As of June 2013, excavations of the find are still ongoing.
The first wooden watercraft excavated in Southeast Asia, the balangay is only found in the Philippines where a flotilla of such prehistoric wooden boats exists. Nine specimens were discovered in 1976 in Butuan, Agusan Del Norte, Mindanao, and 3 have already been excavated. Examination and extensive investigation reveals that the extant boats found at the excavation site date back to 320, 990 and 1250 AD.
A balangay is a plank boat adjoined by carved-out planks edged through pins or dowels. The term was adopted by archaeologists from Antonio Pigafetta's early-16th-century account which mentions the word balanghai, transcribed using Venetian orthographic rules.
Because of the ingenuity of Filipino boat makers, they were employed by the Spanish colonial regime to build the caracoa fleets that battled the Moros and mercantile galleons that crossed the Pacific, known as the Manila Galleon. The significance of the seafaring culture of the Philippines was demonstrated by the abundance of naval-related vocabularies in the 17th-century Spanish dictionaries of Philippine languages.
Building a balangay requires teamwork and unity among workers which is why it is now used by the Philippine Government as a term to refer to the smallest political unit, now popularly spelled as barangay. The finely built boat, made without the use of blueprints, was taught to be made from one generation to another and uses a technique still used by boat makers of Sibutu Island. Made 15 meters long and 3 to 4 meters wide, the Balangay is propelled by sail of buri, nipa fiber, or padding and large enough to hold 60 to 90 people.
Declaration as National Cultural Treasures
The balangays of Butuan was declared by President Corazon Aquino as National Cultural Treasures by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 86 on March 9, 1987 and the vicinity of excavation as archaeological reserves.
The Balangay Voyage
In 2009, the Kaya ng Pinoy, Inc. that conquered Mt. Everest in 2006 announced plans to re-construct the Balangay boat, with the help of Badjao and other tribal members. The Balangay will be sailed, tracing the routes of the Filipino Ancestors during the waves of Austronesian settlement through Maritime Southeast Asia and the Pacific. The special wood for construction came from the established traditional source in southern Philippines, specifically Tawi-Tawi. The team have pinpointed Badjao master boat builders, whose predecessors actually built such boats, and used traditional tools during the construction. The balangay was constructed at Manila Bay, at the Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex.
The Balangay, named "Diwata ng Lahi," navigated without the use of instruments, and only through the skills and traditional methods of the Filipino Sea Badjao people, will tour the Philippines travelling from Luzon through the Visayas to Mindanao, and Sulu, stopping off at numerous Philippine cities along the way to promote the project. The journey around the Philippine islands will cover a distance of 2,108 nautical miles or 3,908 kilometers.
The second leg saw the balangay navigate throughout South East Asia through to 2010, then Micronesia and Madascar the following year. The Balangay will then venture across the Pacific onward to the Atlantic and all the way around the world and back to the Philippines from 2012 to 2013. At February 4, 2011, the team arrived at Butuan City.
The balangay was navigated by the old method used by the ancient mariners – steering by the sun, the stars, the wind, cloud formations, wave patterns and bird migrations. Valdez and his team will rely on the natural navigational instincts of the Badjao. Apart from the Badjao, Ivatan are also experts in using the boat. The organisers say that the voyage is intended to "bring us back to the greatness of our ancestors and how colonialism robbed these away from us and produced the Filipino today". Their vessel, named "Ngandahig" can also be compared to the Hokulea voyages, and the voyages of the Polynesian Voyaging Society.
Italian explorer Antonio Pigafetta wrote an account of the balangays he saw during the 1500's, when the Spaniards discovered the Philippines. His accounts were the origin of the word "balangay." He was invited by Filipino royalties to a meal.
“When I reached shore, the king raised his hands toward the sky and then turned toward us two. We did the same toward him as did all the others. The king took me by the hand; one of his chiefs took my companion: and thus they led us under a bamboo covering, where there was a balanghai, as long as eighty of my palm lengths and resembling a fusta (a small vessel with lateen sails). We sat down upon the stern of that balanghai, constantly conversing with signs. The king’s men stood about us in a circle with swords, daggers, spears, and bucklers. The king had a pork brought in and a large jar filled with wine. At every mouthful, we drank a cup of wine. The wine that was left (in the cup) at any time, although that happened but rarely, was put into a jar by itself. The king’s cup was always kept covered and no one else drank from it but he and I.”
Proving Butuan to be the location of the first mass of the Philippines
There was a confusion on where the first mass of the Philippines was really held. It was initially thought that Limasawa was the location of the first mass. According to Pigaffetti’s accounts, the first mass was held in an island called “Manzaua,” and there has been debate on whether Manzaua is present day Limasawa or Butuan. This issue was cleared with the help of the nine ancient balangays discovered in Butuan in the late 1970’s along with Pigafetti’s journal account about the presence of “balanghais” on Manzaua. Since Limasawa has no significant archaeological relics or balanghai tradition, the boats were evidence that Butuan is indeed Mazaua and is therefore the birthplace of Christianity in the Philippines.
- BALANGHAI FESTIVAL - Commemorating the coming of the early settlers from Borneo and Celebes
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