Butuan (historical polity)

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Ancient Butuan

before 1001–1521
CapitalCentered in modern Butuan City
Common languagesButuanon,[1] Old Malay, other Visayan languages
Hinduism, Buddhism and Animism
• Established
before 1001
• First historical reference by Song dynasty records
• Integrated into the Spanish Empire after the last known monarch, Rajah Siagu, made a blood compact with Ferdinand Magellan
• Area conquered by Spain
CurrencyPiloncitos,[2] Barter rings
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Prehistory of the Philippines
Barangay state
New Spain
Spanish East Indies
Today part of Philippines

Butuan (also called as Kingdom of Butuan) was a precolonial Philippine polity centered on the northern Mindanao island in the modern city of Butuan in what is now the southern Philippines. It was known for its mining of gold, its gold products and its extensive trade network across the Nusantara area. The kingdom had trading relationships with the ancient civilizations of Japan, China, India, Indonesia, Persia, Cambodia and areas now comprised in Thailand.[3][4]

The balangay (large outrigger boats) that have been found along the east and west banks of the Libertad river (old Agusan River) have revealed much about Butuan's history. As a result, Butuan is considered to have been a major trading port in the Caraga region during the pre-colonial era.[5]


Chinese records[edit]

The world in 1200 AD: Butuan and its neighbors.

Evidence indicates that Butuan was in contact with the Song dynasty of China by at least 1001 AD. The Chinese annal Song Shih recorded the first appearance of a Butuan tributary mission (Lijehan 李竾罕 and Jiaminan) at the Chinese Imperial Court on March 17, 1001 AD. Butuan (or "Buotuan" 蒲端 in Middle Chinese) around that time was a gold mining and trading center in northeastern Mindanao, known for manufacturing metal tools and weaponry, musical instruments, and gold jewelry.[6] The chief (or "king") of Butuan named Kiling[7] sent an envoy under I-hsu-han, with a formal memorial requesting equal status in court protocol with the Champa envoy. The request was denied later by the Imperial court, mainly because of favoritism over Champa.[8]

A new ruler with the Indianized name Sri Bata Shaja later succeeded in attaining diplomatic equality with Champa by sending the ambassador Likanhsieh. Likanhsieh shocked the Emperor Zhenzong by presenting a memorial engraved on a gold tablet, some white dragon (Bailong 白龍) camphor, Moluccan cloves, and a South Sea slave at the eve of an important ceremonial state sacrifice.[9] This display of irreverence sparked interests from China over the polity and the diplomatic relations between the two polities reached its peak during the Yuan dynasty. Chinese records about the polity stopped after the reign of Rajah Siagu, the last independent Rajah of Butuan. He was formally subjugated into the Spanish Empire after he and his brother, Rajah Kolambu of Limasawa, made a blood compact with Ferdinand Magellan in 1521.

Excavated artifacts[edit]

The Butuan Ivory Seal, displayed at the National Museum of the Philippines. The Kawi script lettering says "But-wan" and the smaller lettering (similar to Baybayin) says "Bu-wa" (diacritics for the "Wan/Ban" in Kawi and "Bu/Ba" in the smaller letters have worn off).
A silver strip excavated from the 1970s in Butuan inside of a wooden coffin. The characters display a Hindu-Buddhist influence, probably a form of early writing in the Philippines (c. 14th–15th century).

Numerous jars have been found in the Butuan area that indicate the wealth of the kingdom and the existence of foreign traditions.[10] Some of these jars have been dated as follows:

Artifacts have been recovered from within the vicinities of Ambangan Archeological Site in Libertad that attest to the historical accounts that Butuan traded with India,[12] Japan, Han Chinese, and Southeast Asian countries during these periods.[3]

Origins of the name[edit]

An illustration of the Garcinia morella, locally called batuan, one of which might Butuan's name came from.

The name Butuan is believed to have existed long before the Spanish conquistadores arrived in the Philippine archipelago. One possible indication of this is a rhinoceros ivory seal with design carved in ancient Javanese or early Kawi script (used around the 10th century CE) which, according to a Dutch scholar, was deciphered as But-wan. Another account suggests the name derives from the word batuan, a mangosteen-related fruit common in Mindanao. Another alternative is that the name derives from Datu Bantuan, possibly a former datu of the region.[13]

Recorded monarchs[edit]

The Royal Title of the Reigning Rajah Events From Until
Datu Bantuan[citation needed] - 989[citation needed]
Kiling The Embassy of I-shu-han (李竾罕) 989[citation needed] 1009[citation needed]
Sri Bata Shaja Mission by Likanhsieh (李于燮) 1011[citation needed] ?
Rajah Siagu[citation needed] Annexation by Ferdinand Magellan ? 1521

Modern commentary[edit]

Spanish chroniclers, when they stepped foot on Butuan, remarked that gold was so abundant that even houses were decorated with gold; "Pieces of gold, the size of walnuts and eggs are found by sifting the earth in the island of that king who came to our ships. All the dishes of that king are of gold and also some portion of his house as we were told by that king himself...He had a covering of silk on his head, and wore two large golden earrings fastened in his ears...At his side hung a dagger, the haft of which was somewhat long and all of gold, and its scabbard of carved wood. He had three spots of gold on every tooth, and his teeth appeared as if bound with gold." As written by Antonio Pigafetta on Rajah Siagu of Butuan during Magellan's voyage. Rajah Siagu was also a cousin of Rajah Humabon of the Cebu, thus suggesting that the two Indianized kingdoms were in an alliance together with Hindu Kutai against the Islamic Sultanates of Maguindanao and Sulu.

Butuan was so rich in treasures that a museum curator, Florina H. Capistrano-Baker, stated that it was even richer than the more well-known western maritime kingdom of Srivijaya; "The astonishing quantities and impressive quality of gold treasures recovered in Butuan suggest that its flourishing port settlement played an until recently little-recognized role in early Southeast Asian trade. Surprisingly, the amount of gold discovered in Butuan far exceeds that found in Sumatra, where the much better known flourishing kingdom of Srivijaya is said to have been located."[14]

See also[edit]

Pre-Colonial History of the Philippines
Naturales 4.png
Barangay government
Ruling class (Maginoo): Datu (Lakan, Raja, Sultan)
Middle class: Timawa, Maharlika
Serfs, commoners and slaves (Alipin): Horohan, Alipin Namamahay, Alipin sa gigilid, Bulisik, Bulislis
The book of Maragtas
States in Luzon
Caboloan (Pangasinan)
Rajahnate of Maynila
States in the Visayas
Kedatuan of Madja-as
Kedatuan of Dapitan
Kingdom of Mactan
Rajahnate of Cebu
States in Mindanao
Rajahnate of Butuan
Sultanate of Sulu
Sultanate of Maguindanao
Sultanates of Lanao
Key figures
History of the Philippines
Portal: Philippines


  1. ^ Fred S. Cabuang (September 6, 2007). "Saving Butuanon language". Archived from the original on August 30, 2008. Retrieved October 9, 2009.
  2. ^ Ocampo, Ambeth R. (August 30, 2011). "'Piloncitos' and the 'Philippine golden age'". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved March 8, 2019.
  3. ^ a b "The Cultural Influences of India, China, Arabia, and Japan". Philippine Almanac. July 14, 2010. Archived from the original on November 24, 2010.
  4. ^ "Butuan Archeological Sites". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved March 8, 2019.
  5. ^ Lealiz, Sia (February 4, 2009). "Discovering the Ancient Kingdom of Butuan". The Philippine Star. Retrieved October 9, 2009.
  6. ^ Abinales, Patricio N.; Amoroso, Donna J. (2005). State and Society in the Philippines. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 36. ISBN 9780742568723. Another Philippine place name appearing in Sung trade records is that of Butuan, a gold mining and trading center in northeastern Mindanao that sent its first tribute mission to China in 1001. From the tenth to the thirteenth centuries, Butuan was known for manufacturing metal tools and weaponry (blades, knives, and projectiles), musical instruments (bells, cymbals, and gongs), and gold jewelry (earrings, buckles, and rings).
  7. ^ Scott, William Henry (1989). Filipinos in China before 1500. China Studies Program, De La Salle University. OCLC 22641804. Butuan seems to have attracted some notoriety. For four years, its King Kiling (Ch'i-ling) sent missions every year: on 3 October 1003, for example, Minister Lijihan and Assistant Minister Gaminan presented red parrots in addition to the usual native products like tortoise shell.
  8. ^ Scott, William (1984). Prehispanic Source Materials: For the Study of Philippine History (revised ed.). Quezon City: New Day Publishers. p. 66. ISBN 9711002264.
  9. ^ Song Shih Chapter 7 to 8
  10. ^ Luna, Lillian (2004). MAPEH for Secondary Students. Art Books and History Books. St Bernadette Publications Inc. ISBN 971-621-327-1.
  11. ^ Manansala, Paul Kekai (September 5, 2006). "Quests of the Dragon and Bird Clan: Luzon Jars (Glossary)". Quests of the Dragon and Bird Clan. Retrieved March 8, 2019.
  12. ^ Quirino, Karl (September 1, 2010). "The Kingdom of Butuan". The Bulwagan Foundation Trust. Retrieved March 8, 2019.
  13. ^ "Historic Butuan". Archived from the original on December 30, 2009. Retrieved October 9, 2009.
  14. ^ "The Kingdom of Butuan". Philippine Gold: Treasures of Lost Kingdoms. Asia Society New York. Retrieved March 8, 2019.

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