Balangay (formerly synonymous with Butuan boat), also known as balanghai or Spanish barangayanes, is a type of plank boat adjoined by a carved-out plank edged through pins and dowels. The oldest known balangay has been carbon-dated to 320 CE and were recovered from several sites in Butuan, Agusan del Norte. They remained in use until the colonial period, with the earliest record in the 16th century in the Chronicles of Pigafetta.
Balangay were the first wooden watercraft excavated in Southeast Asia and are evidence of early Filipino craftsmanship and their seamanship skills during pre-colonial times. The Balanghai Festival is also a celebration in Butuan to commemorate the coming of the Austronesian 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 word balangay
Barangay, or balangay, was one of the first native words the Spaniards learned in the Philippines. When Antonio Pigafetta went ashore to parley with the ruler of Mazua, they sat together in a boat drawn up on shore which Pigafetta called a balangai. This word appears as either balangay or barangay, with the same meaning, in all the major languages of the Philippines, and the earliest Spanish dictionaries make it clear that it was pronounced "ba-la-ngay."
This article is restricted on the terms balangay or barangay referring to the boat only and not the ‘barangay’ as community.
The use of the balangay
As in Northern Luzon particularly in the province of Cagayan, balangay is used as a medium in getting food for the Ibanags. The Cagayan river system and the Babuyan Channel provided the Ibanags with fish as well as avenues of trade as far as Ilocos coast, so that boats were an ordinary part of daily life. The common word for boat was barangay, a term sometimes extended to the crew. Large vessels were called Biray or Biwong.
The Visayans and Mindanaons had a different way of using balangay compared to that of the people of Northern Luzon. Large ones were used for carrying cargo and were called bidok, biroko, balutu, baroto, biray, or lapid.
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 area. Today, Balanghai Festival is a celebration in Butuan, Agusan del Norte, it is to commemorate the coming of the early migrants that settled in the Philippines, on board the Balangay boats.
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. The Tao people of Taiwan have traditionally been adept at crafting balangays, a tradition that still continues in modern times. Balangays are held as a symbol of their people. They are regarded as descendants of the vessels used by the ancestors of the Tao people when they settled Orchid Island from Batanes at approximately 1200 CE.
Boat-making: Tradition and Process
Balangay were the first wooden watercraft excavated in Southeast Asia.
Balangay was basically a plank boat put together by joining the carved out planks edge to edge, using pins or dowels. The planks, which were made from a hardwood called doongon in the Philippines (Heritiera littoralis), were fastened together every 12 centimetres, also by hardwood pin measuring some 19 centimetres long, which were driven into holes on the edge of each plank. On the inner side of the boat the planks were provided, at regular intervals, with raised rectangular lugs, carved from the same plank, through which holes were bored diagonally from the sides to the surface.
Rib like structures made of lengths of wood were then lashed against these lugs to provide a flexible bulkhead, to reinforce and literally sew the boat together. Cordage known as cabo negro (Arenga pinnata) was used for the purpose. The hull, measuring about 15 meters long and 4 meters wide, was ordinarily semicircular in cross section and with no marked keel. Provided with huge outriggers, the boat was propelled either by a sail or by paddling.
The boats were finely manufactured without any blueprints and were taught to be made from one generation to another and uses a technique still used by boat makers of Sibutu Island in the Southern Philippines.
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. A total of nine wooden boats were accidentally found by locals searching for alluvial gold on land near the Masao River. The site was in Sitio Ambangan, Barrio Libertad within an older dried-up river channel, perhaps a former tributary of the Masao River.
Three of the nine balangays discovered have been excavated by the National Museum and are currently preserved. The first balangay or Butuan Boat One, was discovered in 1976 and is now displayed in Balangay Shrine Museum in Libertad, Butuan City. It was radiocarbon tested and was dated to 320 CE. The Butuan Boat Two was dated to 1250 CE, and is now located at the Maritime Hall of the National Museum in Manila. The Butuan Boat Five, excavated at Bancasi, Libertad in 1986, has been dated to 1215 CE and 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. The leader of the research team, Dr. Mary Jane Louise A. Bolunia, reported the treenails or wooden pegs that were used in the construction of the mother boat to be around 5 centimeters in diameter. 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.
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 9 March 1987 and the vicinity of excavation as archaeological reserves.
In November 2015, the Balangay was declared as the National Boat of the Philippines by the House Committee on Revisions of Laws. The Balangay was chosen so that the "future generations of Filipinos will recognize the invaluable contribution of their forefathers in shaping the country’s maritime tradition and in passing on the values of solidarity, harmony, determination, courage and bravery.
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 Sama-Bajau (Sama Dilaya) 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 Sama-Bajau 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 Balangays, named Diwata ng Lahi, Masawa Hong Butuan, and Sama Tawi-Tawi, navigated without the use of modern instruments, and only through the skills and traditional methods of the Filipino Sea Badjao people. They Journeyed from Manila Bay to the southern tip of Sulu, stopping off at numerous Philippine cities along the way to promote the project. The journey around the Philippine islands covered a distance of 2,108 nautical miles or 3,908 kilometers.
The second leg of the voyage (2010-2011) saw the balangay boats navigate around South East Asia - Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand and up to the territorial waters of Vietnam before heading back to the Philippines.
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 relied 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 "aims to bring us back to the greatness of our ancestors and how colonialism robbed these away from us and produced the Filipino today".
In 2019, the Balangay Voyage team announced two more balangay (Lahi ng Maharlika and Sultan sin Sulu) will set sail in 14 December 2019 from Palawan to Butuan, then to Mactan to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Mactan. The two boats will be temporarily renamed Raya Kolambu and Raya Siyagu.
Balangay Site Museum
The Balangay Site Museum also known as "Balanghai Shrine Museum" houses the balangays excavated on 320 AD. It is located at Sitio Ambangan, Barangay Libertad, Butuan City. It also displays the cultural materials such as human and animal remains, hunting goods, jewelries, coffins, pots and other items associated to the boat.The establishment of the shrine in 1979 was made possible by the donation of land from Felix A. Luna, a resident of the area.
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