Butuan and Balanghai ~ A Journey Through Time

Butuan City is a storied place, and not without it’s controversy. It’s been said that even before the Philippines came to be, there was already the Kingdom of Butuan. Of course a lot of people were quick to dispute that claim. In this featured post, Francis of Butuan City Today, gives us a glimpse of Butuan through its artifacts and its month-long Balanghai Festival.

Today, May 1, 2009 is the official start of Butuan City’s month long Balanghai Festival. We usually hear this word around this time of summer as we usually equate it with the city’s display of culture and tradition as well as its opportunity to show the development highlights it has travailed in its a thousand years of existence, from an influential maritime kingdom in the Sri Vidjayan and Madjapahit Empires, to a gold finders paradise in the early 20th century… to a booming timber-town in the 50’s. From a fragile, perennial calamity hit locality… to a rising highly urbanized regional capital of today…to that of vigorous shining metropolis in the near future. Let us again take a review of Balanghai, and how this great Indo-Malay word came to represent this city’s journey through the past millenia.

Golden Voyage

Golden Voyage

Since the 10th century, Butuan appeared to have been in good relations with the Srivijayan Empire. Being located on the coast of Mindanao, balanghais are often docking at the Butuan bay keeping good business between the local people of Butuan and traders from the neighboring empire.

During the 1970’s, these balanghais were exposed through an excavation to the modern time and found that through carbon-dating process, the boats were almost a thousand years old.

Building balanghai requires teamwork and unity among workers which is why it was used by the Philippine Government as a term to refer to the smallest political unit, now became popularly pronounced as barangay.

Butuan’s Early Balanghais

A balanghai, or some refer to it as balangay, is a wooden boat adjoined by planks, and believed that the term originated from an Italian archaeologist named Antonio Pigafetta in the 16th century when he mentioned the word spelled “balanghai”.

The balangays did not serve just a wooden boat but stood as a symbol for social unit. In the 16th century, Spaniards found out that balangay also referred to the smallest unit of politics among Filipinos.

Balanghai Boats

Balanghai Boats

Late 1970’s, balangay boats were discovered in Butuan City by the National Museum archaelogists. Nine were recovered during the excavation. The first is being presently preserved and displayed in the museum in Libertad, Butuan City. It had undergone carbon-dating and dated at year 320. The second boat, dated 1250, is presently located at the Maritime Hall of National Museum in Manila. The third was transferred to Butuan Regional Museum while the six other boats are under the process of excavtion and preserved, remaining to their original waterlogged condition to protect the artifacts.

The Historical Butuan

The city of Butuan is the home of treasures such as the Tara, golden figurine of Buddha’s consort, an array of lustrous, most intricate jewelry, a collection of priceless ceramics from the Sung Dynasty, and the remains of the early balanghai.

These precious treasures of Butuan are now found around the globe. The Tara is now at the Field Museum in Chicago, the Chinese precious findings and the restored balanghais are being displayed at the National Museum, and the incomparable gold jewelry is the Metropolitan Museum of Manila’s grandest collection.

The first mass in the Philippines is believed to have taken place near the Agusan River, and it is said that Ferdinand Magellan himself dropped the anchor of the ship in 1521 at the Agusan River, and held a mass to commemorate the event.


The Festival

Balanghai Festival

Balanghai Festival

Commemorating the coming of the early settlers from Borneo and Celebes, Butuan in Agusan del Sur is celebrating Balanghai Festival during the third week of May, coinciding the feast of Butuan’s patron saint, Saint Joseph.

The balanghai, also known as balangay and Butuan boat, is the first water vessel to have excavated in Southeast Asia, serving as evidence to the craftsmanship of the early Filipinos in attempting to transport on water.

Balanghai Festival is one historical event commemorated through a night of exotic performances, costumes in an array of colors and creativity, and dazzling floats. One can also take part in the festivals activities such as contests, exhibits, and many other events.

Take a Journey to Butuan today…explore ~ www.butuantoday.tumblr.com

5 Comments… add one

  • ginesdemafra May 20, 2009

    Did Magellan reach Agusan River?

    This assertion is part of the notion Magellan and his fleet went to Butuan in 1521. This notion stemmed from a false history of Magellan's voyage by Giovanni Battista Ramusio which got published around 1536.

    This false history also spawned the erroneous notion the first mass was held at Butuan.

    In fact the first mass in 1521 was not in Butuan

    The Easter Sunday mass of March 31, 1521 was held at an island named Mazaua. Not Butuan, not Limasawa.

    There is no primary (eyewitness) or secondary or even thirdhand account that says such a mass was ever held in 1521 Butuan. In fact Butuan was not visited at all by Magellan’s fleet.

    All the eyewitness accounts are now published on the Internet. One can read the chronicles of Antonio Pigafetta, Gines de Mafra, Francisco Albo, The Genoese Pilot, and Martin de Ayamonte on the Net. This site, http://digital.library.cornell.edu/cgi/t/text/p…, has the stories of Pigafetta, Albo, and The Genoese Pilot including the secondhand account of Maximilianus Transylvanus.

    The account of Gines de Mafra is at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Gin%C3%A9s_de…. Martin de Ayamonte’s is at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mart%C3%ADn_de_Aya….

    The secondhand relation by Antonio de Herrera, which is the first ever account that has a faithful story of the Mazaua episode, can be accessed at http://www.memoriachilena.cl/archivos2/pdfs/MC0… .

    The notion Butuan is where Magellan landed and where an Easter mass was held comes, as earlier stated, from a false story of the Magellan circumnavigation by Giovanni Battista Ramusio. The original Italian text of Ramusio is at http://www.bibliotecaitaliana.it/xtf/view?docId….

    The English translation of Ramusio is at http://www.archive.org/details/firstthreeenglis…. It will be seen that Ramusio misplaced the port from Mazaua to Butuan.

    It will be seen that the site of the first mass was Mazaua, not Butuan. Mazaua was an island. Ramusio’s Butuan of 1521 was not. And today’s Butuan is still not an island. It is a part of the “continental” island of Mindanao.

    Where then is Mazaua today?

    This is the paradox of Mazaua. Based on the combined insights of Pigafetta, Gines de Mafra, Albo, The Genoese Pilot, de Ayamonte, de Herrera, Maximilianus, I hypothesized that the island of Mazaua will be found at latitude 9 degrees North at longitude 125 deg. East. Thus, on October 13, 2000 before The Society for the History of Discoveries at the Library of Congress, Washington DC, U.S.A., I predicted an island will be found at that latitude and longitude and that this island is Mazaua.

    Such an island was found in 2001 by a team of geologists and archaeologists led by the Philippines first geomorphologist, Dr. Ricarte Javelosa. Is it Mazaua? We yet don’t know. No comprehensive excavation has been done that would help determine if it’s Magellan’s port. Evidence that it is Mazaua would consist of authentic artefacts, scientifically dug up, that can be traced to Magellan as well as other European visitors to the port such as Gines de Mafra and his 90+ seamates who went to Mazaua in 1543, Bernardo de la Torre, and a number of Portuguese sailors.

    If this island will be proven to be Mazaua, that still will not justify or validate the assertion that the first mass of 1521 March was held at Butuan.

    The correct way of saying the geographical paradox is to say, “The first mass was held at a small island named Mazaua which mystifyingly we find today inside Mindanao, more precisely inside Butuan of today.”

    It’s a confusing, if paradoxical, way of stating a truth that defies easy understanding and facile description.


  • Edison Montes Sep 12, 2009

    The long discussion of the disputed first mass in the Philippine land is so significant for me. I've read many argumentation about this. I just hope that porper cited website shall be published online to provide us researchers with correct information about this. I hope that the result of the long discusiion shall end up with the correct one… In Masao, Butuan… I hope.
    but if the result will not be favorable to Butuan, well I will respect that.

  • pinoytraveller Sep 13, 2009

    I'll leave this to you scholars to discuss, history is never one of my stronger suits; superficiality is. lol

  • jrcs Feb 13, 2010

    Butuan is not in Agusan Del Sur but in Agusan Del Norte. Please edit the the second sentence of the third to the last paragraph of the preceeding literature. Thanks

  • Yong Steeves Apr 22, 2010

    Because of reading your blog, I decided to write my own. I had never been interested in keeping a blog until I saw how fun yours was, then I was inspired!

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