‘Balangay’ recalls glory days of Butuan trade | Inquirer News

‘Balangay’ recalls glory days of Butuan trade

/ 07:26 AM May 13, 2018

BUTUAN CITY — Once again, Butuanons paid homage to boatmen of old, who had tackled the mighty Agusan River on their wooden craft as they ventured into the open sea and traded with nearby empires and kingdoms.

And what better tribute than a boating competition — the annual Balangay Festival here that officially kicked off on Friday.

The festival, now on its fifth year, features a dragon boat race dubbed “Bugsay Mindanao: Paddle for Peace,” with at least 12 teams from all over the country seeing action.


The aim is  “to connect us to our own historical pride,” said Rev. Father Chito “Kits” Butardo, vice president of the Father Saturnino Urios University here, who first came up with the idea of forming Caraga Region’s first dragon boat team back in July 2012.


Growing interest

“From very few teams in 2012, we now have more than two dozen teams paddling in different bodies of water all over Mindanao. Slowly, (paddling) has become a mainstream sport in Mindanao,” Butardo said.

The priest said paddling a dragon boat “intensifies our sense of identity as a people endowed with the mighty Agusan River and the river basins of Mindanao.”

As historical accounts have it, boats were always linked to the precolonial life of Filipinos, most of whom lived in coastal villages.

Communities relied on bodies of water for food, trade, travel and communication, with some tribes living on the water itself.

16th century


The Butuan boat, also called balanghai or Balangay, was a plank boat first mentioned in the 16th century by Spanish chronicler Antonio Pigafetta, and was known as the oldest pre-Hispanic watercraft found in the Philippines.

Nine specimens of this wooden watercraft were discovered in 1976 in Butuan City, Agusan Del Norte, with extensive investigation revealing the extant boats to date back to 320, 990 and 1250 A.D.

Measuring some 15 meters long and three to four meters wide, the balangay was propelled by sail of buri or nipa fiber, or by paddling.

It was large enough to hold 60 to 90 people, and was used mainly to transport cargo, proof that Butuan had been active in trading, even with  China and the Srivijaya empire.

River trade route

Trade was facilitated by the Agusan River, which starts from the mountains of Compostela Valley and meanders along for 390 kilometers before draining in the Butuan Bay.

“This is a very apt event as Balangay is a celebration of our roots as paddlers in the past,” Butardo said.  The boat race, he added, also reminds people to “continually care for our waterways.”

He added:  “With the local government embracing this sport, we foresee communities by the riverbank getting enticed to go into water sports. Agusan River can be the playground of communities.”

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Local officials, including Councilor Cromwell Nortega and Mayor Ronnie Vicente Lagnada had vowed “unwavering support” to the dragon boat race, as it showcases Butuan’s tourism potential and the city’s “commitment to peace in our region.”—ERWIN MASCARIÑAS

TAGS: balangay

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