The Balangays and the Ancient Kingdom of Butuan

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A convoy of Chinese junks gently being swept by wind as it slowly draw itself to the bustling port in an island somewhere in the southeast. Folks from all walks of life were scurrying about, hassling and haggling. Such had always been the scenes in Butuan, a thriving commercial and trading center in this part of Southeast Asia. This was circa 10th Century.

A settlement built along along the banks of Agusan River, the sprawling Butuan was not just another stopover but a significant seaport in the flourishing trade route between and among Asian empires. As early as the 4th Century, Butuan was growing vigorously that eventually the Sri Vijaya and Majapahit Empires, the Chinese dynasties and other ancient Southeast Asian and Polynesian kingdoms took notice and regularly sent trade missions. Spices, golds, jewelries, china, silks, and other high-valued products were exchanged from one merchant to another.

BalangayAncient Asian civilizations and cultures were characterized by shipbuilding, tattooing, piercing, and metallurgy. The early Butuanons were skillful boat-builders and expert seafarers. Their trademark balangays were made out of a meticulously chosen wood tree called doongon, now a very rare species, if not altogether extinct, and kamagong. Like the Vikings of Scandinavia, the Butuanons only used wood planks and wooden pegs in the building of their balangays. In a carbon-dating study made by the Gakushuin University of Tokyo, Japan, the balangay discovered and excavated in Libertad on September 3, 1976 was made circa 320 AD.

Balangay Boat-Building SiteInterestingly, the Philippines‘ smallest political unit called barangay was derived from balangay. Royalty, noblemen, merchants, and ordinary people formed communities inside the wooden craft, transporting them in phalanx from one settlement to another, navigating through either rough or calm seas, reflecting their advanced skills and knowledge in sea voyage.

Over time, their skills, their valuable merchandises and their settlement created ripple and buzz around the region. And quite possibly the same reasons that charmed even the European explorers and merchants who made important voyages to this booming kingdom. According to records, on March 29, 1521, Ferdinand Magellan and two Butuanon brother kings Siagu and Colombu did a blood compact on a Good Friday and the first Catholic mass was held on the morning of Easter Sunday.

Butuan City HallSeventeen centuries later, the former ancient kingdom is now a bustling, highly urbanized city. Although it may been overshadowed by other growth areas and cities in Mindanao, Butuan City remains to be an important center of trade, commerce and industry, specifically in the Caraga Region. Being strategically located at the mouth of Butuan Bay which is part of the larger Bohol Sea, dissected by the country’s widest navigable river, and backdrop provided by Mount Mayapay, thus, Butuan City is a natural economic and industrial growth center, mirroring its glorious past.

Note: This is part of LegendHarry‘s Nov 21-29 Northern Mindanao-Caraga-Davao Trip.

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