Morion’s Travel Diaries| Balangay Shrine in Butuan City

One Saturday morning while on breakfast, a colleague asked me if I am interested to visit the Balangay Shrine of National Museum in Barangay Libertad . Why not! Besides I am researching for some information for my Balangay Festival post. By the way, the city is celebrating its 26th Balangay Festival this whole month of May.

Balangay Museum

The museum is several kilometers east of downtown Butuan City- more or less 5 minutes tricycle ride. The exact location of the excavation site /shrine museum is Sitio Ambangan, Libertad, Butuan City where the 320 AD dated boat is now on display. The first boat was discovered in September 06, 1976 and dating was conducted by Gakushuin University of Tokyo Japan.

Unfortunately, the gate was closed and there is no guard on duty. A local passer instructed us to just open the gate and proceed - as the shrine according to her is “open for public”.  Ah OK that’s good but not really  good. Where is/are the guard(s) for this relics declared as National Cultural Treasures?

A one-storey building, the Balangay Shrine Museum serves as a Field Unit of the National Museum. It houses the remnants of the earliest watercraft known as “Balangay” or “Butuan Boat” discovered and excavated from 1976-1986.

The museum also displays remains of the early settlers found in wooden coffins- excavated very close to the location of the boats. The other Balangay boat excavated in this site is now on display in National Museum Manila and it is said that no other ancient boats were found elsewhere in the Philippines.

Aside from the issue of security, the present status of the Balangay Shrine is disturbing and threatening the restoration of what is perhaps the most important evidence of Pre-Hispanic Filipino civilization.

Balangay Museum

The Balangays (pronounced as Balang-hais) are large boat, built with wooden planks and pegs. This method of construction is typical to Southeast Asian boat building. The planks are one continuous piece carved to shape and made of hardwood identified as Heretiara Litorales or locally known as Dongon. The boat was 15 meters in length and 3 meters across the beam. Only in Butuan City, no other locality in the Philippines can boast of such rare and extensive recovery of these ancient maritime boats.

The balangays have been declared as National Cultural Treasure through the Presidential Proclamation No. 86, series of 1986 signed by the Former President Corazon C. Aquino.

Balangay Museum

"The coffin burials that led to the discovery of the boat lie 16 meters east of the boat. Similar to the inhumation in Suatan, Butuan, the coffins contain 14th-15th  century materials associate with the remains having deformed skulls. Nine of these coffins were uncovered in a single trench but all the materials have been disturbed by pot hunters. Reports have been made of multiple burials in the coffin which unlike coffin burials in rock shelters in the central Philippine areas, were apparently primary burials with the remains fully extended. The coffins proportionately are large, measuring approximately 3 meters.
Although proximate to the boat, the coffin burials have no chronological reference to the 12th – 13th century midden layer. The burials are situated on the high ground beyond the eastern limits of the midden."
***caption displayed in the museum

Balangay Museum
photo in the museum: excavation of Balangays in 1976

Balangay Museum
photo in the museum:  CABO NEGRO (Arenga Penata). Sugar Palm fibers locally known as hibyok or hidyop use to tie the boat planks together.

Balangay Museum
This is now the present situation of the excavation site where Balangay and other important relics are found in 1976.

From Gaisano Mall| Butuan City Integrated Land Transportation Terminal| City Proper: Ride in a tricycle (locally called as trisikad) going to the location of the Shrine Museum in Sitio Ambangan, Barangay Libertad. Fare is around 20-50 pesos.

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  1. During my high school days, I always admire the help of the Japanese providing high-end lab equipment like huge microscopes that are actually too good for a public high school lab. I love the fact how these neighbors had help us fix some pieces of own history. 320 AD boat is no kidding. Stories like these always have my utmost interest I wish the government could give the best housing for these Balangay artifacts for future generations. Very nice find :)

  2. Great historical facts Jeffrey. I am also a passionate historian and goes into places wearing my curiousity hat. Definitely, I will go to Butuan City and experience this piece of yours.

  3. This is historically rich info on the origin of balangay. Why is it no included in the PH history, especially the relics.

  4. It was such an amazing idea to explore the balangays (water vessels used during the Pre-Hispanic period in our country) and at the same time, because of the number of people accomodated in balangay, the name barangay was taken from that which is the smallest unit of Philippine society.

  5. It would be nice to visit this site because it contains the original relics and the actual excavation site.

  6. It's sad to know that these National Historic Treasures are not guarded. We do not know if someone goes there and put some relics inside their bags for souvenirs. Anyway it's good to know that this place exist and hope I will have a chance to visit this place some day.

  7. it's really no good hehe taking pictures inside museum is not allowed. so close nga sya talaga hehe, nag gate crash ka lang hala ka traveling morion hehe! =)

    anyway, thumbs up for sharing infos about that balangays! =)

  8. Very nice, i remembered the old boat of my grandparents. There are times that we played together with my cousins.

  9. This sounds like an interesting place to visit - thanks for sharing!

  10. Good thing they have still preserved the Balangay even after a hundred of years. Today and Future generations should thank our ancestors for this.

  11. I love discovering new things. This is definitely a blast from the past!

  12. That Balangay can sell for millions of dollars in the black market so the government should really protect and secure it. :-(

  13. Dear Sir/Madame:

    The Social Studies Section-Vibal Group, Inc., is currently processing its K to 12 series for elementary (Grades 1-6). The series, called KULTURA,KASAYSAYAN, AT KABUHAYAN (KKK) will be distributed to private schools.

    In connection with this, we are in need of photographs (in hard copy, digital format, or photos searched from the internet) which we can borrow, copy, or purchase.

    In my recent research, I crossed upon a photo of Balangay Shrine Museum posted on your website— Thus, I am seeking your permission to have this photo in KKK Grade 4. Likewise, please be reminded that the photo will be reproduced in hard copy that the book will be published for commercial purposes.

    As our standard procedure, we will cite your website together with your name as the provider of said photo both on the page where it will appear as well as in the acknowledgment page.

    If you have any question about this request, please feel free to contact me through email address

    Should you grant this request, the company will abide by whatever other terms that you, as owner of said object, will stipulate for the use of photograph.

    Editorial Assistant for Social Studies
    Vibal Group, Inc.


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