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Balangay Shrine, Butuan City: Commemorating the Past

Our knowledge of Philippine history isn’t complete without remembering the word ‘balangay’ or the giant boat used by our early ancestors living in nomadic ways around Southeast Asia and the Polynesian islands. These boats played an important role  as the primary shelter keeping the  clans or family together  while making trades using the barter system among various Asian traders. This boat was the origin of the modern barangay , the smallest political unit in the Philippines .

After a full meal I had in Lutong Bahay ni Aling Cora, I hit the road going to Brgy Libertad through a multicab jeepney . At the intersection of Paradise Street, I hopped into a local pedicab going to Balangay Shrine.

The Shrine is a simple display managed by the Philippine National Museum showcasing the old remains of the original balangay discovered in the area. The artifacts are placed in a giant glass confinement to protect it against further decay along with the coffins, skulls and other materials associated with it.

Butuan Boat 2 700+790 years 1250 AD, Conserved in 1976, found in Fortun Property

As I talked to the museum personnel, I learned that it was in Luna, Sitio Ambangan, Brgy Libertad in Butuan City that the first Balangay or "boat 1"  was excavated in September 3, 1976 . It was dated back as early as 320 AD by Gakushuin University in Tokyo and can be considered as the oldest watercraft artifact in the world that was standing silently for 1630 years near the river bank of Agusan.

The boat was accidentally  discovered during the water draining  operation of the City Engineering Office that led to the exposure of the  multiple coffins in Libertad, Butuan City

The boat was   made from from three Philippine hardest wood tree : the wood planks are made of Doongon or Heretia litorales, wooden pegs with kamagong or Diospyrus philippinensis and  Magkuno or Xanthostemon verdugonianus.

She also showed me the original excavation site located just at the back of the  building. There you can see an elongated dent in the ground with the shape of the base of the boat. It made me curious, that if the boat was there, then the whole area in which the barangay was standing now was previously part of the Agusan River a thousand years ago. It could have been due to the geological siltation that became a solid ground  to its current condition.  

Today, the balangay may not be seen sailing  in the vast ocean but in respect to the origin of the current civilization , the people of Butuan City continue to  commemorate the discovery of the boat through a month long celebration of Balangahai Festival in the month of May  since 1979.

The Coffin Burials

Burial coffin recovered near the boat, wood used is Magkono, Philippine Iron Wood or Xanthostemon verdogunianus
The coffin burials that led to the discovery of the boat lie 16 meters east of the boat. Similar to the inhumation in Suatan, the coffins contain 14th - 15th century materials associate with remainshaving deformed skulls. Nine of these coffins were discovered in a single trench but all of the materials have been disturbed by pot hunters.

Along with the 3 meter long coffins are small coffins to which skulls of children were found . As you look closer to the skulls recovered from Ambangan grave pit , there were cranial deformations (fronto-occipital ) which was a part of cultural practice seen also in the skulls discovered in southeast Bohol.

Getting there:

If you are not booked to a tour agency, you can reach Balangay Shrine via commute:

Coming from the city proper, take a multicab jeepney bound for Libertad or Bancasi. Tell the driver that you will alight at the crossing of Paradise Street. This is just a block away from the PNP Caraga Regional Office.  From the corner of the waiting shed of Paradise Street, you have the options to hop into a tricycle, pedicab, or single motorbike. The fare is Php 10.00 only. The site is more or less 5-10 minutes depending on your type of transportation.


  1. Will drop here on Sunday Dennis:) after ng sports fest namin sa Surigao del Sur- kya lang open kaya?

  2. Pwde mo itry , open naman ung area... depende na lang kung isara nila ung gate...

  3. The story of the discovery of balangay caught my interest and how it relates to coming up with the barangays from this. It's good that they were able to preserve such rich history.

  4. Balangay somehow refreshed my memory of Philippine History.. Sibika at Kultura slash HEKASI way back in my elementary years of education I just found out that something like this is being dispalyed around Agusan

  5. Great historical sites. Wow! first time to hear na may na-unearth na balangay. Elem pa ako ng huli kong na-encounter itong Balangay boat.

  6. Balangay or Balanghay is an overused word when I recall my Sibika at Kultura or Hekasi Days. But during those years I can't barely remember that Balangay was found in Butuan. Or maybe the books that I read didn't acknowledge it. Good to know this info Dennis. I <3 History.

  7. As one who didn't grow up here, this is actually the first time I've heard of the origin of the word 'barangay'. Judging from the size, yes, they do look like they could carry communities easily.

  8. Another interesting post.. Balangay Shrine is also new to me, will definitely visit this when im in that part of Mindanao.. :)

  9. That's another interesting shrine to visit to. I hope its also photographer-friendly as well. ^_^

  10. Lots of history in those places. The balangay really plays a crucial part of our Philippine history.

  11. ralph marcuss ManarangNovember 20, 2012 at 2:08 PM

    Sa national museum may mga ganyan din po! Ito ang dapat mapuntahan ng maraming kabataan ngayon. I Love Philippines!

  12. there is something eerie about those skulls but if I can learn something about history by these skulls, I would dare look and study them. Nice that we have a museum like this that preserves history

  13. These are interesting! I've yet to see a real balangay in person..not only in elementary text books.

  14. This is one of the great evidence that we have a fascinating civilization before the Spaniard came. Another one is the Golden Tara.

  15. Great museum preserving the history of balangay. Hope I can visit the place anytime soon.