Revisiting the past and the present in the city of balanghais

Even in ancient times, we Filipinos have a rich maritime culture. Our ancestors travel for so many different reasons – to discover new trade routes, to find new settlements, or simply, to chart a new course.

The former capital of Agusan in Northern Mindanao, Butuan, was an ancient sea-faring kingdom by the river and a major center of commerce in pre-colonial Philippines.

Today, Butuan is dubbed as the “Timber Capital of the Philippines” and is now a highly urbanized city that lies at the heart of the province, bounded by mountainous terrain along its northeastern and western parts, with flat, rolling lands in its center, particularly where the Agusan River cuts through as it empties into Butuan Bay.

Butuan’s unique geography of gentle rolling hills of tropical rainforest, fascinating rock formations and mysterious caves, enchanting beaches with crystal-clear water teeming with marine life, and magnificent waterfalls leaves one with wonder and awe in the vibrant and timeless hues of nature.

But Butuan’s claim to fame lies in its ancient past.

Butuan City has been known here and abroad, particularly in Southeast Asia, as a city of antiques and archaeological finds – a treasure throve of knowledge and discovery of cultural relics from ancient Philippines. The discovery of nine balanghais or balangays – wooden sailing vessels of pre-Spanish Butuanons – in Ambangan, Libertad  is unprecedented across the world and has no parallel in SE Asian prehistoric archeology. These finds gave experts, and us, a glimpse of the maritime history of the early Asians, particularly, the pre-colonial Filipinos.

Walking through Butuan’s glorious past

The Balangay Shrine Museum is built in the actual excavation area in Brgy. Ambangan, Libertad of what is now known as the Butuan Boat No. 1. The museum houses the more than 1,650-year old balanghai or “mother boat” excavated in 1976, the oldest of the nine balanghais dug in and around Butuan City. Declared as a National Cultural Treasure in 1986, this wooden boat averages 15 meters long and 3 meters wide across the beam and is the same type and construction as those recovered in Sumatra and Pontian in Malaysia, apparently of the same period.

Also on display here is Boat No. 5 (discovered in 1986 and carbon dated to about 990AD) and several 14th- to 15th-century relics – skulls of anient Butuanons, coffins, pots, jewelries, hunting tools, and ceramics.

Located inside Luna Compound in Brgy. Bading is the balanghai building site where one can marvel at the huge Masawa Hong Butuan – one of three boats recreated only with materials available during the time period and faithfully adhered to the craftsmanship of the early Butuanons. The 40-man crew Masawa completed in December 2010 a 15-month journey through seven countries in SE Asia, retracing ancient Filipino trade routes.

To maximize your trip to this site, head off to the Banza Church Ruins just across Agusan river. You can hire one of several bancas moored near the balanghai building site for the 2-minute ride to the ruins.  This once magnificent stone structure was burned by Moro pirates in 1753. A centuries-old banyan tree engulfed in its huge trunk parts of the ruins, making for some unique formation.

The Butuan Regional Museum of History showcases Butuan’s prehistoric existence and rich cultural heritage. It comprised of two galleries – the Archaeological Hall and the Ethnological Hall – where specimens of stone crafts, metal crafts, woodcrafts, potteries, goldsmithing tools and products, burial coffins, and other archaeological diggings, as well as various contemporary Butuanon implements used for everyday living are exhibited.

Located in Doongan Road near the city hall, the museum is about a 10-minute walk from the city center.

The Magellan landing (or anchorage) monument is found along the beach of Masao (Masawa, which means “bright” in Butuanon), a 30-minute tricycle ride from the museum. Common folk lore says that Magellan landed here in and made blood compact with the Butuanon chieftains, the brothers Rajah Siatu and Rajah Colambu.

Another 30-minute tricycle ride from Masao Beach, nestled in the cooler hills of Brgy. Poblacion in Magallanes town (which is formerly part of Butuan City), is the Bood Promontory. Found here is the historic marker commemorating the celebration of the first Catholic Mass in Mindanao held on April 8, 1521.


CONTACTS: BUTUAN CITY TOURISM OFFICE | Butuan City Hall Complex, J. Rosales Avenue, Doongan, Butuan City | Phone: (085) 225 4041

BED FOR THE NIGHT: FLOR-AL MANSION | J. C. Aquino Ave., Butuan City | Phone: 0922 360 5664 | Cozy budget hotel at the heart of the city
DOTTIE’S PLACE | #26 J. C. Aquino Ave., Butuan City | Phone: 960 777 8841
BUTUAN MANSION HOUSE & RESTAURANT | R. Calo St., Butuan City | Phone: 085 341 5313

WHERE TO EAT:
LANGIHAN PUBLIC MARKET | Langihan Road, Butuan City | Sample Butuan’s very own palagsing! This local delicacy, usually sells at PHP10 per bundle of four, is as a brown, sticky suman, made of sago starch or unaw, young coconut meat and sugar.

Ciao 2015! It has been a wonderful ride.

When asked, most people would say that the principal value of traveling is that it breaks the monotony of life and work.

Y’see, life, for many of us, is a mad rush. A dash from home to the office–from one place to the next. A sprint from one client meeting to a waiting company presentation–from one money-making deal to the next career-breaking move. Day-in, day-out we try to accomplish as many stuff as possible. Thus, traveling becomes a form of escape for the likes of us–a time to relax, reflect and ponder. Traveling gives us the opportunity to disconnect from our regular life and, for a fleeting moment, not think of any problems or issues for a few days (or weeks). Being away on a weekend can also afford us the much-needed time to help us figure things out that we would not have understood without the distance traveling can give. We all have crazy schedules, work, and a family to take care of and going away alone or with some friends gives us that break we rightfully deserve.

Very few find a great deal of informative value in traveling. More often than not, our focus centers on the promise of a fun-filled R&R, of selfies and jump shots. This is where I realized that a lot of people don’t seem to share some of my views about traveling. For me, it is very important to see and experience the places I visit from a local resident’s perspective. Traveling is an avenue for me to open my heart and mind to new things and explore different cultures and traditions; thus, experiencing life in new and exciting ways–widening my perspective about life, especially the life I have in relation to how other people live. If viewed with an open mind, it can help us change some of our habits or even create new ones…

Before I totally bid adieu to 2015, indulge me as I look back at the highlights of my adventures and travels:

Got on a road trip from Iloilo City to Cebu City, passing through Bacolod City, Sipalay, Dumaguete City and Badian.

“Traversed” North and South Mindanao, bringing me to Aliwagwag Falls in Cateel, Davao Oriental, Lake Sebu’s Seven Falls in South Cotabato, Asik-asik Falls in North Cotabato; as well as allowed me to revisit the majestic cascades of Maria Cristina, Mimbalot and Tinago in Iligan, and Tinuy-an in Bislig.

Scratched off a few more things from my To-Do list

Brought home these wonderful ‘loot’

 

Had some of my travelogues published

The year 2015 has indeed been one helluva ride!

Hmmmm…. now, where am I in the Lakbayan map:

My Lakbayan grade is A+!

When Apollo’s Chariot Passed By

2015.05.09 - While the rest of Ragay Gulf in the Bicol Region was being ravaged by Typhoon Dodong, we #AQUAholics were blessed by Apollo with this spectacular solar display.

2015.05.09 – While the rest of Ragay Gulf in the Bicol Region was being ravaged by Typhoon Dodong, we #AQUAholics were blessed by Apollo with this spectacular solar display.

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