Balangay

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The Balangay is the first wooden watercraft ever excavated in Southeast Asia. Also known as the Butuan boat, this artifact is an evidence of early Philippine craftsmanship and their early attempts to venture in open waters.

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Early boats in Butuan

The balangay boats were discovered in the late 1970s in Butuan City, Agusan del Norte by archaeologists from the National Museum. There were actually nine balangays recovered in the province. The first balangay, now preserved and displayed in a site museum in Libertad, Butuan City, was radiocarbon tested and was dated at year 320. The second boat was dated to 1250, and is now located at the Maritime Hall of the National Museum in Manila. The third balangay was transferred to the Butuan Regional Museum and is still undergoing preservation. The six other boats, which are yet to be excavated, remain in their original waterlogged condition which is proven to be the best way to preserve the said artifacts.

Boat-making tradition

A balangay is a plank boat adjoined by a carved-out planks edge through pins or dowels. The term was adapted by archaeologists from an account of Antonio Pigafetta in the early 16th century mentioning the word in Italian spelling, “balanghai.” Because of the ingenuity of Filipino boat makers, they were employed by the Spanish colonial regime to build the caracoa fleets that battled the Moros and mercantile galleons that crossed the Pacific. The significance of the seafaring culture of the Philippines was demonstrated by the abundance of naval-related vocabularies in the 17th century Spanish dictionaries of Philippine languages.

As a Socio-political unit

The balangay was more than a mere boat. It was more like a vessel bearing a social unit. In fact, upon the arrival of the Spaniards in Luzon in the 16th century, they found out that the term balangay was also used to refer to the smallest political unit among the Tagalogs. The said unit, ranging from 30 to 100 households, was ruled by a chief or datu who was respected and venerated by his subjects.

Since balangays were relatively small political units, these were easily subjugated by the Spaniards. And to strengthen their colonial rule, the Spaniards converted the traditional datus into cabezas de barangay – a position which, from being hereditary, became elective.

And as the nature of building the balangay requires unity, the term was used by the Philippine government to refer to its basic political unit, now called barangay, headed by a barangay chairman.

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Citation

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