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Balangay (also spelled as "balanghay" or "barangay") is a quick and light vessel propelled by rowers or paddlers and by sail.[1] They resemble the lashed-lug boats found among Austronesian peoples, whose boats were built by joining planks edge-to-edge using pins, dowels, and fiber lashings. Balangay are found throughout the Philippines and were used largely as trading ships up until the colonial era. The oldest known balangay are the Butuan boats, which have been carbon-dated to 320 AD and were recovered from several sites in Butuan, Agusan del Norte.[2]


Balangay was considered one of the first native words the Europeans learned in the Philippines. Spanish chronicler Pigafetta, who was with Ferdinand Magellan when setting foot in the country in 1521, called the native boats balangai or balanghai. This word appears as either balangay or barangay with the same meaning in all the major languages of the Philippines. Early colonial Spanish dictionaries make it clear that balangay and barangay were originally pronounced "ba-la-ngay" and "ba-ra-ngay," but due to centuries of Spanish influence, the modern barangay is pronounced "ba-rang-gay" in Filipino today (/bɑːrɑːŋˈɡaɪ/, instead of precolonial /bɑːrɑːŋˈaɪ/). Pigafetta's alternate spelling with an H, balanghai, later gave rise to the neologism balanghay in the 1970s (with a new, slightly different pronunciation that Pigafetta did not intend).[3]

The term was also used by the Tagalog people to refer to the smallest discrete political units, which came to be the term used for native villages under the Spanish colonial period. [3][4][5] The name of the boat was usually Hispanicized in Spanish and American records as barangayan (plural: barangayanes) to distinguish them from the political unit.[6]

Among the Ibanag people of Northern Luzon, balangay were known as barangay, a term sometimes extended to the crew. Large vessels were called biray or biwong.[3]

In Visayas and Mindanao, there are multiple names for balangay-type boats, including baloto (not to be confused with the balutu), baroto, biray, or lapid.[3] Cargo-carrying versions of balangay with high sides (which necessitated the use of oars instead of paddles) were also known as bidok or biroko (also spelled biroco) in the Visayas.[3][7]


Balangay is a general term and thus applies to several different types of traditional boats in various ethnic groups in the Philippines. In common usage, it refers primarily to the balangay of the Visayas and Mindanao islands, which were primarily inter-island trading ships, cargo transports, and warships. Large balangay (especially warships), including the Butuan boats, are commonly equipped with large double-outriggers which support paddling and fighting platforms, in which case, they can be generically referred to as paraw.[3][8][9] Balangay warships, along with the larger karakoa, were regularly used for raiding (mangayaw) by Visayan warriors. It is believed that they may have been the "Pi-sho-ye" raiders described as regularly attacking Chinese settlements in the coast of Fujian in the 12th century AD.[10]

In Tagalog regions, the balangay or barangay has the same functions as in the southern islands but differ in that it is constructed through the sewn-plank technique, rather than through dowels.[8]

In the province of Cagayan in Northern Luzon, the balangay of the Ibanag people were predominantly used within the Cagayan River system, but were also sometimes used as coastal trade ships, reaching as far as the Ilocos Region. They were mainly used as cargo and fishing ships and differed from other balangay in being much smaller with a shallower draft.[3]


Balangay were basically lashed-lug plank boats put together by joining the carved out planks edge-to-edge. The prow and stern posts were also composed of V-shaped ("winged") single carved pieces of wood. The strakes were made from heartwood taken from the section in between the softer sapwood and the pith of trees. Tree species favored include doongon (Heritiera littoralis), lawaan (Shorea spp.), tugas (Vitex parviflora), and barayong (Afzelia rhomboidea), among others. The trees were traditionally cut on a moonlit night in accordance with local folk beliefs. A single tree usually produces two lengths of curving planks. Traditionally, the planks and other ship parts were shaped with straight (dalag) or curved (bintong) adzes hammered with a mallet called a pakang. The master shipwright is called a panday (similar to other craftsmen in Philippine cultures).[8][7][11]

The keel of the balangay keel is built first. Like most Austronesian ships (and in contrast to western ships), the keel is basically a dugout canoe (a bangka) made from a single log. The keel is also known as a baroto which is the origin of one of the alternative names for balangay in the Visayas. The Butuan balangay boats differ from later balangay designs in that they do not have a true keel. Instead, they have a central plank fitted with three parallel lines of thin lugs which serve as additional attachment points for lashings.[8][7][11]

The outer shell of the hull is built first by fitting strakes on each side of the keel edge-to-edge (to a total of six or more). The shaping of these strakes into the appropriate curvature (lubag) requires a skilled panday. They are locked in place with wooden dowels or pins around 19 cm (7.5 in) long slotted into holes drilled into the edges of the strakes. Some sections may necessitate the use of two or more planks for each strake. These are attached end-to-end using hooked scarf joints. Once the hull is assembled, it is left to season for a month or two.[8][7][11]

After the wood is seasoned, the hull is taken apart once again and checked. It is then reassembled in a stage known as sugi ("matching"). This involves fitting the strakes back together. Once fitted, the space between the strakes is run through with a spoon-like implement called a lokob. This creates a space with an even thickness in between the two strakes. The space is then filled with fine palm fibers called baruk or barok and caulked with resin-based pastes. The dowels are also further secured by drilling holes into them through the planks with the help of marks inscribed beforehand. Counter pegs called pamuta are then hammered into these holes.[8][7][11]

The second stage is known as os-os or us-us, which involves lashing the planks very tightly to wooden ribs (agar) with fiber or rattan ropes. The ropes are tied to holes bored diagonally into lugs (tambuko), which are rectangular or rounded protrusions on the inner surface of the planks. The tambuko occur at even distances corresponding to six dowel hole groupings. Wedges are then driven in the space between the ribs and the planks, drawing the lashings even tighter as the distance between them is increased. Thwarts are then placed across the hull which are also lashed unto corresponding tambuko on each side and covered with removable decking. Once completed, the hull usually measures around 15 m (49 ft) long and 4 m (13 ft) wide.[8][7][11][12]

The masts and outriggers (katig or kate) of the balangay boats were not preserved, which is why modern reconstructions tend to omit the latter. However, as with later balangay designs, they are believed to possess large outriggers which would be necessary for them to carry sails without capsizing. Outriggers dramatically increased stability and sail power without significant increase in weight. Outriggers in later balangay designs also supported paddling and fighting platforms known as burulan.[8][7][11][12]

Similar traditional ship-building techniques are still preserved by Sama-Bajau boat makers in Sibutu Island in Tawi-Tawi.[12]

Butuan Boats

The Butuan balangay boats were the first wooden watercraft excavated in Southeast Asia.[13][3] They were discovered in the late 1970s in Butuan City, Agusan del Norte. A total of nine wooden boats were accidentally found by locals searching for alluvial gold on land near the Masao River.[14] The site was in Sitio Ambangan, Barrio Libertad within an older dried-up river channel, perhaps a former tributary of the Masao River.[15]

Three of the nine balangays discovered have been excavated by the National Museum and are currently preserved. The first balangay or Butuan Boat One was discovered in 1976 and is now displayed in Balangay Shrine Museum in Libertad, Butuan City. It was radiocarbon tested and was dated to 320 CE. The Butuan Boat Two was dated to 1250 CE, and is now located at the Maritime Hall of the National Museum in Manila.[14] The Butuan Boat Five, excavated at Bancasi, Libertad in 1986,[16] has been dated to 1215 CE and was transferred to the Butuan Regional Museum and is undergoing preservation.[14] 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.[17]

In 2012, National Museum archaeologists discovered what seems to be a massive balangay "mother boat," estimated to be 25 meters long, versus the average 15-meter length of the other balangays at the excavation site. The leader of the research team, Dr. Mary Jane Louise A. Bolunia, reported the treenails or wooden pegs that were used in the construction of the mother boat to be around 5 centimeters in diameter.[18]


National Cultural Treasures

The balangays of Butuan was declared by President Corazon Aquino as National Cultural Treasures by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 86 on 9 March 1987 and the vicinity of excavation as archaeological reserves.[19]

National Boat

In November 2015, the balangay was declared as the National Boat of the Philippines by the House Committee on Revisions of Laws. The balangay was chosen so that the "future generations of Filipinos will recognize the invaluable contribution of their forefathers in shaping the country's maritime tradition and in passing on the values of solidarity, harmony, determination, courage and bravery.[2][20]

House Bill 6366 declares the balangay as the National Boat of the Philippines.[21]

Balangay Site Museum

The Balangay Site Museum, also known as "Balanghai Shrine Museum," houses the balangays excavated on 320 AD.[22] It is located at Sitio Ambangan, Barangay Libertad, Butuan City. It also displays the cultural materials such as human and animal remains, hunting goods, jewelries, coffins, pots, and other items associated to the boat.[23] The establishment of the shrine in 1979 was made possible by the donation of land from Felix A. Luna, a resident of the area.

Balanghai Festival

In Butuan, Agusan del Norte, the annual Balanghai Festival celebrates the settlement of Butuan via the balangay ships.[24]


  2. 2.0 2.1 Rosario, Ben. [ "Balangay declared PH National Boat."] 30 November 2015.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 William Henry Scott (1994). Barangay: sixteenth-century Philippine culture and society. Ateneo de Manila University Press. ISBN 9789715501354.
  4. Zaide, Sonia M. (1999). The Philippines: A Unique Nation. All-Nations Publishing. pp. 62, 420. ISBN 971-642-071-4. citing Plasencia, Fray Juan de (1589). Customs of the Tagalogs. Nagcarlan, Laguna.
  5. Junker, Laura Lee (2000). Raiding, Trading, and Feasting: The Political Economy of Philippine Chiefdoms. Ateneo de Manila University Press. pp. 74, 130. ISBN 971-550-347-0.
  6. Mallat, Jean (1983). The Philippines: History, Geography, Customs, Agriculture, Industry, and Commerce of the Spanish Colonies in Oceania. National Historical Institute. pp. 45–46.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 Clark, Paul; Green, Jeremy; Santiago, Rey; Vosmer, Tom (1993). "The Butuan Two boat known as a balangay in the National Museum, Manila, Philippines". The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology. 22 (2): 143–159. doi:10.1111/j.1095-9270.1993.tb00403.x.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 Scott, William Henry (1982). "Boat-Building and Seamanship in Classic Philippine Society" (PDF). Philippine Studies. 30 (3): 335–376. JSTOR 42632616.
  9. Stead, Martin Roderick (2018). Defining the Construction Characteristics of Indigenous Boats of the Philippines: The Impact of Technical Change Pre and Post Colonisation(PDF) (MPhil). University of Southampton.
  10. Isorena, Efren B. (2004). "The Visayan Raiders of the China Coast, 1174-1190 AD". Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society. 32 (2): 73–95.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 Stead, Roderick; Dizon, E. (2011). A National Cultural Treasure Revisited –Re-assessing the ‘Balangay’ Boat Discoveries (PDF).
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Hontiveros, G. 2004 Butuan of a Thousand Years.
  13. Hontiveros, G. 2014. Balangay: Re-launching an Ancient Discovery
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Clark, Paul; Green, Jeremy; Santiago, Rey; Vosmer, Tom (1993). "The Butuan Two boat known as a balangay in the National Museum, Manila, Philippines". The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology. 22 (2): 143–159. doi:10.1111/j.1095-9270.1993.tb00403.x.
  15. "Butuan: The First Kingdom." Butuan City Historical and Cultural Foundation, 1990.
  16. Alvares, Mauro; Clark, Paul; Green, Jeremy; Santiago, Rey; Vosmer, Tom. "Interim report on the joint Australian–Philippines Butuan boat project, October 1992". ResearchGate. Retrieved 9 December 2015.
  17. "Replica of 'balangay' embarks on epic voyage". ABS-CBN Corporation; Agence France-Presse. 2009-09-27. Retrieved 2009-10-01.
  18. Dimacali, Timothy James M. (9 August 2013). "Massive balangay 'mother boat' unearthed in Butuan". GMA News Online. Retrieved 31 August 2013.
  19. "Agusan solon files heritage bill anew; seeks to declare Balangay as 'National Boat'". 14 August 2014. Archived from the original on 29 November 2014. Retrieved 4 September 2014.
  20. "House Committee of Laws declares Balangay as National Boat". Retrieved 1 December 2015.
  21. "Committee Report 978" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 February 2016. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  22. "PARADISE ISLAND BARANGAY LIBERTAD". Butuan: LAGsik NA DAkbayan. 2016.
  23. Maranga, Mark (June 16, 2011). "Balangay Site Museum". Philippines Tour Guide.
  24. "Balanghai festival in Butuan City". Manila Bulletin. Retrieved 10 January 2020.