Butuanons welcome home Balangay Expedition

HOME. The balangay “Masawa Hong Butuan” is welcomed by Butuanons on Friday afternoon for its final voyage. MindaNews photo by Bobby Timonera

BUTUAN CITY (MindaNews/5 Feb) – Still reeling from a flood that submerged its streets and a fire that razed down several offices at the city hall compound, this city greeted with a thunderous applause the return of the Balangay Expedition on Friday afternoon.

The replica boats, which travelled 14,000 kilometers across Southeast Asia retracing the journeys of Filipino seafarers during ancient times, were patterned after the balangays unearthed in this city in the 1970s. The excavated balangays were carbon-dated to have been made between 320 and 1250 A.D.

The journey that took the three replica boats to Brunei, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam began in September 2009.

The balangays “Masawa Hong Butuan” and “Sama Tawi-tawi” actually arrived in Butuan last January 31 amidst big waves and heavy rains that triggered floods in the city and neighboring areas for a few days, but the boats momentarily docked at Barangay Bading, not far from where Masawa Hong Butuan was built in 2009. The third balangay, “Diwata ng Lahi,” was left in Manila to be consigned soon to the National Museum.

On its final voyage on Friday from Barangay Bading to the Philippine Ports Authority compound downtown, the Masawa Hong Butuan, which relies on sails to navigate, had to be towed by the motorized Sama Tawi-tawi for the upstream voyage against the strong current of the Agusan River.

Hundreds of Butuanons clapped, cheered and danced as they welcomed the balangays.

There were plans to delay the program because of the floods that hit the city and the fire that razed a satellite building of City Hall dawn on Friday, but Mayor Ferdinand Amante Jr. insisted that the event be pushed through, noting that the balangays seem to be the only good news from Butuan these days.

Expedition leader Arturo Valdez said the balangays should help Butuan retrieve its former glory. “Let the balangay lead the way,” he said.

Butuan was thrust into the Philippines’ historical limelight with the unearthing in the 1970s of the balangays, as well as ancient burial grounds and various Asian potteries. Local historians later claimed that Butuan was a major trading port by Southeast Asian seafarers over a thousand years ago. The same historians even claimed that the first mass ever held in the Philippines during Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition was held in Butuan, not in Limasawa Island.

Valdez said that Sama Tawi-tawi will leave on Feb. 8 for its final voyage to Negros, while Masawa Hong Butuan will be left under the care of the Butuan Global Forum (BGF), a private organization of Butuanons from all over the world.
BGF secretary Jorge Navarra said during the turnover rites that they will refurbish the boat so it can accommodate tourists in cruises along the Butuan River, as a way of educating the locals and tourists about the balangay. (Bobby Timonera / MindaNews)