Sunday, September 21, 2014

The National Museum in Butuan City

The National Museum in Butuan City houses some of the important archaeological finds in Butuan City and around the Caraga Region of the Philippines. The most important artifact of all are the parts of the Balanghai, also called Butuan Boats, which were discovered back in 1974.[1] Due to their significant historical and cultural importance, these prehistoric boats were declared a National Cultural Treasure.[2]

scale model of the Balanghai

A total of nine Balanghais were discovered dating from the 4th to 13th centuries AD.[1] These are evidence of a flourishing craft of boat building and the maritime culture and trade in the Philippines even before the arrival of the Spaniards in 1521. The exhibit at the museum shows three of the most important parts of a Balanghai.

parts of a Balanghai

The wingstem connects and binds the edges of the keel (base of the boat) with the edges of the planks (side panels of the boat) using dowels (wooden nails). The wingstem also connects and binds the edges of the different layers of planks using dowels. The layers of wingstems form the pointed edges at the front and back of the boat.


pointed edge of the wingstem

top view of the wingstem

side view of the wingstem


The planks form the sides of the boat. They are connected to the keel (base of the boat) using dowels (wooden nails). The edge of the planks and the keel are then connected and bound using a wingstem. Layers of planks are also held together with a wingstem.


planks showing the dowels and dowel holes

plank showing a lug and its two lashing holes

Frame (Rib)

The frames (ribs) are a series of curved stems of wood that runs perpendicular to the keel and planks. They support the structural integrity of the boat. The keel and planks have protruding parts called lugs, each of which has two lashing holes. The keel and planks are then mounted to the frames using ropes inserted through the lashing holes of the lugs and tied tightly around the frames.

frame (rib)

edge of the frame

In addition to the Balanghai, different jars and ceramic wares from China are also on display. These shows the strong Pre-Hispanic trading relationship of the Philippines with China and the rest of Asia.

Another section of the museum is dedicated to ethnographic items from the Higaonon, Tiruray, Mamanua and Bukidnon ethno-linguistic groups.[1] These artifacts provide a glimpse into the daily lives and culture of the indigenous people of Caraga.

boat and tools used fr fishing in the Agusan Marsh

tool used to make laksoy (local wine)

agricultural tools

more agricultural tools

wooden coffins showing the burial tradition

It was a short but meaningful visit to the National Museum in Butuan City. It gave me better understanding about the richness of the Pre-Hispanic Philippines. The exhibits are concrete evidence of a civilization that existed in the Philippines which the Spanish colonizers claimed did not exist.

For a better appreciation of the Balanghais, you may also visit the Balanghai Shrine in Libertad, Butuan City where the first Balanghai discovered, a more complete one, is preserved. Another Balanghai is on display at the Maritime Hall of the National Museum in Manila. Another museum worth visiting is the Ayala Museum in Makati City which houses the Gold of Ancestors exhibit. The collection includes more than a thousand gold objects and ornaments pre-dating the arrival of the Spaniards in the 16th century.

The National Museum in Butuan City
Jose Rosales Avenue (near Butuan City Hall), Butuan City
Opening Hours: Monday-Friday 9:00am to 4:00pm; Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays by appointment
Contact Number: 527-4192

How to Get to the National Museum in Butuan City
From Butuan Aiport, take a Butuan Intra City (R2) multicab bound for the city center. Tell the driver to drop you off at Gaisano Mall along the hiway. From Gaisano Mall, take a tricycle and tell the driver to bring you to the National Museum near the city hall.


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