Agusan del Norte

Balangay Festival

Balangay Festival, also called Balanghai Festival, is the cultural and religious festival in Butuan City, Agusan del Norte, Philippines every May 19. The date may be declared a special non-working holiday (such as Proclamation No. 942 in 2020 and Proclamation No. 190 in 2023.)

History of Balangay Festival

In 1981, Butuan City held the annual Mazaua Festival. Its name comes from the island that Ferdinand Magellan landed in 1521. After People Power Revolution in 1986, the festival was renamed Freedom Festival. Then it was renamed once more to Balangay Festival after the declaration of excavated balangay as National Cultural Treasures in 1987.


Balanghai or balangay are boats utilized by the Austronesians as they explored from their place of origin in southern Taiwan throughout Southeast Asia to as far as the Pacific. These pre-colonial water vessels enabled them to cover vast distances, travel in long voyages, and establish their presence by dwelling in the lands they reached.

In the Philippines, they arrived about 2200 BC and moved from the northern tip of the archipelago (Batanes) down to the south.

Apart from being used as a means of travel and thus facilitating a means of contact and exchange of information, it was also used for cargo, transport, raid, and war.

In written history, the balangay was mentioned several times by Venetian chronicler Antonio Pigafetta in 1521. He stated that Ferdinand Magellan decided to challenge Lapu-lapu to force the latter’s allegiance in an encounter called Battle of Mactan (see Kadaugan sa Mactan). Magellan sailed from Cebu along with Rajah Humabon and many of the natives.

Pigafetta wrote,

“We set out from Zubu at midnight, we were sixty men armed with corslets and helmets; there were with us the Christian king, the prince, and some of the chief men, and many others divided among twenty or thirty balangai. We arrived at Matan three hours before daylight.”

Antonio Pigafetta, translated by Lord Stanley of Alderley. The First Voyage Round the World/Pigafetta’s Account of Magellan’s Voyage

Construction of balanghai was made possible without the use of blueprint, and it is built with lash-lugged, edge-pegged techniques. Ship-building skills and knowledge were passed down through generations. The oldest known balanghai was made of planks from Heretiera tree and its dowels from Rhizophora tree.

Butuan boats

Balangay is one of the first wooden boats discovered in Southeast Asia.

In 1976, news erupted that preserved remnants of these ancient watercrafts were found in the floodplains of Masao River in Ambangan, Libertad, Butuan City. Authorities were alerted to the fact due to the presence of ancient objects that were circulating in the antique market in the capital at that time.

Of the boats found from the archeological work that followed, three of which were carbon-dated with the oldest from 320 BC and the other two from 990 and 1250 AD, respectively.

The oldest boat is in display in Balangay Shrine in Libertad, another at the Maritime Hall of the National Museum in Manila, and the other is located at the regional office of the National Museum.

The importance of the excavated boats, which are called Butuan Boats by experts, was underscored when President Corazon Aquino declared them as National Cultural Treasures and the location where they were discovered Archelogical Sites by virtue of Proclamation No. 86 that was issued on March 9, 1987.

Meanwhile, the fourth boat was unearthed in May 2012. Presently, there are six archeological sites identified within one-kilometer radius. Diggings and further studies ceased in 2014 because of issues on funding and land ownership.

Collectively, these boats are a proof of Butuan City as an ancient trading port. According to experts, trading with neighboring islands and nations flourished between the tenth and twelfth century, with excavated tradeware dating to the Fifth Dynasties period.

Among the items that were sold were pearls, products culled from the forests such as beeswax and resin, and agricultural produce such as banana. Ceramics and textiles were also notable merchandises in that period. Slave were traded too.

Butuan’s influence waned upon entry of Islamic missionaries in the 14th century.

Devotion to St. Joseph

Balanghai Festival is also a thanksgiving festival in honor of St. Joseph, the patron saint of the city.

When Magellan arrived in the Philippines in 1521, he met Rajah Siawi (Rajah Siagu in some texts) who was the chieftain of Butuan and Calagan. Some proponents stated that the first mass held in the Philippine soil took place in Barangay Magallanes, formerly Barangay Baug, at the mouth of Agusan River in Butuan. General history taught in school mentioned that Limasawa Island as the site of the first Easter Sunday Mass.

The Jesuits arrived in 1596, and they built a church a year after. It was blest on September 8, 1597. Afterwards, the Augustinians replaced them and later Augustinian Recollects took over.

In 1622, the church was placed under the advocation of St. Joseph and a stone church as well a convent was erected in 1625 in Banza. It was within their term that St. Francis de Sales became the secondary patron beginning in 1792.

Because of Moro raids, the church and the pueblo was transferred in 1865, and in Banza part of the church complex is in ruins (popularly known as Banza Ruins). The Jesuits returned in 1875, and they would turn over the church to the Missionary of the Sacred Heart in 1935.

It became a cathedral when Diocese of Butuan was created in 1967. It was also declared a diocesan shrine on May 19, 2009.

Balangay Festival Activities

Religious activities occur at St. Joseph Cathedral.

Festival events organized by the local government may start at the beginning of the month of May, and the highlights on May 19th. A few events may occur after the fiesta day.

Activities can include Some of the activities include beauty pageant (Mutya Hong Butuan), competitions, trade fair, food festival, garden and aqua shows, sports, tours, cultural shows, concerts, parades, street dancing competition (Sayaw Balangay), etc.

How to reach Butuan City

Ferries from Metro Manila and Cebu dock in Nasipit Port. One can also book a flight to Bancasi Airport. Buses are also available from different points in Mindanao.


Balangay Festival Summary

NameBalangay Festival
CelebrationBoat (Balangay), Culture, Religion
ChurchSt. Joseph Cathedral
LocationButuan City, Agusan del Norte
OrganizerCity Government of Butuan
Other NamesFreedom Festival, Mazaua Festival
PatronSt. Joseph
ReligionRoman Catholic
Simultaneous eventFeast day of St. Joseph