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Prehistoric 'balanghai' boats to rise anew in Butuan

This replica of the original Balanghai boat named Masawa hong Butuan, which sailed together with two other replicas all over Southeast Asia, is now damaged and left for the elements to fully destroy. ERWIN MASCARINAS/
The online news portal of TV5

BUTUAN CITY - Archeological and cultural preservation experts from the National Museum have confirmed that an archeological excavation for two balanghai boats will start in Butuan soon.

As early as the 10th century, Butuan had been trading with the Srivijayan Empire in Southeast Asia and China. 

Considered the first wooden watercraft excavated in Southeast Asia, the boat is only found in the Philippines, where a flotilla of such prehistoric wooden boats exists. Nine specimens were discovered in 1976 in Butuan City. Three have been excavated.

"Plans are already underway to excavate Balanghai 3 and 4, we already have the necessary funds which were provided by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). The entire dig will be done by archeologists from the National Museum," said Angel P. Bautista, chief of the cultural property division of the National Museum.

Bautista, who was in Butuan City to speak during the 15th Caraga Tourism General Assembly, said that of the nine original boats discovered in Barangay Libertad, Balanghais 1, 2, and 5 were dug up.

"Balanghai 1 is dated back to 320 AD, Boat 2 to 1250 AD, and Boat 5 to around 900 AD. After excavating Boats 3 and 4, we are recommending to develop the site for heritage tourism. These treasures should be protected under the law in preserving, conserving cultural properties of the country based on the recently approved implementing rules of the National Heritage Act of 2009 Republic Act 10066," Bautista added.

Agustina T. Tamayo, officer in charge, Caraga Region Museum, pointed out that the National Museum sent a team last December 1 and started a reconnaissance and mapping of the planned excavation site.

"We are happy to have received the 1 million funding from NCCA (National Commission on Culture and Arts). The team surveyed the area from December 7 to 17, they found out that Boats 6, 7, and 9 are already too damaged to be excavated but said that they have more hope on Boats 3 and 4," she said.

"The entire team is optimistic of the entire excavation that we will be able to retrieve well preserved boats. The archeological team from Manila consisted of four experts then two of us from Butuan. Actually the dig was supposed to have started last January and February but the constant rain has pushed the team to postpone it to March," said Roger V. Mitra, museum technician, archeology division of National Museum in Butuan.

Balanghai Boats 1,2 and 5 were declared back in March 9, 1986 as National Cultural Treasure under Proclamation 86 by the late President Cory Aquino. Boat 2, which is the most  complete among the three, is now on display at the Maritime Hall of the National Museum in Manila.