BUTUAN CITY – CENTER OF BALANGAYS
BUTUAN City – A national cultural treasure, estimated to be more than 1,600 years old, is housed in an old dilapidated structure near the east bank of the Libertad river in this historic city and trade center of Agusan del Norte province.
The Balanghai shrine, a one-storey building being maintained by the National Museum, houses two of the three ancient boats discovered and excavated from 1976 to 1986.
Mario Bongay, a restorer at the Balanghai Shrine since 1993, said radiocarbon tests administered by Japanese experts on one of these boats suggested that the wooden boat could have existed as early as 320 AD. Another boat was carbon dated to be more than 1000 years old.
The National Museum in Manila houses the other boat. No other remains of the ancient boats, locally known as balanghais, were found elsewhere.
These archaeological findings in Butuan prompted former President Corazon Aquino to issue in 1987 Proclamation No. 86, which declared the boats, locally known as balanghais, as national cultural treasures and the sites where they were discovered as archaeological sites.
However, Leonides Theresa Plaza, chairperson of the Caraga regional tourism council admitted that the Balanghai Shrine is at a "dilapidated" state, threatening the restoration of what is perhaps the most important evidence of pre-Hispanic Filipino civilization.
Plaza said they are now talking with the National Museum on how to improve the Balanghai Shrine, and signed a memorandum of agreement, where the local government of Butuan can help finance the upgrading of the facilities.
Tourism Secretary Joseph Ace Durano, who graced the celebration of Araw ng Caraga, also cited the need to improve the Balanghai Shrine.
Durano said his office also contributed P2.5 million for a project of the Butuan city government to promote its Balanghai tradition.
The city government of Butuan is undertaking a P7-million project to launch within six months the so-called Agusan river cruise on board replicas of Balanghais.
Durano said the project is expected to drive tourism activities not only in Butuan, but also in the whole Caraga region (Region XIII), which apart from its historical value is being promoted as an adventure tourism destination.
Aside from the Balanghai Shrine, other major attractions in Caraga are the surfing destination of Siargao, the Agusan Marsh wildlife sanctuary, Lake Mainit, Bucas Grande Island, Mount Hilong Hilong, and Tinuy-an Falls.
Cecilia Lopez, an assistant regional director of the National Economic and Development Authority in Caraga, said the growth of tourism in the region is proving to be beneficial for the expansion of various industries.
Durano supported this, saying that tourism is an important contributor to employment generation and creation of livelihood opportunities.
Oldest tree now a tourist destination
BUTUAN City – The country's oldest tree is now officially a tourist destination, after the Department of Tourism installed a tourist center near the 500-year-old Bitaog tree in Magallanes, Agusan del Norte.
Officials of the provincial government of Agusan del Norte and the Department of Tourism inaugurated over the weekend the tourist center to accommodate some 200 daily visitors in the village of Caloc-an in Magallanes to view the tree, which in June 1998, was declared Philippine Centennial Tree.
"This 500-year-old tree has witnessed more stories than Jun Lozada," Agusan del Norte Governor Erlpe John Amante said in jest. Lozada is the new Senate witness in the ongoing investigation into the alleged anomalous deal between the government and Chinese firm ZTE Corp. for a national broadband network project.
Local historian Florante More, who nominated the Bitaog tree (Calophyllum inophyllum) as the oldest tree in 1998, said the trunk of the tree measures 290 centimeters in diameter.
The Bitaog tree, however, is much younger compared to the oldest known tree in the world, a Great Basin bristlecone pine located in California's White Mountains and is popularly known as the Methuselah tree. It is believed to be more than 4,700 years old.
Aside from the Bitaog tree, Magallanes town, named after explorer Ferdinand Magellan, also takes pride of its rich history. More said the first Catholic mass was actually celebrated in Magallanes on April 8, 1521, and not in Limasawa.
More said a proof of this is the marker erected during the time of Spanish District Governor Jose Maria Carvallo in 1873, commemorating the first mass in Magallanes.
Two places in Agusan were actually contesting Limasawa's claim – a site in Magallanes at the mouth of the 350-kilometer Agusan River and the Easter Mass Eco Park in Butuan City , where a large cross was erected to commemorate the first mass.
Greg Hontiveros, author of the book "Butuan of a Thousand Years", however, said Butuan hosted a thriving civilization even before the Spaniards came in 1521.
"By the time the Spaniards came, Butuan as a trading port was in fact already on the decline," he said.
Hontiveros said wooden plank-build and edge-pegged boats believed to be more than a thousand years old were excavated from Barangay Libertad.
One of the boats, called Balangay 1 was carbon dated to be more than 1,600 year old. Its relics suggest that the boat measured 15 meters in length and 3 meters wide across the beam.
The relics are now kept inside the old building of the Balangay Shrine Museum in Libertad, near a swamp, where the boats were extracted.
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