A small bangka used for transporting passengers of larger boats in Boracay
Balatik, a reconstruction of a large sewn-plank paraw in Palawan

Bangka are various native watercraft of the Philippines. It originally referred to small double-outrigger dugout canoes used in rivers and shallow coastal waters, but since the 18th century, it has expanded to include larger lashed-lug ships, with or without outriggers. Though the term used is the same throughout the Philippines, "bangka" can refer to a very diverse range of boats specific to different regions.[1] Bangka was also spelled as banca, panca, or panga (m. banco, panco, pango) in Spanish.[2][3] It is also known archaically as sakayan (also spelled sacayan).


Main article: Outrigger boat § Terminology and linguistics

Bangka is derived from Proto-Malayo-Polynesian *baŋkaʔ, with cognates including Kavalan bangka, Mori bangka, and Sumbawa bangka. It is a doublet of two other protoforms referring to boats: Proto-Austronesian *qabaŋ and Proto-Central-Malayo-Polynesian *waŋka. Ultimately from the Proto-Austronesian lexical root *baŋ for "boat".[4][5][6]


Main articles: Austronesian peoples, Balangay, and Ancient maritime history

Map showing the migration and expansion of the Austronesians which began at about 3000 BCE

Indigenous Philippine boats originated from the ancestral single-outrigger dugout canoes of the Austronesian peoples, which themselves evolved from catamarans.[7][8] These boats were the first ocean-voyaging vessels in the world, which allowed the seaborne Austronesian Expansion around 3000 to 1500 BCE, from coastal southeastern China and Taiwan to Island Southeast Asia, Micronesia, Island Melanesia, Polynesia, and Madagascar.[9][6][10][11][12]

Replica of a balangay, a pre-colonial trading ship excavated from Butuan. These replicas do not include the outriggers.

The oldest recovered boats in the Philippines are the 9 to 11 balangay found in Butuan dated to 320 CE, all specimens of whom were typical lashed-lug Austronesian boats. The technique remained common in Philippine (and Southeast Asian) boats right up to the 19th century, when modern boats started to be built with metal nails. Edge-joined planks continue to survive in some areas in the Philippines, though these are usually secured with metal rebars and rods, instead of the traditional lugs and lashings.[12]

Unfortunately most excavations and recoveries of pre-colonial shipwrecks (including those by the National Museum) in Southeast Asia focus more on the cargo rather than studying the ship structures themselves. Looting is also a problem, which contributes to the paucity of research on pre-colonial Filipino watercraft.[12]

Various types of bangka were used in maritime trade. While the polities in the Philippines remained small and largely in the periphery of Southeast Asian trade, they were nevertheless part of the Southeast Asian market. The earliest exchange of material culture was the late Neolithic trade in lingling-o double-headed jade or gold ornaments, manufactured in Luzon, which was traded with other Austronesian polities in southern Vietnam and Taiwan. This was followed by later trade in ceramics from mainland Southeast Asia and southern China in exchange for resins, aromatic woods, gold, pearls, sea cucumber (trepanging), tortoiseshell, civets, fabrics, beeswax, and bird's nest. The main trading contacts of Philippine polities included the Champa polities in Vietnam, China, and the Sultanate of Brunei.[12]

Bangka were also used in wars and the naval warfare and coastal raids (mangayaw) of thalassocracies, a notable example of such a warship is the karakoa of the Visayas. These were seasonal and played a large part in the noble and warrior classes gaining prestige and plunder. Warriors participating in the raids had their exploits recorded in elaborate full-body tattoos.[12][13][14][15][16]

In the various animist anitism beliefs of precolonial Philippines, the building of bangka often involved religious rituals, from the choosing of the trees for timber to rituals before voyages. Newly built bangka were imbued with a guardian spirit (anito) through various rituals, usually involving blood sacrifices. Ancient and early colonial-era bangka were also usually decorated with a carved or painted face. Bangka had a central role in pre-Hispanic Filipino culture, functioning as personal transports, fishing ships, trading ships, and raiding warships. Motorized or paddle-driven bangka still remain the main form of watercraft in the Philippines.[1][17]


See also: Lashed-lug boat

Plan, midships section, and lines of a vinta[18]
A paraw in Boracay

Like all ancestral Austronesian boats, the hull of the bangka at its simplest form had five parts. The bottom part consists of single piece of hollowed-out log (essentially a dugout canoe, the original meaning of the word bangka).[19] At the sides were two planks, and two horseshoe-shaped wood pieces formed the prow and stern. These were fitted tightly together edge-to-edge with lugs, dowels and lashings (made from rattan or fiber), without using any nails. They formed the shell of the boat, which was then reinforced by horizontal ribs. They had no central rudders but were instead steered using an oar on one side. These were built in the double-canoe configuration or had a single outrigger on the windward side. In Island Southeast Asia, these developed into double outriggers on each side that provided greater stability when tacking against the wind.[20][21][7] Bangka were also typically traditionally caulked using a boiled mixture of balaw sap from apitong trees (Dipterocarpus spp.) and gata (coconut milk).[22]

Though most modern bangka in the Philippines have double-outriggers, single-outrigger dugout canoes survived until recent times in some parts of the Philippines. Examples include a specimen in the University of Southampton from Manila Bay collected in the 1940s, as well as boats from Lake Bulusan and Lake Buhi of the Bicol Region of southern Luzon from as recently as 2015. The single outrigger is used to provide lateral stability, while still allowing fishermen to work with fishing nets. These traditional boats have largely disappeared in modern times, partly due to the scarcity of suitable timber and partly due to the relative cheapness of fiberglass boats.[23]

The ancestral rig was the mastless triangular crab claw sail which had two booms that could be tilted to the wind. The sails were made from mats woven from pandan leaves. The triangular crab claw sails also later developed into square or rectangular tanja sails, which like crab claw sails, can be tilted against the wind. Fixed tripod or bipod masts also developed in Southeast Asia.[7][8][21]

Cultural significance

Aside from being used in trade and war, bangka were of central significance to various cultures throughout the Philippines. Villages were known as barangay, derived from balangay, a common large boat type. Boat terminologies were used for ranks, place names, and even personal names, even in island interiors.[13][22] Among the Sama-Bajau people of the southern Philippines, various types of bangka like the djenging and the lepa served as houseboats of nuclear families and often sail together in clan flotillas.[24] Small bangka were also sometimes used to transport rice and farm goods on land, as they were more convenient on narrow pathways than sleds or wagons.[22]

Bangka feature prominently in Visayan mythology. A boat known as the balanday is used by the deity Magyan to ferry souls of the dead. In the epic Labaw Donggon of the Suludnon people, a boat known as biday na inagta (lit. "black boat") is featured prominently.[22] In the Western Visayas, a divination ritual known as the kibang involves occupants sitting perfectly still in a bangka and asking questions while a diwata (nature spirit) answers by rocking the boat.[22]

Modern bangka

Propeller and rudder of a motorized bangka (pump boat)

Since the introduction of the motor engine in the 1970s, the formerly widespread Philippine sailing traditions have mostly been lost.[25] Most modern bangka are motorized and are known as "pump boats" (or pambot) or lancha (lantsa). Smaller boats usually use gasoline or diesel engines, while larger boats can use recycled automobile engines.[26]

Bangka are also increasingly being made with fiber-reinforced plastic (fiberglass) instead of wood, which are more resistant to shipworms and rotting and are relatively cheaper.[17]


Bigiw with tanja, crab claw, and spritsails from the Island Garden City of Samal, Davao del Norte
Model of a guilalo displayed in the 1887 Exposición General de las Islas Filipinas in Madrid

Outrigger boats

The large bangka in Taal lake characteristically have high prows and sterns

Single-hulled boats

Dugout canoes


See also


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