Butuan’s Abayan Festival: A celebration through the waves of the mighty Agusan River

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(CNN Philippines) — Every year, Butuan City is reminded of the importance of the Agusan River; its historical influence and how it has sculpted its vast landscape by way of a religious event known as the Abayan Festival.

Celebrated since the late 1880s, the Abayan is an annual festive ritual of prayer culminating in a fluvial procession along the Agusan River in honor of the river patron Santa Ana

Abayan is coined from the word “abay” which means to guide.

Often held in July, the event carries a huge historic significance since it was primarily done to ward off crocodile attacks along the banks of the river.

The festival is held to commemorate how people would ask for guidance to cross the Agusan River safely as it served as the major hub for trade and human activity long before the Spanish period.

The Abayan Festival is a clear reminder of the resilience of the people and it’s different communities, which has relied its existence with the flow of the river throughout the ages.

“This activity is not only to honor the river’s patron saint but to recognize the historical value of the Agusan River. The river holds a significant historic value since it is with it that Butuan transformed as a city and coincidently the celebration hallmarks the 66th charter day of the city known to us as Adlaw Hong Butuan celebration,” said Butuan City Mayor Ronnie Vicente Lagnada.

Tthe Abayan Festival kicked off on July 31, as an opening event that will lead to the charter day celebration of Butuan City on August 2

Thousands of people from different riverside villages lined up along the banks of the Agusan River chanting Viva Senora Sta Ana as the fluvial procession of around 15 boats navigated the river's fast current with the lead boat carrying the image of its patron saint.

This year, the celebration was even made significant with activities such as wooden canoe boat race, dragon boat race, drum and lyre and cheer dance competitions.

The mayor pointed out that, “In the future, we want to expand this events and different activities, the Agusan River has a lot of potential for tourism aspect, if we can develop this river further, there are many activities we can create with the river while also putting the primary concern into its protection.”