BUTUAN CITY -- Every year, Butuan City is reminded of the importance of the Agusan River and its historical influence and how it has sculpted its vast landscape stretching from the province of Agusan del Sur toward Agusan del Norte into the mouth of Butuan Bay, in a religious event called the “Abayan Festival.”
Since the late 1880s, the Abayan is an annual festive ritual of prayer culminating in a fluvial procession along the Agusan River in honor to the rivers patron Santa Ana, which is usually held in the month of July.
The event carries a huge historic significance since the activity was primarily made to sway off crocodile attacks along the banks of the river, as crocodiles infested it in the early 17th century.
The same family of saltwater crocodiles now lives and occupies the vast Agusan Marsh, the catch basin that leads to the Agusan River.
Abayan is coined from the word “Abay” which means to guide, this means the people asked for guidance on its prayers against the crocodiles as the Agusan River serves as the major hub for trade and human activity long before the Spanish period.
The Abayan Festival also reminds the resilience of the people and its 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 has transformed as a city which coincides with the commemoration of the 66th charter day of the city known as 'Adlaw Hong Butuan' celebration,” said Butuan City Mayor Ronnie Vicente Lagnada.
This year the Abayan Festival kicked off on July 31 as an opening event that led to the August 2, charter day celebration of the city.
Thousands of people from the different riverside villages queued up the banks of the Agusan River chanting Viva Señora Sta. Ana as the fluvial procession of about 15 boats of different shapes and sizes navigated through the river's rapid 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.
“In the future, we want to expand these 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 other activities we can create with it, while also putting the primary concern into its protection,” said Lagnada.