“The Art of Bangka Painting”

Written by Celdric Emrys Ilejay, B.S. in Biology IV.



The Philippines is an archipelagic country. Composed of 7,107 islands small to vast seas surround all of its provinces. With this a part of the country’s population heavily relies on fisheries as their main source of livelihood. The Philippine Fisheries Profile 2014 states that around 1.6 million Filipinos were employed in the fisheries sector. Since a significant number of citizens are employed here, this sector has a notable effect on the country’s economy. Providing a contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 1.6% at current prices and 1.8% at constant prices (Barut, N and Garvilles, E.G. ,2016). According to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), the Philippines ranks 7th in the world for fishery production. Producing 191 metric tons, about 2.46% of the world’s total fisheries production.

The Bangka is the traditional and common fishing vessel of the archipelago. Most fisherman use it to catch fish in the open sea or people use it as a means of inter-island transport. The bangka is an long, banana-like hulled vessel made of marine plywood with 2 outriggers made of bamboo, known as katig, that act as stabilizers in the water (batangas-phillipines.com). Bangkas come in various types. Some are propelled by the fisherman paddling the bangka, and this makes the range of his ship much closer to shore. Another type is the one propelled by a motor engine or by a pump. These types of bangkas have a farther range that the paddle driven ones, most of these are used for inter-island transport or for fishing in the open sea.

The word bangka comes from the Austronesian work baŋka[h] meaning “boat”. It was recorded to refer to small boats that usually travel in rivers and shallow waters. However by the 8th century the term has evolved to include all kinds of water travelling vessels of various sizes (Aberra, M.B.2010).

This research paper is on the aspects of bangka building, particularly the aspect of bangka painting. Information gathered for this paper was obtained through personal interviews with the residents along the coast line of the Municipality of Miagao, Iloilo, Philippines. Barangay Mambatad to Barangay Baybay Norte fisher folk were interviewed.  Four individuals were identified and asked a series of questions.

This research paper aims to assess the artistic nature of bangka building specifically on bangka painting. Also it specifically aims to determine the procedure, purpose, symbolisms, and uses of bangka painting.


Bangka Making

          Bangka making is a traditional process. Among all the individuals interviewed, they all had the same procedure and materials. The first procedure is the carving of the Kasko. They use Kamonsil for the kasko. Kasko  s the term given by the locals for the central frame of the hull. The frames are attached to the kasko. Theses frames are called gusok for the vertical frames and hawak for the horizontal frames (Figure 6). All of these are attached by using “bronzi” nails, because they are more resistant to salt water corrosion. Afterwards the top frame called abod is hammered in and completes the frame. Thin out plywood is now attached to the frames and is covered with epoxy to make it water-proof. The two tariks made of bamboo were attached to the sides to stabilize the bangka. If it is created to be a pump boat, an engine or a pump is attached.

Bangkas can either be created by the fisherman himself or by hiring a panday  or craftsman. Prices for making a bangka range from Php. 10,000 for small ones to Php. 200,000 for the largest ones and takes five days to three weeks, respectively, to craft.

Some of the bangkas in Miag-ao are small craft that act as either surveyors for larger bangka or as fishing boats, and larger craft that have sailed all the way from Mindanao and all the way to Palawan and the West Philippine Sea. These travels across vast distances of seas show that these traditionally build craft are sturdy and well build that they can traverse and plow through the strongest waves and winds.


Bangka Painting

          The first person interviewed was Kagawad Vicente Naria of Barangay Sapa (Figure 7). Mr. Naria lives close to the shores of Barangay Sapa. He has been fishing since he was still 8 years old. Mr. Naria goes to the sea and fishes as a source of livelihood for his family and for his children.  Mr. Naria operates 2 bangkas.

Mr. Naria chooses plain colors for his bangka. He chooses his favorite colors, usually two, and paint the craft. Then he adds a ribiti or a line running across the length of the craft. He paints his craft so that the salt water won’t damage the plywood and so that he can been seen when he is out in the sea.

Another feature bangkas have is the name. Each name is done with lettering on the front left and right sides of the craft. For Mr. Naria, he uses the names of his children on the craft. This is to signify that he sails for them, and that he sails to provide them all that they need to live and to support the family.

The second person interviewed was Mr. Ramil Montalbo(Figure 8). He lives in Barangay Baybay Norte, Miag-ao, Iloilo. He has been fishing for around 43 years. Aside from fishing as a source of livelihood, he decide to enter the fisheries sector because when he started fishing 43 years ago there was less competition. According to Mr. Montalbo, back in the day there were just a small group of families that fished in the coast of Miag-ao and with this there were a lot of fish Nowadays, there is intense competition with the big trawlers that get most of the fish in the area and leave none for the fisherman and also this trawls usage leads to over fishing which may lead to decrease fish production in the coast of Miag-ao. Mr. Montalbo owns and operates three bangkas.

When it comes to painting his bangka, Mr. Montalbo just chooses one or two colors. He picks the colors that are readily available in order to conserve time. He does not believe in any superstitions on boat painting or designs, he just simply wants the quickest way possible to paint the craft. He paints the bangkas also to protect the plywood from the salt water.

After Mr. Montalbo, the next person interviewed was Mr. Bobby (Figure 9). He is from Negros and travelled here to Miag-ao and settled in Barangay Baybay Norte. Like the others he fishes as a means of livelihood. Mr. Bobby is employed under Mr. Alfredo Magan. Their bangka is a large craft. It is capable of traveling large distances. Their voyage to capture fish has lead them to reach places like Palawan and the Tubathaha Reef. When the interview was conducted, their craft was on the beach being repaired, its last service was 6 years ago. The fisherman were fixing it and were painting it. Their color choice was determined by the owner, and he determines the color based on his favorite one. The boat is named after his children. The names were done in lettering. Their color choice was not influenced by any superstitious beliefs or practices.

Lastly is Mr. Rizalde Nobleza. He is an employee at the University of the Philippine Visayas-Miag-ao at the Division of Biological Sciences. Nong Zalds is a resident of Barangay Mambatad, Miag-ao, Iloilo. He has been fishing for 30 years but only on occasion. He goes out every Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Holidays or days without class in the university. Nong Zalds purpose is the most unique among all. He goes out to sea not as a source of income but as a past time or as a means to relax. Sometimes, he even takes his wife and they go out to the sea and just relax away from the problems of the world. All of the bangkas of Nong Zalds were donated as part of the livelihood project of the Fundacion Juan Bonal, a Spanish congregation. After, making proposals and touring the officials of the congregation, they gave Nong Zalds, 10 motor boats, and 9 were distributed among the members of the Barangay and keeping one to himself. The crafts were initially colored blue and named after saints, as requested by the congregation, however Nong Zalds, changed his to light green with a white line in the middle. Nong Zalds said that some fisherman pick their colors based on the usage. Example, blue is no chosen often because it matches the color of the sea, Red is said to attract lightning, Light-green is attracting to the eyes, and Orange-Yellow is visible in the water in case the craft capsizes.

In summary, today in Miag-ao most fisherman paint their boats for the purpose of protecting it from the salty water of the sea or as a safety precaution. However 20 years ago, all of the interviewees stated that there was a bangka painting competition sponsored by Dr. Matias, the owner of Sulu Gardens. They said that in that competition you could see the artistic talents of the fisher folks. The hulls were elaborately painted with colorful designs. The sails too were painted in designs that complemented the hulls. It would have been a beautiful sight to see. Across the entire coastline of Miag-ao the bangka would line up and wait to be judge by Mr. Matias and a panel of judges. However, no images were sadly found of this event.

Why should it be considered as an art from? Why should it be recognized?

          Bangkas have been around since the ancient times. Now they are considered to be the “Jeepneys of the Seas”. The painting of these craft are now just done in the quickest possible way, and the cheapest too. However if works from 20 years ago were obtained, and the competition still done annually, we may see the resurgence of this art from. It should be considered an art form because, it has been around for generations and is slowly fading away for financial and time reasons. If given recognition, such as the painting competition, it could bring back this lost art from.



          After conduction the survey and interviews, most fisherman in the coastal area of Miag-ao Iloilo, use traditional methods of constructing a bangka. They use materials like plywoods, and other woods to create the hull and stabilizers of the craft. In painting the crafts, 2 colors are chosen, and these colors are either the favorite colors of the fisherman or the owner of the crafts. Naming the crafts is usually done by elaborate letterings and named after the children to remind them of whom they are doing this for. Lastly, painting the bangkas  has become a lost art form. Since 20 years ago up to today the quickest and cheapest methods were used to paint it. When the competition was still held elaborate designs adorned the crafts of Miag-ao, returning this competition will most likely bring back this lost art form and bring wonder to the Miag-aowanons and the Iskos and Iskas. In conclusion, the bangka is an artform in its self from its construction to its painting. It is truly a national heritage.

Contact Details

  1. Name: Kagawad Vicente Naria.

Address: Barangay Sapa, Miag-ao Iloilo

Cellphone Number: N/A

  1. Name: Ramil Montalbo

Address: Barangay Baybay Norte, Miag-ao Iloilo

Cellphone Number: N/A

  1. Name: Bobby and Alfredo Magan

Address: Barangay Baybay Norte, Miag-ao Iloilo

Cellphone Number: N/A

  1. Name: Rizalde Nobleza

Address: Barangay Mambatad, Miag-ao, Iloilo

Cellphone Number: N/A


Literature Cited.

Abera, M.B. 2010. The soul boat and the boat-soul: an inquiry onto the indigenous soul.

Barut. N.C. and Garviles E.G. 2016. Philippine Annual Fishery Report 2016. Proceedings of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission Twelfth Regular Session, Bali, Indonesia.

Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. 2012-2014 Fisheries Statistics of the Philippines. BFAR, Quezon City Philippines.  Var. p.

Retrieved November 16,2016 from batangas-phillipines.com


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