Sunday, June 14, 2009

Voyage of the Balangay: Tracing Pinoy seafaring history

balangay ultrawideAsk the man on the street what a Balangay is and chances are, he'll make a connection between the word and "barangay". Widen your search a little further and you'll probably stumble upon things inspired by the Balanghai, for example, the trophies being awarded to Cinemalaya winners. Just what is a Balangay (or Balanghai) anyway? and what is its significance to the 21st century Pinoy?balangay crowdThe Balangay was an outrigger boat used by our pre-colonial seafarers to travel through Asia. The Balangay discovered in Butuan, Agusan del Norte in 1976 was carbon dated to 320 AD which makes it among the earliest seafaring vessel in history. This is a revealing piece of information that speaks volumes about the Filipino's inherent maritime skills. That pinoys are the most sought after (and most numerous) seafarers on board modern shipping vessels should therefore not come as a surprise, but I digress.bajau markings on stepsArt Valdez, the moving force behind the Philippine Everest Team takes his nationalistic cause from trekking to the summit of the world's highest mountain to tracing the Filipino's seafaring heritage not through a GPS-equipped boat but rather, a faithful reproduction of the original balangay. The boat is being built by Bajaus from Sibutu and Sitangkai in Tawi-Tawi using ancient methods. made from a hardwood called apitong, the shell is built first before the planks are held in place using lashing and dowels. the boat measures 15 meters long and three meters wide with a capacity of 50-60 people.balangay plank detailAt the time of my visit, construction was still ongoing at the lot beside the CCP Bay port. ii was scheduled to be put out to the bay by independence day but Carina Dayondon, one of the three Filipinas who conquered Everest, told me they would be waiting until the full moon on June 27 to launch. Carina, along with the rest of the Philippine Everest team, will comprise the sailing team, together with Bajaus and members of the Philippine Navy.balangay bamboo floorMaybe, it sounds like a romantic, Robinson Crusoesque dream to travel using a vessel patterned after an ancient design, to navigate the seas utilizing the stars, the sun and bird migration patterns and to steer it using the wind. But there is a strong cultural and ecological undertone to the voyage. It is a way to somehow make us feel proud of our seafaring heritage and reconnect to our maritime roots. It also serves as a reminder of how detached we've become from nature and how we can make of the balangay insigniaINFO: the voyage will be launched in Manila • there will be seven legs around the Philipines covering 2,108 nautical miles which will culminate at the tip of Sulu before sailing off to foreign waters within Southeast Asia until 2010 • there will be medical misisons, coastal clean-ups and global warming/ecological seminars at the designated stops • by 2011, the Balangay will retrace the trips made by our seafaring ancestors to Micronesia and Madagascar • it will sail the Pacific Ocean on to the Atlantic from 2012 to 2013.


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