I came across a copy of a May 2009 issue of PAL’S Mabuhay magazine which my father brought home after he dropped me off in Manila for my cpa review. In that particular issue there was a feature about the voyage of the ancient balangay and the modern attempt to relieve its glory days way before the likes of Pau Gasol, Rafael Nadal and Ferdinand Magellan found our beautiful coasts.
A balangay or balanghai in Bisaya is an ancient wooden watercraft. Their existence was first mentioned in the book History of the Philippine Island written by 16th century Spanish Historian Antonio de Morga. These boats never surfaced for a very long time and were almost forgotten in the Filipino consciousness until in 1978 nine specimens were excavated in Butuan City – one of them was carbon dated way back 320 AD.
Created without a blueprint, balangays are primarily made out of carved woods, joint together by pins and vines using such techniques that were handed down from generations – which still survive today. Its dimension ranged up to 15 meters long and 4 meters wide, enough to carry a hundred people. They were used for transport, migration and, yes, raiding other community. But its crowning achievement is that it proved that trades with neighboring countries already existed before the Spanish colonizers came. The Indios as the Spanish mocked our ancestors were not savages after all, that we have maritime industries, we have religion, and we have a way of writing and we were already building our cradle for civilization. It’s a maritime wonder.
In our present time a group of Filipino visionaries called Kaya ng Pinoy, Inc. (The Filipino Can) headed by ARTURO T. VALDEZ, the same team who conquered Mt. Everest in May 2006 have not only created two authentic balangays but successfully circum-navigated the Philippine islands and the rest of South East Asia. To built the balangay they had to flew to Manila a group of native Badjao boat-builders from Tawi-tawi to recreate the boats the way their forefathers did. The boats were named Diwata ng Lahi (Fairy of the Race) and Masawa hong Butuan.
Together, men and boats, navigated the entire Philippine archipelago (most of it) without GPS, radios and motors. They have internet though, since they have to keep their own blogs to update their journey online. They rowed sailed by winds and currents. At night their guide is the Northern Star, and during star-less night well there’s always a compass. It’s probably every adventurer’s dream to be a part of this élite team that navigates through rain and sun, dolphins and sharks, El Niño and La Niña, Ondoy and Pepeng, and sometimes hunger and thirst.
They include Valdez, expedition leader, Carina Dayondon, the second Filipina to traverse Mt. Everest and holder of the world marathon record in the place, and Leo Oracion, Erwin Emata, Janet Sardena, Noelle Wenceslao, Dr. Ted Esquerra, Fred Jamili, Voltaire Velasco, Lito Esperar and Mark Lim. Their 10-leg journey started on September 1, 2009 and navigated last year traced ancient maritime practices in Southeast Asia through a fleet of three wooden boats patterned after the balangay of the Philippine’s precolonial days: Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia and Singapore. After Asia, they will attempt Africa – the cradle of world civilization. It is such a shame I wasn’t aware of this voyage and so updated with the Galeón Andalucía.
The main activities of the Balangay Voyage is to retell history to people. They have met with leaders during their stopover in every leg and discussed to students why they were doing the journey and its significance.The Balangay is about educating the people about OUR history. It is more than just a boat but symbolizes of what the marvel of Filipino can do and what we could achieve if we unite for a common goal. Lastly the balangay is who we are – an identity we can all be proud of.
For comprehensive information about the Voyage of the Balangay please visit their official website: http://www.balangay-voyage.com/
- Balangay fleet sails home (globalnation.inquirer.net)