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Another great dream is being unfolded in a little corner of space near the grounds of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). Led by Art Valdez, the man behind the success of putting Filipinos on the summit of Mt. Everest will once again embark on a maritime adventure across the Philippine archipelago and beyond in a replica of an ancient wooden boat called the balangay.
The aim of this endeavor is to re-trace some of our ancestor’s journey in the Indo-Pacific during pre-colonial times in the effort to rekindle the Filipino pride and spirit in the long forgotten maritime heritage.
First excavated in the late 1970s in Butuan City, Agusan del Norte by the National Museum, a balangay (also called ‘Butuan boat’), is a plank boat adjoined by a carved-out planks edge through pins or dowels. Nine balangays were actually discovered: the first one was preserved and displayed in the excavation site, carbon-dated at year 320AD; the second was dated to 1250 and is now displayed in the National Museum; the third was moved to the Butuan Regional Museum for preservation works; the remaining six balangays remain in their original waterlogged condition, and are yet to be excavated.
Measuring 3 meters wide by 18 meters long (roughly the length and width of a passenger bus), and about a meter depth, the newly constructed balangay is made from a hardwood locally known as lupanga (or lutanga), an ubi-ubi family of apitong and dungon trees sourced from the eastern part of Tawi-Tawi.
A team of 10 Badjaos, also from Tawi-Tawi, led by Jubail Muyong from Sibutu and Haji Musa Malabong from Sitangkai built the boat from April to June, for a total of 41 days, with no drawn plans but based solely on knowledge passed from one generation to the next.
Based on the latest hydrostatic testing, the balangay will float in 18 inches of water at zero load, a capability that will allow it to come close to shores or to sail in shallow waters.
The maiden launch is scheduled on June 27. There is also a plan to sail it through the Pasig River in support of the river clean-up project. After which, the balangay will sail thru 67 ports from Manila to the tip of Mindanao in a voyage that will take about 6-8 months.
Sailing mostly during daytime with a speed between 4-6 knots depending on prevailing wind conditions, the boat will travel along the coast with an alternating crew of 18 personnel; the core team consists of the 8 members of the Team Everest, 4 Badjaos, 4 members of the Philippine Coast Guard/Philippine Navy, and 2 members of the Joint Manning (Seafarers) Group.
While on port, Team Balangay will undertake medical missions, school lectures, mini forums, video showing, and visits to archeological, cultural, and tourism sites.
After completing the Philippine voyage, the balangay will sail to Southeast Asia in 2010, to Polynesia and Madagascar in 2011, across the Atlantic and onward to the Pacific in 2012 and returning home in 2013.
In the words of Art Valdez – “The Balangay will become the catalyst to stir up historical consciousness among Filipinos today, a sine qua non in transporting our people to our cherished goals. Without that keen knowledge of history, our people will continue to suffer as our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, aptly described, “Ang taong hindi lumilingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa patutunguhan.”