Balangay boat as symbol of ancient Filipino ingenuity



I was thrilled to know that the ancient Balangay boat replica will sail again the Philippine seas in December.

Called The Balangay Voyage the group continues to work on replicas of the ancient boats of Butuan City. It was deemed they deserve to be included in the official program of the Philippines’ National Quincentennial Committee (NQC) for the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Victory in Mactan and the First Circumnavigation of the World.

This was announced that two Balangay boats will set sail on a symbolic voyage to the 500-day countdown to the 500th anniversary of the Victory at Mactan in 2021 that begins on Dec. 14, 2019.

“Balangay Lahi ng Maharlika” will be temporarily renamed “Balangay Raya Kolambu” (King of Mazzaua) and “Balangay Sultan sin Sulu” to “Balangay Raya Siayo/Siagu” (King of Butuan) for the journey that starts from San Vicente, Palawan where the boats are currently berthed.

The two balangay boats will then cross the Sulu Sea to reach Butuan, the ancient kingdom of pre-colonial ancestors.

Representatives from Butuan City will then join the voyage that heads toward Cebu-Mactan, site of the major Quincentennial celebrations.

The return journey home to Palawan will mark an almost month-long and celebrate the 2,000-kilometer voyage.

I first learned about the Maiden Balangay Voyage from Art Valdez. I hope that wide publicity will be given because it is more than just a boat.

It symbolizes Filipino ingenuity for problem solving. And it is should be widely known and celebrated.

Balanghai Festival is a celebration in Butuan, Agusan del Norte to commemorate the coming of the early migrants that settled in the Philippines, on board the Balangay boats.

The Balangay is also referred to as the Butuan boat as the name for human small communities by the Spaniards. As a boat balanghai or Spanish barangayanes, is a type of plank boat adjoined by a carved-out plank edged through pins and dowels. It was first mentioned in the 16th Century in the Chronicles of Pigafetta, and is known as the oldest watercraft found in the Philippines. The oldest known balangay has been carbon-dated to 320 CE.

It was the first wooden watercraft excavated in Southeast Asia and are evidence of early Filipino craftsmanship and their seamanship skills during pre-colonial times.

The Balanghai Festival is also a celebration in Butuan, Agusan del Norte to commemorate the coming of the Austronesian migrants that settled in the Philippines, on board the balangay boats. When the first Spaniards arrived in the 16th century, they found Filipinos living in well-organized independent villages called barangays. The name barangay originated from balangay, the Austronesian word for “sailboat.”

We arranged a meeting with Chinese embassy officials to push for a common effort to preserve the sea rather than fight about it.

The sultan died there but the Chinese emperor at the time honored him with a shrine. I met some of his relatives in a visit a few years ago.

Valdez is aware of the implications of the trip at a time when the Philippines and China still have a territorial conflict over parts of the South China Sea. But that is the point. There should be no conflict.

“These waters never divided us. These waters unified us,” he said. “And this boat, as a replica of an ancient boat, is a symbol of that relationship.”

He wants to “rekindle Filipino pride and faith in a forgotten heritage, our maritime consciousness.”

“It is very sad because we are a maritime people. We are gifted and natural in the waters but colonialization robbed us of that consciousness. I am doing this to help rekindle that spirit,” Valdez said. This project reconnects us to our pre-Spanish period at the same time that we need to reach out to our neighbors in the Asian region. There has been a hiatus in which we lost that connection during the Spanish and American colonial periods.

“We explore our past and our capacity as a people with the balangay. We can be proud of a race that was not reluctant to take the high road of adventure by relying only on instinct and nature. We should look to that past as we face contemporary problems.”

To return to the original message of this column we must revisit our past as often as we can to understand the country’s challenges: whether it is church vs. state, the invention of the Filipino Badjao made balangay and the success of the Galleon trade with the Philippines as its entrepot.

“Declaring it the country’s national boat will ensure that future generations will recognize the invaluable contribution of our forefathers in shaping our maritime tradition and passing on the values of solidarity, harmony, determination, courage and bravery,” Agusan del Norte Rep. Lawrence Lemuel Fortun, principal author of the bill, said.

He noted that the ‘balangay,’ known as the Butuan boat, was the first-ever wooden watercraft to be excavated in Southeast Asia demonstrating early Filipino boat-building genius and seamanship expertise during the pre-colonial times.

“Found only in the Philippines where a flotilla of such ancient boats exists, the Butuan boat was utilized by our ancestors to maintain trade relations with neighboring islands around the country and empires around Southeast Asia,” Fortun said.

He said “the extensive utilization of balangay for trade confirms the active involvement of our forefathers in robust commercial activities in Asia as early as the 10th and 11th centuries.”

“The boat was first mentioned in the 16th century in the Chronicles of Pigafetta,” Fortun noted, citing that there are nine balangay boats known to be in existence, the oldest of which has been carbon-dated around 320 AD.

Valdez said to me then: “When it comes to problem solving Filipinos have this do or die attitude. If there is a problem, he will not sleep until he is able to find a solution.”

To reconstruct the boats, Valdez and his team hired boat builders from the Sama Dilaya tribe from Sibutu and Sitangkai islands of Tawi-Tawi.

But all these difficulties were made up for by the beauty they encountered on their voyage. Dolphins swam alongside the boats. You will see how beautiful the Philippines is if you make this round trip through all its islands.