Saturday, June 27, 2009

Badjaos build replica of Balangay, embark on epic voyage

Replica of the Balangay and some members of the Badjao team. (Courtesy: Agatep Associates Inc.)

TAWI-TAWI, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / June 27, 2009) - A group of Badjaos from the southern Filipino province of Tawi-Tawi have painstakingly built a replica of one of the oldest seafaring vessels in human history to sail around the world.

The boat builders are led by a professor at the Mindanao State University Jubail Muyong, who hails from the town of Sibutu and a retired school teacher, Hadji Musa Malabong from the island of Sitangkai. They constructed a 15 by 3-meter sized replica of the historic Balangay, a boat excavated in Agusan del Norte’s Butuan City in 1978.

The Balangay was carbon dated and is said to be somewhere around 320 AD.

The construction of the replica took a total of 41 days which started in April this year at the harbor side of the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Pasay City.

Former Transportation Undersecretary Art Valdez, who initiated the idea of building the replica of the Balangay, is also the same man who spearheaded the endeavor that put Filipino climbers on top of Mount Everest in 2006.

Valdez and his team - the Kaya ng Pinoy Inc. - envision sailing the oceans using pre-colonial navigation by following the positions of the sun, the stars, and cloud formations, patterns of the waves, the directions of the wind and the migrations of birds.

During the construction of the Balangay, the team also considered the weather and the shape of the moon in their navigation, saying it will bring good luck and good voyage.

The boat builders also used tools and materials that were made from wood.

Valdez first thought that not too many people knew what a Balangay was. So he decided to find people who could help him trace the story behind the Balangay and look for people who could execute and construct the boat basing from the original one.

Valdez’s determination led him to the islands of Sibutu and Sitangkai in Tawi-Tawi, where the ancient technique of building boats is still alive.

The Badjaos, who played a big part in the ambitious sea adventure, used the same ancient building technique and method of construction as the Balangay of the 4th, 13th and 14th century A. D. - plank built, lashed lug, edge pegged and shell-first construction.

Along with Muyong and Malabong were Ibrahin Abdula, Mohammad Nur Usman, Abdul Gammar Abdula, Sukrie Jauhal and Asgali Murah Jr. who are all skilled boat builders and native of Sibutu and Sitangkai.

Valdez said the Badjaos’participation in the project will put things into its right perspective - shaping the image of the Badjaos as great shipbuilders with rich and colorful tradition and culture.

The members of the Philippine Everest team - Leo Oracion, Erwin Emata, Noelle Wenceslao, Carina Dayondon, Janet Belarmino-Sardena, Dr Ted Esguerra, Fred Jamili and Dr Voltaire Velasco also comprised the core group of the Balangay expedition. The rest of the team will be composed of master sailors, academicians and scientists.

Balangay had its maiden launch Saturday and another plan is to sail it through the Pasig River to support a 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 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.

Team Balangay will also conduct medical missions and visits schools and hold lectures and forums, video showing, visits to archeological, cultural, and tourism sites while on port. After sailing the Philippine Archipelago, the Balangay will have its navigation around Southeast Asia this year and to Polynesia and Madagascar in 2011 and across the Atlantic and onward to the Pacific in 2012 and returning home in 2013.

Valdez stressed that the Balangay voyage will showcase and challenge Filipino ingenuity and native survival skills in this modern age by using natural seafaring technology.

“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,” said Valdez. (By Amilbahar S. Mawallil and with additional information from Agatep Associates Inc.)

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