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Date Posted: 02/22/10

Masawa Hong Butuan rides the waves beautifully

By: Arturo Valdez

I would like to share what Greg had to say about the newly built balangay. Below are pictures and an entry Greg has shared to me

Art with Masawa skipper

Conferring with Art


Diwata battling waves

Getting the sail ready

Mark, the voyage poster boy 
Masawa crew readies

Comments of Greg Hontiveros, Butuan historian on the Balangay

Greg and Edna

Thursday morning dawned on Camiguin island with skies that promised a hot sunny day, but the sea is roiled with big waves and a northeasterly wind. We were on a four-hour run from Port Benoni
to Salay, Misamis Oriental in mainland Mindanao. It would be my first taste of the full capability of the Masawa hong Butuan after those anxious days of building this seacraft from an ancient design, and it did surprisingly well. Once out of the port, it handled the waves beautifully, something that gives confidence to the occasional seafarer. Art Valdez, the expedition leader, assured me its bigger keel has a better “bite” of the water than the Diwata ng Lahi. It is a sight to marvel when the two sailing vessels raced on full sail as they crossed the strait. Except for the solitary tiny banca with sail, it is a very rare sight nowadays to see large native sailboats on the horizon.  More than halfway from Benoni, one of rudders of the Diwata broke, so Masawa had to lower the rear sail to slow down and be within a short range of the Diwata.

To the student of history, this expedition adds the third leg of the studies on the balangay. For instance, it can help resolve the puzzle on the usage of the 4th century balangay whose relics were found in Butuan; was this a coast-hugging and riverine craft or a trading vessel traversing the high seas? The archaeological aspect is best exemplified by the Butuan finds, and here the works of Dr. Jesus Peralta, chief archaeologist of the National Museum when the balangay relics were unearthed in 1976, are most instructive of the strides in our understanding of the ancient vessel. On the other hand, William Henry Scott has brought in a formidable essay from documentary sources, mainly from the early Spanish chroniclers who saw the balangay as a distinct vessel in Philippine waters.

Now Valdez & co. makes available to us the real-world tests on how the various sizes of the balangay perform in actual usage. For indeed the varieties of the balangay that were noted down by the Jesuit missionary Francisco Ignacio Alcina (The History of the Bisayan People
in the Philippine Islands, 1668) in the Visayas in the early 1600s have enriched our understanding of this ancient vessel: “We come to the larger vessels, their capacity and how they are constructed out of numerous planks and of various sizes. We shall set down first the
method of construction which is the same for all. Then we shall tell about the various sizes, which are many.”

There is a core design principle of the balangay, “the method of construction which is the same for all”: thick planks joined by wooden dowels and pegged to the stern and prow; lugs called tambuko carved from the planks, and from which were fastened by cabo negro lashings the ribs and thwarts. William Henry Scott (Boat-Building and Seamanship in Classic Philippine Society) would note that “the older technique [of the balangay] was to build the hull like a shell first, plank by plank carved to fit, and to fasten the ribs afterwards.” Contrast this with what he described as “the more familiar modern ship-building technique,
developed in both China and Europe as long ago as the Middle Ages but still in use, a rigid framework of keel and ribs is first constructed, and the wooden planking of the hull is then nailed to it with metal spikes.”

Scott would detail the various styles of the balangay from various lands and in different eras, signifying the evolution of the balangay but without departing from its core design principle. And here the keels of the Diwata and the Masawa have differed as their sizes have varied. The former (66 ft. overall length) has a much smaller keel and is tapered, following the shape of the hull. The Masawa (81 ft. overall length) has a larger square keel following what Alcina described of the large balangays: “They are rebuilt upon a square keel, adding boards to
the side.”

But the Sama shipwrights of Sibutu, Tawi-tawi built these two boats without having any reference to, nay, even knowing, Alcina. And when they first set their sight on the balangay relics in Ambangan, they exclaimed that their classic lepa were exactly built along the same
lines. The Sama shipwrights followed the template taught by their forebears over so many generations for so many centuries, testifying to both a profound intuitive understanding and well-honed skills of how these boats were built.
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