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An ancient journey retraced

Written by Alma Anonas-Carpio / Correspondent

Thursday, 21 May 2009

IN a return-to-roots voyage, the Kaya ng Pinoy group led by Department of Transportation and
Communications (DOTC) Undersecretary Art Valdez and members of the all-Filipino Mount
Everest team will go on a seven-month journey aboard a handcrafted balanghay from the mouth of Manila Bay to the tip of the Sulu peninsula and back.
The balanghay is a long, curving hardwood boat aboard which immigrant families of Indon and Malay stock journeyed to the Philippine archipelago. It is in the word balanghay that the word barangay has its roots.

Having twice scaled Mount Everest in the Himalayas, Valdez now seeks to conquer the seas
surrounding the Philippine archipelago in the same way Filipino pioneers did thousands of years ago. Valdez, United States Ambassador Kristie Kenney and members of the Badjao tribe who still know how to build balanghay worked on the boat alongside each other this week. Working with them wielding chisels and hammers were the team of intrepid mountaineers-turned-sailors whom Valdez will bring with him on his voyage.
Kenney said in a brief interview that helping to build the balanghay was “a fabulous experience” that made her feel “Filipino.” She noted that “it is cultural exchanges like these that we in the diplomatic corps seek and encourage, this is what we live for. This is a great way of learning about other cultures.”

The Kaya ng Pinoy group is nearly finished with the balanghay boat they are building for this
journey and they expect to set sail on June 24, the anniversary of the founding of Manila. The
balanghay itself is made of tough yet flexible tanguile hardwood and is being built following the lines of an ancient balanghay unearthed in the city of Butuan some decades ago. The dissected Butuan Balanghay is on display at the National Museum.

The balanghay is widely believed to be an ocean-faring vessel that was used by modern
Filipinos’ Austronesian forebears, who crossed land bridges and traveled by sea in these boats to settle in the Philippine archipelago. Rey Santiago, National Museum senior researcher in archaeology, said the new balanghay follows ancient construction methods. It is being built shell first, using solid wood planks held together by dowels (wooden pegs used to join pieces of wood instead of iron nails) and caulked with nylon fibers and natural tree resins from mangrove trees to make it watertight.

According to some of the Kaya ng Pinoy group members, the only concession made to
modernity was the use of electric drills to bore the holes needed for the dowels. The boat, these team members said, is being built without the usual drawings and plans but with the guidance of master boat builder Hadji Musa Malabong of the Badjao tribe of Tawi-Tawi, who worked alongside marine engineers and scientists who served as project consultants for this endeavor.  Valdez said he embarked on the balanghay project to revisit the Philippines’ seafaring past to remind Filipinos that they “were once master of the seas—trading with ancient China and traveling as far as Madagascar using the balanghay.” To this day, Filipinos are known to be among the best seafarers in the world—and the number of Filipinos serving in various merchant marine fleets is a testament to that set of inherited skills.

Master Mariner Butch Romillo planned the route for this new journey of the balanghay, which
will travel via “daytime sailing,” leaving port at sunrise and finding safe moorings by sundown.
The balanghay journey will progress through several stages, from Manila Bay to the party
island of Boracay, from Boracay to Mactan Island, from Mactan to Cagayan de Oro and on to
Zamboanga City, General Santos City, Davao City and back to Zamboanga before going on to Siluag Island at the very tip of the Sulu archipelago.

The Kaya ng Pinoy sailors will make regular stops between these destinations to restock their
supplies and make repairs to the balanghay. Romillo estimated the journey will take “about
seven months, if the weather is kind—and the seas, too.”

IN PHOTO -- U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney (in yellow shirt), together with Pagcor chairman Ephraim Genuino and Kaya ng Pinoy Foundation head Art Valdez, helps build the balanghay as the Philippine Mount Everest team embarks on a new project, “The Voyage of the Balangay,” an epochshaping journey that will revive maritime consciousness in the country. ROY DOMINGO