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Ancient Boat to Sail Again on New Quest for Pride, Unity

From: Philippine Daily Inquirer

Date: June 28, 2009

By: Erika Sauler


A REPLICA OF AN ANCIENT BALANGAY boat, which the first Philippine expedition team to Mt. Everest will use to retrace the Filipino ancestors migration route, was christened and set afloat for the first time yesterday.

The audience cheered as the the finished balangay, named "Diwata ng Lahi," was released to Manila Bays waters after a ceremonial rope cutting.

The event, called "Salinlahi: The Heirloom of Our Generation," was held on the grounds of the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Pasay City where the ship builders from Sibutu and Sitangkai in Tawi-Tawi crafted the boat according to their tribes traditional shipbuilding methods.

"The boat is always femal, and it symbolizes the spirit of our race," former Transportation Undersecretary and Mt. Everest team leader Art Valdez said as he explained the balangays name, which translates as "Muse of the Race."

Valdez, head of Kaya ng Pinoy Foundation Inc., an organization that pushes for projects that uphold national pride, said the teams latest adventure aims to revive the Filipinos martime consciousness. The project was unveiled last December.

The Mt. Everest team will steer the balangay around the Philippines in 2009, then proceed to other parts of Southeast Asia in 2010 and on to Madagascar off Africa in 2011. It will sail using natural winds and celestial navigation, while observing the migration of birds, cloud formation and waves, to stay on course.

Migration route

The team will follow the migration route of our ancestors, the Austronesian-speaking people.

The 15 x 3-meter boat was patterned after the Butuan boat displayed in the National Museum which was carbon-dated to 1250 A.D.

The first recovered balangay was excavated in Butuan City, Agusan del Norte, in 1978 and carbon-dated to 320 A.D.

Different face of adventure

Janet Belarmino-Sardena, one of three women on the crew, said: "[The voyage of the Balangay  is different from the Mt. Everest expedition] only in terms of form or the face of the adventure but its the same story of pride and unity of the Filipino people."

The core crew (Valdez, Sardena, Carina Dayondon, Leo Oracion, Erwin Emata, Fred Jamili and Dr. Voltaire Velasco along with several sailors from Sulu and the Philippine Coast Guard, the Navy and maritime schools) will work on team-building and test sailing for about two weeks before setting sail for Sangley Point in Cavite.

Phase I of voyage

The first phase of the voyage will cover 75 ports or stops around the Philippines and will take about seven months. The team will only sail during the day and spend two to five days in the nearest community to promote environmental advocacy.

They will organize coastal cleanups and tree planting activities, hold lectures on Philippine maritime history and promote loacl tourism. Valdez said that in certain areas, it may be possible to conduct medical missions.

Prayers, food

Team member Carina Dayondon said the project will spread the message that "The Filipinos are a great people and we are a maritime country so we have to take care of the waters. Thats why we will undertake coastal cleanups and hold symposia to promote environmental awareness."

During the launch, the boat was blessed by prayers from the Badjaos of Tawi-Tawi, a Christian pastor and a Catholic priest.

The food served included pao (a root crop) and tumpi (made from sago palm) which were flown in from Butuan City.

Jody Navarra of Butuan City told the INQUIRER that the local government will also build a replica of the balangay which will meet Diwata ng Lahi.

Mindanao State University professor Jubail Muyong said the Badjao carpenters were proud and happt to show off their ancient shipbuilding skills.

(In the early 80s, sailing historian and adventurer Bob Hobman also buildt an ancient balangay in Tawi-Tawi, brought it to Bali, then set sail with the weterly winds in 1985. Hobmans "Sarimanok" reached Madagascar in 50 days. The expedition supported beliefs that ancient southeast Asian seafarers, with their superior sea craft designs and navigational skills, were the first to sail across the Pacific, reaching as far as the African coast more than three hundred year ago. --Ed)