Balangay boat replicas
The ancient Balangay boat replicas will again sail the Philippine seas this December. Credits to Balangay Voyage.

The Balangay Voyage continues as the replicas of the ancient Balangay boats of Butuan City have been 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.

The Balangay Voyage team announced early November 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 December 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 towards Cebu-Mactan, site of the major Quincentennial celebrations.

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

Maiden Balangay Voyage

The Balangay will sail on another symbolic voyage to mark the country’s quincentennial celebrations. Credits to Anson Yu via Carina Dayondon social media.

The year 2019 marks 10 years since Kaya ng Pinoy Foundation launched the very first balangay boat replica, Balangay Diwata ng Lahi, which sailed on her maiden voyage from the Cultural Center of the Philippines grounds in Manila.

The voyage objective was described thus: to retrace the migration of our ancestors across the oceans using only the native Balangay, built faithfully to the craftsmanship and materials used during the ancient times. Navigation will also remain accurate to the method that was used by the earliest mariners – steering by the sun, the stars, the wind, cloud formations, wave patterns, and bird migrations.

The first boat was joined by 2 more balangay boats – Masawa hong Butuan and Sama ng Tawi-Tawi – in the Balangay journey that crossed the waters across the Philippine archipelago from Manila to Davao to Sibutu and Sitangkai in Tawi-Tawi.

By the time the Balangay goodwill voyage ended after about 17 months spanning the period of 2009 to 2011, all 3 balangay boats had journeyed across Southeast Asia: Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia and the waters of Vietnam in, what the expedition says, “an effort to built goodwill and give pride to the Filipinos in our forgotten maritime heritage.”

The Balangay Voyage drew its core crew from stars of the Philippine Everest Team: expedition leader and veteran mountaineer Art Valdez, Carina Dayondon (1st Filipina to scale world’s 7 summits and 2nd Filipina to summit Mt. Everest), Leo Oracion (1st Filipino to reach Mt. Everest summit), Erwin “Pastour” Emata (2nd Filipino to climb Mt. Everest), Noelle Wenceslao (1st Filipina to summit Mt. Everest), Janet Belarmino-Sardena (youngest to climb Mt. Everest), Fred Jamili (Mt. Everest team leader), Dr. Ted Esguerra (the only high altitude medical doctor in the Philippines), Voltaire Velasco (Voyage’s weather analyst), Lito Esperar, and Mark Lim.

The rest of the crew was composed of master sailors, academics and scientists, with sea support from the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard.

Since then the Balangay Voyage has time and again taken the boats through the waters of the Philippine archipelago, bringing back pride in the boat-building skills of our people.

The expedition team has announced that for 2020-2021 they are working on sailing the balangay boats to visit major islands of the archipelago in support of education and our pre-colonial heritage.

Three balangay boats sailed the Southeast Asian seas in a mission of goodwill and showcase of the Filipinos’ boat-making skills. Credits to Balangay Voyage.

It is comforting to know that the Balangay boats will be included in the Official Program of the National Quincentennial Committee of the Republic of the Philippines.

The Commemoration of the Victory of Mactan would surely highlight the importance of the locals’ first recorded encounter with European explorers. Those events significantly affected the lives of the natives.

From that Mactan landing, a plethora of incidents ensued over three centuries that brought out the Filipinos’ bravery, nationalism, fascination with the Sto. Nino, Love of God, Christianity, while experiencing firsthand the bitterness of colonialism – events that helped influence who we are now.

Importance of the Balangay

The significance of the presence of the balangay in the celebrations cannot be emphasized enough. It is a symbol that can provide us a reminder and help us navigate through our complicated and lost history. It can assist us in retracing and taking a glimpse into our glorious and tumultuous past that we have lost and even more rarely revisit.

What is a Balangay

Balangay boats at their Palawan berth. Credits to @minda via Balangay Voyage

The Balangay is a type of common seafaring vessel that we used long before we were colonized. It is a 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 Pre-colonial watercraft found in the Philippines.

The first wooden watercraft excavated in Southeast Asia, the Balangay is only found in the Philippines where a flotilla of such prehistoric wooden boats exists.

Yes, it sounds like the story of Moana. Our ancestors were accomplished seafarers. It is not surprising that we are presently the number one provider of seafarers in the world – it’s in the genes. We were not just seafarers but we were accomplished navigators, shipbuilders, and prosperous traders.

From Butuan to the rest of Southeast Asia, to China, Polynesia maybe further, evidence reveals that we were a leading naval powerhouse in this region of the world.

Researchers even found evidence that China, during the Han dynasty (220BC – 200 AD), first encountered traders on large seagoing ships that had Southeast Asian origin and which eventually inspired them to venture to the seas themselves. Could they have been the balangays?

The symbolic journey of the Balangay reminds us, “If you never look back to where you came from, you will never reach your destination” Rizal words are never truer than today.

With reports from Eldan Sambatyon and Angie Quadra-Balibay.

WATCH the Balangay’s Maiden Voyage and SEND cheers in the comments below to the expedition teams of the Balangays that will set sail to signal the countdown to the Quincentennial celebrations in the Philippines and around the world!

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