Maritime Artifact Come Alive

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Maritime Artifact Come Alive

Contemporary Balangay Sailing Agusan del Norte

By; icelle Gloria D. Borja March 10, 2010

Two ancient Balangays "Diwata ng Lahi" "Masawa hong Butuan" called port at Zamboanga City, Romulo Espaldon Naval Station last February 26, 2010 in time for the City’s 73rd celebration anniversary of the “ Dia De Zamboanga” A fleet of Fast Patrol Crafts of the Naval Forces Western Mindanao, Philippine Navy went to meet the Balangays at the Recodo Area. ADMIRAL ALEXANDER P PAMA AFP, Commander, Naval Forces Western Mindanao together with his Officers and Men and the Coast Guard lined the navy beach to welcome the Balangays amid the fanfare of music marches and colorful pennants. Mayor of Zamboanga, CELSO L. LOBREGAT welcomed the team Balangay with a sumptuous dinner at the famous Alavar's restaurant, and received them at the City Hall for the courtesy call the following week.

Maritime Culture has come alive through these contemporary replica of ancient Balangay also called “ Butuan Boats” these replicas are considered Living Anthropological Museums that bespeaks of our maritime culture, ancient trading and migration.

In 1976, anthropologists and archeologists from the National Museum had unearth ancient wooden boats from the muddy flats and delta of the Agusan River in [[Butuan City, Agusan del Norte,] and are now on permanent exhibits at the Maritime Hall, at the National Museum as well as at the Regional Museum in Butuan. These are the first wooden watercraft ever excavated in Southeast Asia. An artifact of early Filipino craftsmanship and sea- faring maritime culture. Carbon dating these boats presents a 4rth century boat or 320 A.D. At least, 1,000 years before Magellan sailed to our shores-these boats were already plying our seas. These are evidences of a flourishing trade, commerce and migration as well as an established Maritime culture.

Modern Day Adventurers with an inherent will to travel in the name of Art Valdez, expedition leader together with the Team Balangay and the Mt. Everest Team had conceptualized a dream of retracing the traditional routes of our forebears, stirring a national consciousness and pride. It is also bringing back the romance and nostalgia of traveling with these boats as a living artifact. As of this date, the Balangay had called at the picturesque Port of Olutanga Municipality in Sibuguey, Zamboanga Del Sur ,after a 10 days rest at Zamboanga for the repair and installation of the keel on the”Diwata ng Lahi” on its way to Calamansig in Sultan Kudarat, and General Santos City. Davao will be last stop before they will launch a long haul all the way to Shanghai, China via Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam. Last May 1, 2010, they called port at Paseo Del Mar, Zamboanga awaiting the third boat from Butuan wherein, they will launch the epic voyage to Southeast Asia, retracing the routes of our Austronesian forebears.

The” Diwata ng Lahi” was launched in the CCP ground last year and the other bigger boat “Masawa Hong Butuan” was launched in Butuan. They were built as replica of the original Balangay boat using traditional boat building techniques handed down from one generation to the other using no template nor blueprints but just inherent memory from our forbears.

Expert boat builders where honed from the Island of Sibutu and Sitangkai in Tawi-Tawi- to built these boats using traditional tools such as the “patuk” and the heavy wooden mallets to fasten the dowels and pins. No nails were used in the construction. Fine Philippine hardwoods “tugas” was sourced such as the Dungon, Molave, Tindalo and the Mata –Mata” was used for the ribs, keel and the side planks and rudders. The wooden planks were sourced from Butuan, Molave Ribs from Tawi-Tawi, Keel from Zamboanga. Bamboo and the wood for the gunwales from Ternate, Rattan from Cebu, Rudders and sails from Bacolod Negros, and Camiguin Island. These materials were transported by the Philippine Navy, Philippine Marines and Philippine Coast Guard to Sangley Point then to the construction site.

The indigenous peoples of Agusan and Surigao, Manobo and the Hiligainoon supplied the hardwoods for the construction of the other boat in Butuan. These natives also supplied the ‘cabo-negro ‘fibers from the sugar plum fruits for the rope as lashings and braces for the boat ribs used also as the traditional rope for the boats.

The Philippine Navy had kept a vigil on these boats from day one securing the safety of the epic journey- at times towing the boats to safety when there is no wind to propel. A modern fast craft of steel keeping an eye on the Grand old Dame of the Sea?

Austronesian Forebears and Boat Building Tradition

Balangay is an austronesian word meaning “sailboat”. Boat building requires a unity among workers which is why it is used by the Philippine Government as a team to refer to as the smallest political unit now popularly pronounced as” barangay”. The significance of the sea faring culture of the Philippines was demonstrated by the abundance of naval –related vocabularies in the 17th century Spanish dictionaries of the Philippine Language. The Philippines after all is an archipelago and the Filipino People by long tradition a maritime nation. No matter how well developed the roads and airports become, transport by sea still remains the chief commercial bond among the islands.In the Island world of South East Asia,water unites while mountain ranges divide.

For many years now the natives of Sibutu Island have been known as Sulus’s best boat makers. Its strategic location between Tawi-Tawi and Sitangkai Island to the south, and proximity to North Borneo has help in the development of the Boat Making Industry. Expert boat makers “Tukang” have continuously engaged in the long experience in the industry have made them expert Shipwrights. Scholars and Foreign tourists who have visited the island have called them “ Vikings of Sulu” for their superior boat building ability and sea-faring qualities. They are the builders of the “basnig” the fishing boat with the double outrigger, the Kumpit, as cargo vessel to transport goods from Sulu to Borneo.

They come in classified models according to purpose. The “Kapuan” which is the native word for interisland, with the length of 30-60 feet has a semi-sharp bow; and a fairly wide stern. The hull is of the plank method of construction, following ancient technique of lap stroke keel or the ribs. This type can easily penetrate shallow waters and out through bigger waves without listing. It is the passenger unit type. The “temper” after the tempered steel of the sharp native bolos characterized with a very sharp bow and stern. It is actually the racer or the submarine chaser class. It is also known as the cutter and is the sport model used by the military to patrol the waters of Sulu. The third model is the “concession”, and has a more or less business-like connotation. It is a cargo boat used for loading copra with wide feel, almost half round to absorb the heavy load like logs or copra. It is the most stable boat for rough seas and one that will ensure the safety of the cargo. It is also ideal for long distance traveling, the type salable in Celebes and Indonesia. The concession competes with the “proa” of Malaysia for better loading capacities with bigger rudder and a long tiller to prevent the boat from bumping while docking and specially during inclement weather.

War Boat- Houseboat

These shipwrights use the ancient chisel ax type tool called “patok” with saw and wooden hammer. They also use native hardwoods such as molave, Ipil, Ebony, Banga or the Mata-mata for the dowels and pins. Popularized by the Samal and Bajau of Sulu are the “Lepa”(houseboats) and the “Sapit” both are used as houseboats. The stern of the “Sapit” is fitted with a rudder while the Lepa is controlled by the paddle manually. Like its bigger version, the kumpit , lepa shared the sea-faring history of the Bajao. The Lepa reaches Borneo, Malaysia and Indonesia with the stars and heavenly bodies as navigational guides. The Kumpit is the symbol of the romantic Tausug life in the sea, while the Lepa, tells the romantic adventure of the Bajao and Sama . Indeed, boat making in Sulu remains the enduring example of the preservation of the beautiful seafaring traditions and maritime culture.

Our forebears in this martime world used “balanghay” to populate the archipelago-as history remind us that the 10 Bornean Datus came to Panay in a fleet of Balangays. It is a family boat that comes with and without the outrigger and it may be that both kinds existed in the same way as houseboats. Another view maintains that the Balangay is a type of a war-boat. Berangai- in the Malay –English dictionary is a “piratical prahu, furnished with grapnels and swiveling Lantakas and boarding gangways to attack becalmed and anchored ships. In Morga’s account that some boats had 100 rowers and 30 gangway fighters, then those boats must have to be 60-80 feet long to accommodate such a number of rowers and fighters. One characteristic of a war boat was the presence of a fighting platform from where the fighters could shoot their spears, blowguns, and bows and arrows. This is the same principle as that of a modern aircraft carrier. They often had sturdy outriggers on which rowers could sit on planks connecting them. Rowers formed two parallel files on each side. Thus 40 rowers could be broken up into four files of 10 rowers each. Later models of war boats would remove the outriggers and arranged rowers by banks or galleries within the boat itself as among the Illanuns and Balangingi war boats in Mindanao and Sulu. For long cruising, it was impractical to depend solely on rower power thus all these traditional marine crafts had sails for utilizing wind power. The most traditional sail types had tripod masts which could be collapsed by removing one of the three legs. The history of boat making and maritime trading in Visayas and Luzon suffered during the Spanish colonial period because of the Spanish demand on time and labor of the male population for church building, galleon construction and enforced agriculture and war expeditions in the south had disrupted the proto-historic cultural pattern of naval technology. What Rizal lamented was the loss of the naval technology in the Hispanized portion of the Philippines. Had he looked forth to Mindanao and Sulu, he would have been proud of how the Islamized Filipinos had carried on the great maritime tradition. The whole success of Filipino resistance in the south was due largely to their unimpaired mobility on the sea. The whole naval history of boat building, sailing and trading among the ancient inhabitants of Indonesia and the Philippines was quite advanced, possibly the most developed in the Western Pacific. It was this naval technology which produced such amazing developments as the construction of boats pf decreasing sizes by nesting one on top of the other. It was also the same technology that led to the Polynesian’s double canoe and made the populating of the Pacific World-from Southeast Asia, Hawaii, Easter Island, New Zealand and Madagascar.

One final argument for the Philippines as the center of the outrigger tradition are its stands of great forest trees, whence come the hulls and the booms. The wide variety of hardwoods of great heights as found in the island’s virgin forest has provided early shipbuilders with a wide choice of timber. If indeed, the resources for nautical engineering are in abundance in these islands, the question may be asked: how come the Philippines did not develop into a maritime power in the pre-Spanish times? One answer is: the islands lay off the main routes between China and India.

During the days of Spain, in the Philippines- however the great galleons that carried on the Manila-Acapulco trade were mostly built in the Philippines.

Symbolisms and Rituals

The Parau/ Paraw continued to carry the commerce of the inland seas and the coasts with the ponderous outriggers and durable sails. The colorful Vintas had remained as symbols of a colorful past, while the fluvial parades in Tawi-Tawi decorated with cut-out pennants and flags play with the wind as reminder of a culture with close affinity to the sea that pays homage to the wind. While the seafaring Samals and Bajao lived on the sea- they find the sandy beaches as final resting burial grounds with their sail boats as grave markers. Even their rituals such the “Tulak-Balak” wherein a spirit –raft laden with ritual offerings such as fruits, rice cakes, boiled eggs, and colorful flaglets and banners is released into the sea- or river as cleansing ceremony or allowed to drift in order to carry the moral pollution of the village and lure away the evil spirits away from the village.


Human movement occurring after the disappearance of the land-bridges is responsible for most of the populations of the Philippines and, for that matter, of Island Southeast Asia. These movements were made not by foot but by boat, implying that the second set of humans had already reached a technological level that included boat- making. Water transport is perhaps the most important single factor that explains the distributions and relationships of peoples and culture in the Borneo-_Mindanao- Celebes area. Anthropologists have noted that in the island world of Southeast Asia, water unites while mountains ranges divide.