The Voyage of the Balangay
One man’s dream revives a forgotten Filipino consciousness and sets sail to inspire the youth.
The Philippines was once revered as a majestic seafaring region during the pre-colonial times. Filipinos already had a thriving civilization with their villages (called “barangays”) and would trade with neighboring locales throughout the archipelago. The “Balangay,” also referred to as “Balanghai,” is a wooden watercraft built by natives in Butuan, Agusan del Norte. It displayed the brilliant craftsmanship of early Filipinos when it came to maritime travel, as well as flourishing business relationships with nearby islands. It was also the first ancient boat to be excavated in Southeast Asia in the late 1970s, carbon dated to 320 A.D. It was originally used to transport 50 to 60 people at a time.
Bringing the Balangay Back to Life
In 2007, Arturo “Art” T. Valdez, former president of The Mountaineering Federation of the Philippines, a veteran mountaineer and marathoner, and a former Undersecretary of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), made possible the Filipino dream of reaching the summit of the highest peak in the world, Mount Everest, by organizing the first Philippine Mount Everest Expedition and forming Kaya ng Pinoy, Inc.
Two years later, Valdez paved the way for yet another historic event in Philippine history. Kaya ng Pinoy, Inc. revived the ancient Balangay sea vessel, creating a replica and launching “The Voyage of the Balangay,” which aims to trace the migration of our Filipino ancestors from now until the year 2013.
Valdez formed a core crew comprised of the original members of the Philippine Mount Everest Team as well as seasoned experts. The rest of the crew are made up of master sailors, academics, and scientists.
Valdez also had to look for shipbuilders who had inherited the knowledge to build the ancient seacraft. He sought the prowess of the Badjaos, an indigenous ethnic group, to build a replica of the excavated Balangay, which involves a meticulous process using natural materials and not a single nail. The boat measures 15 meters long and three meters wide.
The boat was named “Diwata ng Lahi” (roughly translated as “Goddess of the Generations”). Its first day of voyage was supposed to be June 12, Independence Day, to symbolize the team’s objective of rekindling Filipino pride for our forgotten heritage and consciousness as a maritime people—but the voyage was delayed until September due to stormy weather.
Setting Sail to Educate and to Inspire
One of the goals Valdez had in mind with the Balangay expedition was to re-establish to the rest of the world that the Philippines is a maritime—not a land-based—nation. They aim to raise awareness by traversing the neighboring Asia-Pacific countries.
The team thoroughly researched the original navigation techniques used by our Malay ancestors four hundred centuries ago. No modern gadgetry was used during the expedition. “We want to teach our young about maritime history,” says Valdez, who possesses an unfaltering sense of motivation and determination when it comes to educating the youth.
Despite the slew of eight typhoons which ravaged the country, the Balangay crew, after sailing for 100 days and traveling 894 nautical miles, was able to bring the Balangay back to Butuan on December 6, all the way from Manila Bay.
“Nature is the best teacher on the virtue of patience,” says Valdez. The Balangay proved to be a tough vessel, even during the most challenging weather conditions.
At each port, the voyagers would disembark and teach local government units, non-government organizations, and students about disaster management and preparedness, first aid measures, as well as environmental and marine awareness. Medical missions were held in coastal communities and locals were oriented on protecting coral reefs. At times, the voyagers would plant mangrove trees as well. They would also give inspirational talks on goal setting and achievement.
When asked about the joys and highlights of their expedition, the voyagers agree that interacting with people, especially students, was their most memorable encounter.
Dr. Ted Esguerra says, “It’s an experience worth doing a thousand times over. We felt and watched the smiles of the children. That’s the real Philippines—warmth and hospitality.”
The Balangay team fondly recalls one moment in Butuan where children waved at them from the shore and welcomed them, waving the Philippine flag. The crew became teary-eyed at the sight. What was even more touching was to realize that these children lost their schoolhouses to the floods brought about by typhoons. “This shows that they know patriotism and they are proud to be Filipino,” remarks Valdez.
Teaching as a Form of Service
Valdez, whose mother was an elementary English teacher, knows the responsibilities and the honor that come with teaching.
“Teaching is a form of service,” shares Valdez. “It’s about imparting knowledge and values of being a good citizen.”
Valdez stresses the need to learn about the world and our own history. He feels strongly about delving deeper into Philippine history which dates back further than the Spanish colonization.
“In 20 to 30 years, one of these young people will be the future leaders of the country,” believes Valdez. Having been a primary impetus in achieving the first successful climb of Mount Everest, and triumphantly rebuilding the famed Balangay, Valdez is proud to say that out of his team were individuals who dared to dream and were able to bring these ambitions to reality.
Carina Dayondon, for instance, was a simple girl from Bukidnon, while Leo Oracion hailed from Quezon. “There are no impossible dreams,” he says. It does not matter whether the children come from the smallest and humblest of provinces, as long as they set their hearts and minds on their goals in life.