Next ‘balangay’ adventure: Voyage of Sulu sultan to China
“The waters are there not to divide, but to unite.”
Amid the thawing of tensions between the Philippines and China, three replicas of the ancient Filipino boat are sailing to the city of Dezhou next month to commemorate a friendship that began 600 years ago.
The first Philippine expedition team to Mt. Everest, led by Environment Undersecretary Arturo Valdez, will again begin a sea adventure. It will set sail aboard replicas of a “balangay” (precolonial boat) this time to trace the voyage of Sultan Paduka Batara, a Muslim ruler of Sulu province, who left in 1417 for a tribute mission to the Ming Dynasty to seek a preferential trade agreement.
Kaya ng Pinoy Foundation, an organization that pushes for projects that uphold national pride, said the sultan left with his family and some 300 of his noble followers for the mission on ships very much like the balangays and were welcomed by the Ming emperor.
However, on his way home, the sultan fell ill and died. Upon learning of the tragic news, the Ming emperor ordered a royal funeral in his honor. The sultan’s wife and two of his children remained behind in order to tend to his tomb and were granted lands and citizenships.
“To date, some descendants of the Sultan of Sulu continue to live and prosper in the City of Dezhou, 320 kilometers south of Beijing, in northwestern Province of Shandong. And this year happens to be exactly the 600th anniversary of that voyage, so what better way to commemorate this historic undertaking than to retrace that journey,” Valdez, head of the Kaya ng Pinoy, said in a statement.
“This will be a journey in celebration of our historical ties with the Middle Kingdom; a journey of understanding and cross-cultural connections; a journey to bridge common and shared aspirations between the people of the Philippines and the people of China; a journey in remembrance for the valiant spirits of our ancestors who proudly sailed these high seas long before the coming of foreign colonizers,” he added.
The voyage to China, which is the team’s second after it sailed around the Philippines and South China Sea in 2009, is expected to begin in May.
“With the right weather, we shall be crossing the South China Sea in the month of May and hope to be sailing back by the middle of June,” Valdez said.
He said that during the team’s first voyage—in which it sailed using natural winds and celestial navigation, while observing the migration of birds, cloud formation and waves to stay on course—the original plan was to reach China.
“But due to the sudden change of the monsoon weather and the weary crewmates who longed to be with their families as the Christmas season approached, a collective decision was made to turn back home,” Valdez said.
At present, two new balangay boats are being built in Sulu and these will be completed by around the first or second week of April. These will replace the two other boats used by the team during the first voyage.
Diwata ng Lahi, the first replica, which was loaned to the National Museum, has been declared an important cultural property and is on display at the museum grounds in Manila.
Masawa hong Butuan, named after the ancient kingdom and current city in Mindanao, was returned to where she was first built, at the Luna Compound, beside the mighty Agusan River.
Once ready, the two new boats will sail first to Butuan, then to Bacolod to be joined by balangay Sama ng Tawi-Tawi, the third of the first group of balangays used during the team’s first voyage. The three boats will then sail onward Manila together.
“The boat Sama ng Tawi-Tawi, in honor of the boat builders from the Sama Dilaya tribe of Sibutu and Sitangkai, sits patiently near the shores of Bacolod City, awaiting her call to voyage again,” Valdez said.
The balangays that will be used for the China voyage will be manned by the same crew plus a few new selected volunteers, according to Valdez.
“Our team is composed of different individuals with different cultures and beliefs, yet we journeyed as one boat, as one people; with tolerance and understanding. This is something what our country needs today,” he said.
“Our archipelagic nature should not be a hindrance why we cannot come together as a people; the waters are there not to divide, but to unite. That was how our ancestors lived and believed. We should look back at our pasts just like what Rizal said,” he added. —TINA G. SANTOS
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