PRESS RELEASE: April 7, 2017

The Voyage of the Balangay: The Journey to the Middle Kingdom

About 7 year ago, an intrepid team of 40 Filipino adventurers led by Art Valdez o* the famed 1st Philippine Mount Everest Team sailed around the Philippines and Southeast Asia aboard 3 replicas of our ancient balangay boats. The team travelled from the southern corridor of Tawi-Tawi, traversed around Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia and up to the territorial waters of Vietnam; a journey that took a total of 17 months. 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 approaches, a collective decision was made to turn back home.

A festive celebration greeted the entire crew upon their return to Manila; they were on the front-pages of most major newspapers, feted by no less than President Benigno Aquino at Malacahang, and declared as Honorary Butuanons by the City Council of Butuan, where the original balangay boats were *1rst discovered and unearthed.

Once the festivities were over, the crew, one by one, simply gone back with their own lives; some got married, some continue to climb mountains, some opened up businesses, one as captain of cargo ships, one, sadly passed away, but most returned in service to the country and to their communities.

Of the 3 balangay boats, Diwata ng Lahi, the first replica, was loaned to the National Museum, declared as Important Cultural Property; she is currently on display at the museum grounds. 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. The last boat, Sama ng Tawi-Tawi, in honor of the boat builders from the Sama Dilaya tribe o*’Sibutu and Sitangkai, sits patiently near the shores of Bacolod City, awaiting her call to sail again.

Why go to China?

About 600 years ago, in the year 1417, Sultan Paduka Batara, Muslim ruler o* Sulu, left with his family and 300 of his noble *ollowers fora tribute mission to the Ming Dynasty in order to seek preferential trade agreement. The mission, onboard ships very much like the balangays, was welcomed by the Ming Emperor; on his way home, the Sultan fell into illness and die from natural cause. 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, they were granted lands and citizenships.

Today, a sizable descendant of the Sultan of Sulu continues to live and prosper in the City of Dezhou, 320 kilometers south of Beijing, in northwestern Province of Shandong.

This year, 2017, happens to be exactly the 600 anniversary of that voyage, so what better way to commemorate this historic undertaking than to retrace that journey.

Presently, 2 new balangay boats are currently being built in Maimbung, Sulu by our Sama brothers from Tawi-Tawi. They will be completed by around the first or second week of April. Once ready, the 2 boats will sail first to Butuan City, then to Bacolod City to be joined with balangay Sama ng Tawi-Tawi and onwards to Manila together. The boats will mostly be manned by the same crew plus a few new selected volunteers for the China journey. With the right weather, we shall be crossing the South China Sea in the month o: May and hope to be sailing back by the middle of June.

“A leader’s proudest moment is not what he has achieved, but that he has brought back his crew safely home to be reunited with their families;” says Art Valdez at the conclusion of the first voyage. “Our team is composed of different individuals with different culture and beliefs, yet we journeyed as one boat, as one people; with tolerance and understanding. This is something what our country needs today. 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 has said.” Valdez further adds.

Needless to say, 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 of the valiant spirits of our ancestors who proudly sailed these high seas – long before the coming of foreign colonizers!

Kaya ng Pinoy!


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