Balangay boats set sail to China

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The second “Voyage of the Balangay” sailed off from Maimbong, Jolo to Zamboanga on Wednesday to begin a 24-day journey to China using two newly built balangay boats.

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Boat builders from the Sama Dilaya tribe of Sibutu and Sitangkai built the boats, replicas of the ancient balangay, in Tawi-tawi.

The boats are made from hardwood and are of the same structure as those used in 2009-2011 by the team of Environment Undersecretary Art Valdez when they sailed around Southeast Asian countries. That first journey took a total of 17 months and brought the sea travelers from Tawi-tawi to Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, and the territorial waters of Vietnam. China was part of the itinerary of the first balangay voyage but the all-Filipino crew decided to spend Christmas in the Philippines after being away from home for an extended period of time.

The itinerary of the second balangay voyage includes calls on the ports of Zamboanga and Butuan in Mindanao then on to Bacolod in the Visayas, where the third balangay boat, the “Sama ng Tawi-tawi” is waiting to join the trip to China.

The team is scheduled to reach Manila from Bacolod in the middle of May and from there proceed to Poro Point, San Fernando, La Union before sailing to Hong Kong. In China, the balangay boats will dock in the ports of Hong Kong, Shantou, Quanzhou and Xiamen.

Chinese sojourn

This year marks the 600th year when Sultan Paduka Batara, the Muslim ruler of Sulu, left with his family and 300 of his noble followers on vessels very much like the balangay, on a tribute mission to the Ming Dynasty.

The Ming Emperor welcomed the Sultan’s mission, which aimed to seek a preferential trade agreement with the Middle Kingdom. However, while preparing for his journey back to Sulu, the Sultan fell ill and died. The Ming Emperor ordered a royal funeral in honor of the Sultan. The Sultan’s wife and his children remained in China to tend his tomb.

Today, a sizable number of the descendants of the Sultan of Sulu continue to live and prosper in the City of Dezhou, 320 kilometers south of Beijing, in the northwestern province of Shandong. A visit to the tomb of Datu Paduka is part of the schedule of activities of the balangay team.

The second balangay voyage, Valdez says, “is 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 the high seas – long before the coming of foreign colonizers!”

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