By ERWIN MASCARINAS
BUTUAN City – A week before a planned voyage to China, the balangay boat Sama Tawi-tawi made a quick visit here to seek the “blessings of the spirits of the old balangay mariners.”
“This is an emotional journey for me, riding the balangay boat coming into Butuan Bay and then, cruising through Agusan River. It is a long overdue homecoming for Sama Tawi-Tawi. After all, this balangay boat replica was built on this very spot in Butuan City and cruised out of Agusan River in 2010 towards its Southeast Asia journey,” said Arturo Valdez who commissioned the construction of Sama Tawi-tawi boat replica in 2009. He spearheaded the Southeast Asian voyage in 2010.
Valdez the visit and the “spiritual blessing” hold a huge significance for the balangay boat and its crew.
“Since May of last year, we have been planning a trip to China, hoping to the trace the old trading roots of the original balangay boat mariners. Unfortunately, the planned trips had been postponed several times. This made us believe that we are missing a significant blessing for our trip. And that is asking the guidance of those who came before us, a blessing from the spirits of the balangay boat mariners that conquered the high seas and traded with China and the rest of Southeast Asia hundreds of years ago,” said Valdez.
The first of the balangay boat was dug here in 1976. He said it was from that boat that they drew the inspiration to travel and prove that the Philippine maritime trade heritage dates back further than what colonizers had initially believed.
The balangay boat team hopes to reach Manila and leave the port together with the two other replicas, Sultan Sin Sulu and Lahi ng Maharlika, on April 28 towards Poro Point in San Fernando, La Union, and then to Xiamen, China.
According to Valdez, the Sama Tawi-Tawi is the biggest of the three boats that are set to travel to China.
“Lahi ng Maharlika. It is smaller than Sama while Sultan Sin Sulu is also smaller but wider than Lahi. Of the three boats, only Sama Tawi-Tawi is fitted with an engine but it’s relatively small compared to its size, and to think that none of these vessels are really built for an all-weather operation,” he said.
In May 2017, the three boats were about to set sail for China but the weather kept all the boats from the voyage and so, the trip was postponed.
“The completion of the trip to China is a significant historic step and a continuation for the entire balangay team that started in 2009,” said Jody Navarra of the Butuan Global Forum Inc., the organization that raised the fund for the Mazuau Hong Butuan boat.
Navarra said that on Sept. 1, 2009, the first balangay boat replica, Diwata ng Lahi, left Manila for its voyage to Butuan City, the home of the historic balangay boats. Ot was sponsored by the TAO Community of Companies.
The boat arrived on Nov. 28, 2009 after passing about 54 ports all over the country. While Diawata ng Lahi was about to arrive in Butuan, the construction of the second replica, the Mazuau Hong Butuan, was underway.
Navarra said that on Jan. 31, 2010, balangay boat Mazuau Hong Butuan was launched, and on Feb. 4, 2010, the two boats left Butuan for Sulu.
While both Mazuau and Diwata were on the way to Zamboanga, the building of Zama Tawi-Tawi was initiated by Kaya ng Pinoy Inc. headed by Valdez. On July 9, 2010, Sama left Butuan to join the other two boats in Sulu.
On Sept. 2010, all three boats left Tawi-tawi for its Southeast Asian voyage. The crew and boats successfully travelled to Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore and back to the Philippines and their respective ports in 18 months.
In 1976, the historic pre-colonial balangay boats were discovered in Butuan. Initially, the team from the National Musuem counted around nine boats but in 2012, another boat was discovered underneath a previously discovered boat.
Presently, only five boats had been dug up from the two sites in barangay Libertad in Butuan, and the most complete is on display at the National Museum in Manila.
By 2014, a shortage in funding stopped the excavation for the remaining balangay boats and further research stopped due to issues on the right of way and ownership of the land.