Expedition to sail the Philippine seas in ancient watercraft

A Filipino expedition is preparing to navigate the Philippine seas using an ancient reconstructed boat type called the Balanghay.  This sailing of ancient maritime routes using centuries old technology isn’t new; Thor Heyadhal did it in his Kon-tiki experiment back in 1947 when he sailed from Peru to the Tuamoti Islands in the pacific (although the consensus is that migration to South America came from the west, i.e. Asia, and not the other way around); and more recently the Lapita Voyage by two archaeologists from Durham University will attempt to trace the migration routes of the Austronesians using traditional Polynesian boats.

An ancient journey retraced
Business Mirror, 21 May 2009

The Kaya ng Pinoy group is nearly finished with the balanghay boat they are building for this journey and they expect to set sail on June 24, the anniversary of the founding of Manila. The balanghay itself is made of tough yet flexible tanguile hardwood and is being built following the lines of an ancient balanghay unearthed in the city of Butuan some decades ago. The dissected Butuan Balanghay is on display at the National Museum.

The balanghay is widely believed to be an ocean-faring vessel that was used by modern Filipinos’ Austronesian forebears, who crossed land bridges and traveled by sea in these boats to settle in the Philippine archipelago.

Rey Santiago, National Museum senior researcher in archaeology, said the new balanghay follows ancient construction methods. It is being built shell first, using solid wood planks held together by dowels (wooden pegs used to join pieces of wood instead of iron nails) and caulked with nylon fibers and natural tree resins from mangrove trees to make it watertight.

According to some of the Kaya ng Pinoy group members, the only concession made to modernity was the use of electric drills to bore the holes needed for the dowels. The boat, these team members said, is being built without the usual drawings and plans but with the guidance of master boat builder Hadji Musa Malabong of the Badjao tribe of Tawi-Tawi, who worked alongside marine engineers and scientists who served as project consultants for this endeavor.


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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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