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Final preparations are underway for a team from the Philippines to retrace the ancient maritime routes using a modern reconstruction of an ancient boat, called the Balangay. The 15-metre boat was rebuilt by craftsmen using traditional methods (such as the choice of wood and the use of wooden dowels rather than metal nails) will be manned by a crew of nine. Setting sail from Manila, they will follow a shore-hugging route to Tawi-Tawi, on the southern end of the Philippines. If all goes well (and it is going to be a long journey lasting until at least the end of 2010), the expedition might extend west, as far as Madagascar. Good luck to the crew!

Balangays have been known to be in use as early as 1,600 years ago – I think that’s probably one of the earliest evidence for seafaring that we have material evidence for – but the technology to travel across the seas is probably much older. I won’t be surprised if ancient peoples in this region had access to that technology a couple of millennia before then. Finding such evidence will be much trickier, since wood doesn’t preserve well in this climate.

Filipinos to sail around the world aboard ancient boat
GMA News, 20 June 2009

The first Filipinos to conquer Mount Everest hope to sail around Southeast Asia and then to Africa in a replica of an ancient boat – a feat they hope will inspire unity in the politically fractious Philippines.

The balangay, a wooden-hulled boat used in this archipelago about 1,700 years ago, will set sail from Manila Bay on June 27, said project leader Art Valdez.

Several Badjao tribal craftsmen were flown to Manila from the southernmost province of Tawi Tawi to painstakingly construct the 16-yard (15-meter) boat according to ancient traditions using primitive tools and not a single nail, Valdez said.

The adventurers plan to stop at some 75 ports in the Philippines then head off around Southeast Asia before considering whether to attempt the voyage across the Indian Ocean to Madagascar off the southeast coast of Africa, he said.

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