8 October, 2010 12:03 by RLTJ’s
A Spanish galleon is in Philippine port right now. No, just an awesome replica of one that sailed between Manila and Acapulco, centuries ago. It is one great delight for Filipinos to get a feel of the great old days with, sad to say, long time ruler and, yes, mother Spain.
In the 350 years of Spanish claim or rule of the Philippines that ended in 1898, not a few ships like them were built at the Cavite naval shipyards using the sturdiest, most durable and finest of Philippine hardwoods. Lumber as long as 70 feet could easily be fashioned out of the 4 feet or more diameter logs that grew abundantly in Philippine forests.
A sort of fleet, organized by Filipinos, is today also touring different Asian ports, but this time selling myth – their version of the Balangay or what they believe Balangays looked like. I wish I can be with them in their sheer fantasy. You see, what they are parading there before the world is pure make-believe founded on nothing but beliefs upon heaps of more beliefs. Many of them run contrary to facts and realities. Their fantastic version of the Balangay has gone against much logic.
Balangay is a Hiligaynon and also a Liwayway word. Hiligaynon is the unifying language of Western Visayas in as much as Liwayway renamed Pilipino, which is basically Tagalog, has become the unifying language of the modern Filipinos.
Hiligaynon has four major dialects under it known as the Karay-a groups. They are today Ilo-ilo, Antique, Aklan and Capiz. The Karay-a have something in common with other tribes outside of western Visayas such as the Waray of Samar and Leyte. And that is the fondness in the use of the letter r instead of some l found in Hiligaynon and Tagalog words. For examples, wala is also spoken as wara, Balangay is also spoken as Barangay.
In the time of President Marcos, the Barrio that is what the smallest unit of government was called was replaced with Barangay. The use of r instead of the l was preferred because r is more common and widely used of Filipinos. Today Barangay means village. Barangay or Balangay originally, at least to modern Filipinos, referred to a type of big boat capable of carrying a lot of people – a small community.
And how did a Barangay or a Balangay, the boat, looked like long time ago? Go to major Philippine fish ports today and see the big outriggers that fish in the Spratlys and in the Celebes, or go to any local wharf where there are big pumpboats that carry about fifty or more people or tourists, and you can’t be far from the real thing.
No doubt about it, Barangay or Balangay, the boat, is architecture not far different from the Filipino outriggers of the present day. They were just larger version of the Bangka [modern banca] which is what a small outrigger is called. If there are great differences, I guess they are in engineering. Wooden dowels and pegs for fasteners gave way to iron, copper and bronze. Wooden planks for sides gave way to marine plywood. Balao from Apitong trees for glue gave way to Epoxy. Rattan and tree bark twines for tie and cordage gave way to Nylon. And most of all, sails are giving way to engines. Many small fisher folks still employ the sails for the economics of it. Any Filipino who’s been around long enough may have witnessed all those changes.
I am a carpenter and I would say, that except for the modern tools and equipments, carpentry the basic art, like making joints and joinery, is older than Jose, Maria y Jesus.
Balangays were only bigger versions of the banca, for heavier seas and for bigger load like work animals that are Karabaw or Kalabaw [modern carabao], which were non-existent in the archipelago. A relative, the smaller, too wild to be tamed tamaraw, has existed in Palawan and Menduro. Islanders have carabaos when Spain came.
Bigger outriggers also mean more provisions for longer range. Furthermore, it means fewer crafts for close coordination in warfare without sacrificing size of raiding party. Southern tribes that made armed incursions into the Visayas sailed in Balangays call them what you may.
People grew up with machetes and spears. While there were no known regular armies, all able-bodied males would stand up to arm when needed. An army of volunteers could be formed overnight at a call, for defense or for raid – a culture of warrior and tribalism. Not even women and children could be trusted in time of hostilities.
As the old saying goes, to fight one is to fight the whole Barangay – meaning, all the people of a place. Old saying! President Marcos made sense. Barangay also meant people of the community – the community. Barangay the boat, for the kind of USE. For communities who were seafaring for generations, boat and community almost meant one and the same! [The word Barrio was inherited from our Spanish forefathers]
The Barangays or Balangays, as outriggers, may appear outmoded compared to wide-flat-hulled Galleons and Chinese Junks, but in some aspects outriggers are superior. Their load might be limited when compared, but that can be compensated by numbers. They were built sleek and fitted with sails, designed to cut or slice neatly in water. They were designed for speed.
They were built mainly as carriers. Our forefathers did not have heavy objects like cast iron cannons that they could have had put on board. Typical family of that time was self subsistence farmer-fisherman-hunter so that there was no need for large vessels just for fishing. The seas close to seashores teemed with fishes. They were not trading people to need bigger vessels for that. Traders came to them.
In the modern day, they were also called Basnig for the type, or system of fishing until modern commercial trawlers dominated. I remember very well when Basnig and Balangay were synonymous. Some of them today are called Pahulbot for the type of use [purse seine (?) fishing]. Flat hull has never been popular with Filipinos. Wooden hulled ships of the 19th and 20th century were modern and foreign influence. Inter-island commerce had progressed beyond the scope of the Balangays.
To put it straight. Call them what you may. Balangays have never stopped to exist for the Filipinos: vinta, parao or paraw, basnig, pahulbot, pakpakan, big pumpboats, there might be others. Yes, banca as they are all simply considered in the era of Super carriers. Balangays were never missed. It was people, who got strayed or perhaps been sleeping for generations, waking up one day not knowing what they are looking for!
“We would tell him that Filipinos should reconnect and revive our maritime consciousness,” Valdez said. “The sea has always been part of our environment and our culture. But we lost it because of colonialism.”
I think that is one good message, and the best, of this “Balangay” extravagant parade. Very valid message, I should say. But we have already scrapped Philippine shipyards long ago. The Philippines has the resources and the advantages. The Koreans saw them so they put up Hanjin in Subic where there was nothing.
The Balangay of Fantasia World.
The fleet that they now call Balangays touring out there are of something else fantastic. They must be of modern trawl, Spanish galleon, Chinese junk, thrown into one, and fitted with traditional Filipino sails and facades to give them a prehistoric look!
It all started with a piece of relic agreed to be prehistoric. So what was that thing taken to be of prehistoric Philippines? That scant thing that somebody thought, and others would like to believe, is what remained of some prehistoric Malay wide-hulled ship that nobody knew before had existed. The Balangay was not an outrigger is what they now say. What? Wide-hulled ships evolved to outriggers? That’s crazy!
The Borneans and the Malaysians must now be totally awed, if not appalled, at what they never knew sailed from their shores long time ago! And then suddenly our forefathers stopped building anything like them again until the modern day? Where’s logic? Have not we seen the descendants everywhere to be bugged how the ancestors looked like?
What was that thing, really? Frankly, I won’t propose. OK, it was taken out of the sea then presumably it must be of a ship. And since it was agreed by them that it is what remained of an underside of a ship, furthermore a wide hulled ship, then absolutely it is not of Malay-Filipino. Maybe some ancient traders, which would be Chinese, got shipwrecked. But, absolutely no, not Malay-Filipino because Philippine waters would have been teeming with them when the Spaniards came. Upon coming, they saw only Chinese Junks like the ones Li Ma Wong and his hordes, some said were pirates and some said were traders, but probably both, sailed and scared the Spaniards in Manila.
I suppose reconstructing the form of an extinct dinosaur from fossils is easier than guessing the shape of a vessel from a limited piece of relic people can hardly make out what. And that’s it. Guesswork and make-believe. No doubt, here, a myth.
Hey, how about some ancient Vikings got shipwrecked after straying in Philippine waters! Ridiculous as it sounds, that looks more logical and sell-able, ain’t that?
And that also would have saved Filipinos multi millions of pesos and without becoming ridiculous selling myth in the name of advancing human knowledge and endeavors. Where’s our Historical Commission by the way?