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Building a Balangay

By Juan V. Sarmiento Jr
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 21:46:00 06/27/2009

Filed Under: Waterway & Maritime Transport, history

HOW DO you build a replica of a precolonial boat called The Balangay?

?Kaya ng Pinoy,? a group that wants to use a balangay to trace the migration route of the ancestors of Filipinos, enlisted the help of the National Museum and carpenters from Tawi-Tawi to build a copy of the ancient boat. The carpenters consisted of Sama Dilaut from Sitangkai, known for making lepa (houseboats) and for using dowels, and of Sama Daleya from Sibutu, famous for making kumpit, interisland boats for trading.

It took the Sama team and Rey Santiago of the National Museum?s archeology division more than a week to thresh out differences on the type of wood to be used, dimension of the new balangay and certain building techniques before actual work could start.

The result was not an exact copy of the ancient boat but one that incorporated the design and construction methods of both the Sama and the builders of the old balangay. As in the precolonial boat excavated in Butuan in 1978, the new one used the hull-first construction method, a practice still retained by the Sama. No nails were employed, just dowels, natural resin and string to hold the boat together.

The Sama carpenters spent 44 days until June 1 building the boat at the harbor side of the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Pasay.

The step-by-step process documented here was based on interviews with Jubail S. Muyong, a Sama Daleya and head of the extension classes of the Mindanao State University in Sibutu. The names of the tools and parts of the boat were based on interviews with Hadji Musa S. Malabong, a Sama Dilaut and a retired district supervisor, and Muyong. Santiago was also consulted for the building process.

1. Prepare wood materials.

? Set the length, width and thickness of the keel before harvesting trees. The keel?s length determines the boat?s dimension. (The trees -- lupanga, ubi-ubi, pisang-pisang and karuing -- were harvested in Tandubas, Tawi-Tawi.)
? Make bow and stern posts, the sizes of which depend on the number of planks needed.
? Prepare the planks. The thickness and length depend on the availability of wood. Note: These steps are done in the forest.
? Prepare ribs and rib extensions.
? Gather mata-mata or lingayan wood for dowels.
? Air dry the pieces of wood under a tree or shade by the beach for a couple of months so the wood won?t crack or warp.

2. Construct the shell.

? When properly dried, clean (planing) the keel, bow and stern posts, and planks. Make lugs.
? Lay the keel and lock it (a piece of wood was added to make the keel longer.)
? Fit the bow and stern posts, and connect to the keel.
? Fit the first plank.

Before doing so, it has to be twisted. This involves heating. For this project, a kerosene blow torch was used. In Tawi-Tawi, dried coconut leaves are used. Use sipat (a line marker) and sigu (a marking gauge) when fitting parts and making marks on the keel and first planks for dowels. Then use sasagan (also a marking gauge) for all intersections (same thickness and distance for the keel and the first planks). Drill holes for the dowels, which are planted on the keel.

3. Mount the frame.

? When the fifth planks are in place, fashion lugs and install the ribs. Use a string to tie the ribs to the lugs so the planks are tightened and not disturbed by carpenters walking on them.
? After the ribs are tied to the lugs, install the planks up to the last one.
? When done, place the rib extensions, and tie them to their respective lugs. Note: Do the tying when all the planks from the sixth to the last are in place. Every plank should have been fitted and must have dowels.
? Fit in the beams (bingkay). Then place the keelson to strengthen the keel.
? Install thwarts. Bore a hole in the bow?s thwart and in the keelson where a mast will be placed.
? Place splash boards.

4. Install utility structures.

? Prepare frames and install the floor at the stern and bow. Also prepare frames for the bamboo floor.
? Caulk the seams. Insert string in gaps and apply gaga (melted resin).
? Build a roof to be covered with nipa.
? Plane the planks for finishing touches.
? Make papag (slatted bamboo beds) and place them under the roof.
? Install pangengkutan lubid (Sibutu) or kalat (Sitangkai) where ropes are tied.
? Install pamatan naan haron (gangplank ?holder?) at the bow and stern.
? Install bamboo footbridges between thwarts.

Note: The steps in No. 4 are not necessarily in order. The installation from the keel to the beams and splash boards must be in order.

?The boat is buoyant, stable?

The Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers (Soname) has conducted hydrostatic calculations and found that the new balangay has a water line of 0.46 meter (18 inches) and displacement of 6.56 tons, with fuel, supplies and a crew of 12 to 18 people.

Edward Cruz, head of Soname?s technical committee, says ??the boat is buoyant, stable and can easily cross islands?? in the country.

The Sama boat-builders
Sitangkai group:
Hadji Musa Malabong (overall head), Benjamin Hawari, Hadji Abidin
Barihati and Teguay Mommuh (nakura tukang [master carpenters]), Zandro Malabong, Apdali Tanjung and Edie Karani (assistant tukang).

Sibutu group:
Jubail Muyong (group head), Ibrahim Abdulla (nakura tukang),
Madnur Usman (tukang) and Torsina Usman (cook).

Infographics by Ernie Sambo

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