Balangay: Voyage to the Middle Kingdom

This year, 2017, is the 600th anniversary of the voyage of the Sultan of Sulu to China.
To commemorate this historic undertaking, the intrepid team of 40 Filipino adventurers led by Art Valdez will retrace that journey on board three balangays the second week of May and return in June before the southwest monsoon starts.
Valdez was renowned for leading the 1st Philippine Mount Everest Team to conquer the peak.
As well, in 2011, with his team of 40, he sailed around the Philippines and Southeast Asia aboard three replicas of our ancient balangay boats.
The team traveled from the southern corridor of Tawi-Tawi, traversed around Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia and up to the territorial waters of Vietnam, a journey that took 17 months.
The original plan was to reach China, but due to the sudden change of the monsoon weather and the weary crewmates who longed to be with their families as the Christmas season approaches, they turned back home.
Nearly seven years hence, the team is set to push through the original plan to replicate the Sultan’s journey and sail to China on board the balangay.
In 1417, Sultan Paduka Batara, of Sulu, left with his family and 300 of his noble followers for a tribute mission to the Ming Emperor Yong Le.
The mission, onboard boats very much like the balangays, was welcomed by the Ming Emperor.
On his way home, the Sultan fell ill and died in Shandong, where he was immediately buried.
Upon learning of the tragic news, the Ming Emperor ordered a royal funeral in his honor. The Sultan’s wife and two of his children stayed behind to tend his tomb. They were granted lands and servants.
Today, more than 3,000 of the descendants of the Sultan of Sulu continue to live in the city of Dezhou, 320 kilometers south of Beijing, in the northwestern province of Shandong.
Two new balangay boats were built in Maimbung, Sulu by our Sama brothers from Tawi-Tawi.The two boats will sail first to Butuan City, then to Bacolod City to be joined with balangay Sama ng Tawi-Tawi and onward to Manila.
The boats will mostly be manned by the same crew plus a few new selected volunteers for the China journey.
“A leader’s proudest moment is not what he has achieved, but that he has brought back his crew safely home to be reunited with their families;” said Art Valdez at the conclusion of the first voyage.
“Our team is composed of different individuals with different culture and beliefs, yet we journeyed as one boat, as one people; with tolerance and understanding,” he added.
This voyage is meant to be a celebration of the Philippines’ historical ties with the Middle Kingdom, a journey of understanding and cross-cultural connections, to bridge common and shared aspirations between the people of the Philippines and the people of China.
Above all, Valdez hopes that in retracing the historic journey of our ancestors, the team can highlight the rich civilization of our ancestors, their boat-building skills, valiant spirits and expert knowledge of the climate, currents and the stars, enough to guide them through the high seas long before the coming of foreign colonizers.

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