WATCH: Balangay team sails from Sulu to China to retrace maritime heritage

Zak Yuson
WATCH: Balangay team sails from Sulu to China to retrace maritime heritage
The mission of the Balangay team is both symbolic and purposeful – rekindle a passion for the seas and our maritime heritage

MANILA, Philippines – From the mountains of the Himalayas to the seas of Sulu, Art Valdez has literally ‘been there and done that’. A former expedition leader of the first Philippine team to summit Mt Everest, Valdez is currently in Cawit, Zamboanga City preparing for the next leg of a journey to China by sea. 

Valdez and other members of the Balangay Expedition team are making the month-long journey from Maimbung, Sulu to China. They will retrace the historic route of Sultan Paduka Batara who, as legend goes, embarked on a trade and cultural mission to China in 1417. On his return journey, Batara died and was buried in Dezhou, a towin in the province of Shandong, where his tomb remains to this day. 

More than just looking at the past, Valdez says the expedition is about what matters to Filipinos in the present.

“We are an archipelago, we are a maritime people. Our real wealth lies in our maritime domain, it was colonialism that made us think that we are land-based people,” Valdez said.


The team, which includes expedition doctor Ted Esguerra, photographer Fung Yu, and members of the 1st Philippine Everest team, are traveling on two wooden boats – the Sultan sin Sulu and the Lahi ng Maharlika – replicas of the balangay boats of yore which were built by Sama Dilaya master boat builders. With no engine and only solar power for their mobile devices and equipment, the crew will have to rely on the wind and Mother Nature to carry them safely across the seas.

An earlier attempt in 2010 had to be aborted due to unfavorable weather. “Naabutan kami ng amihan noon, against the wind, ‘di namin kaya umabot ng China,” Valdez said. (We encountered a shift in the monsoon wind. We were against the wind and couldn’t reach China.)

PEACE JOURNEY. Expedition leader Art Valdez receives a peace textile from former Sulu governor Sakur Tan. Photo by Fung Yu  

For Valdez and his team, the mission is both symbolic and purposeful. They want Filipinos to rekindle a passion for the seas and value our maritime culture and economic heritage.

We do this to commemorate the prowess of our ancestors in the maritime theater. We were sailing over the Pacific and Indian Oceans way before the colonials reached our shores. We were really the boat people,” Esguerra wrote in a Facebook post. 

“It (the expedition) can bring home a message to our leaders that this is symbolic of what Filipinos can accomplish to lift this country when we enhance and develop our vast resources,” according to Valdez. 

“We are more water than land,” Valdez said, hoping that the government will improve the country’s maritime infrastructure and create a Department of Maritime Affairs. –

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