In Quest of Ancient Seas

Sep 13, 2017

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Seafarers from Guam, the Philippines and Hawaii relive the glory of ancient seafaring

 

During a recent visit to Guam, we took a journey back in time with the intrepid group Ulitao Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring the practice of building and sailing traditional CHamoru (Chamorro in English) flying proas.

Mahetok, a traditional Chamoru canoe

Mahetok, a traditional Chamoru canoe

 

We were fortunate to get to know the group since they just moved to their new home last July 14 in the Valley of the Latte Adventure Park along the route of its Talofofo River Valley boat cruise that was one of the stops in our famtour sponsored by Cebu Pacific and the Guam Visitors Bureau.

 

According to Ulitao Inc. founder Ron Acfalle, the group aims to establish a permanent home to teach their people the seafaring ways of their ancestors, who navigated the oceans for hundreds of years and traded with their island brothers in the Pacific.

The traditional hut at the center of the Ulitao's new home at the Valley of the Latte Adventure Park in Talofofo. Built years ago by Ulitao founder Ron Acfalle, it was recently refurbished as the group's home.

The traditional hut at the center of the Ulitao’s new home at the Valley of the Latte Adventure Park in Talofofo. Built years ago by Ulitao founder Ron Acfalle, it was recently refurbished as the group’s home.

 

The practice of building and sailing a canoe isn’t the only thing that makes seafaring important in CHamoru culture, Acfalle says it also involves the language, because part of his practice is teaching using the CHamoru language in identifying the parts of the canoe and the commands that are used in the canoe while it is underway, as well as the stories behind all their ancestors did.

 

Through his own research, using historical documents provided to him by University of Guam (UOG) professor Larry Cunningham, Acfalle recreated traditional CHamoru by hands-on learning of knowledge and skills.

 

“A part of sailing is learning the history of who we were, what we did, and why were we considered what we were when they first saw us,” he says. “These are things I’d like to hand down to the next generation, so they can take pride in it.”

CEB Corp Comms Dir Charo Lagamon checks out the lattes

CEB Corp Comms Dir Charo Lagamon checks out the lattes

 

“Our vision at the Valley of the Latte is to create a destination that provides an authentic historic and cultural experience” said David Tydingco, Managing Director of the Valley of the Latte, LLC. “It is an honor to have Ulitao make its home at the Valley of the Latte as it creates a living and thriving ancient CHamoru village that helps to tell the story of the evolution of our people.”

 

The Ulitao

 

In ancient times, when CHamoru males reached puberty they were sent to live at the Guma’ Ulitao, a house for bachelors owned by their mother’s family.  Here they would learn skills such as fishing, canoe making, navigation, tool construction and other skills needed for his transition into manhood, and at the same time develop close ties with their cousins, uncles and nephews.

Lorenzo Reyes of the traditional seafaring group Ulitao blows a kulo' during a blessing and ribbon cutting ceremony of its new home at the Valley of the Latte Adventure Park in Talofofo on July 14.

Lorenzo Reyes of the traditional seafaring group Ulitao blows a kulo’ during a blessing and ribbon cutting ceremony of its new home at the Valley of the Latte Adventure Park in Talofofo on July 14.

 

These young men were known as Ulitao, the young bachelors. A Ulitao was distinguished from other males by the sticks they carried called tunas which were four or five feet long and had an eighteen inch tassel of pokse (a type of fiberous hybiscus) attached to the end. The bachelors also used a special language, fino gualafon, which was only understood by the youth. (See uritao  for more details)

 

We were welcomed to the Ulitao home by Miget and Jordan blowing the shell horn (kulu). The name Ulitao was a source of amusement for our group who came from the Visayas and Mindanao where the word also means the same (bachelor) in the Visayan Language.

A warm welcome to Ulitao Village by Miguet and Jordan

A warm welcome to Ulitao Village by Miget and Jordan

 

Our gracious hosts then toured us around the village, showing us the ancient latte stones, a full-sized flying proa, and the traditional hut in the center of the village originally built by Acfalle but now used as the group’s headquarters and demonstrations of crafts and boat building.

 

Last April, Ulitao Inc. celebrated the proud CHamoru tradition of seafaring by hosting the first ever I Fiestan Sahyan Tasi to train people in the ancient art form in preparation for FestPac 2020 and were joined by other seafaring organizations on Guam and Micronesia.

 

“This will be a wonderful opportunity to re-introduce the culture, tradition, and skills of our island’s seafaring people. As always the Valley of the Latte would like to provide a platform for all of our island’s talent to engage and inspire all visitors. We are inviting artists and farmers again to participate in hopes of continuing the success experienced at the First Annual River Festival held at the Valley of the Latte, this past April.

 

From Guam to Hawaii on a proa

 

But Acfalle and the Ulitao team are working towards a common lofty goal: to sail to Hawaii from Guam, for the Festival of Pacific Arts (FestPac) 2020. Three years in advance, Ulitao is lobbying for government funding for their cultural project, to practice sailing on long voyages, such as sailing from Guam to Hawaii on a proa.

Ulitao, the largest class of Chamoru canoes known as Sakman.

Ulitao, the largest class of Chamoru canoes known as Sakman.

 

The Ulitao plans to sail to Hawaii through a southern route, which has more islands to stop by for rest and provisions. Once they get to Wake Island, from whence they’ll make the 2,300 mile-long voyage to Hawaii. There are no other islands in between to stop over — just open ocean.

 

Recently, the Ulitao and Valley of the Latte hosted master navigators from Yap and Hawaii, along with guests from Matson Navigation who brought the navigators to Guam as part of the naming ceremony of Matson’s new vessel Papa Mau, in tribute to a master navigator from Yap.

 

Tydingco said the event was one of many to help seafarers unite and plan for a Micronesian presence at the FestPac 2020.

 

“Together, the brothers of Micronesia and the Pacific will combine the knowledge, skill, and tradition to complete the task of sailing from Guam to Hawaii. This melding of cultures and seafaring traditions will help Guam’s Ulitao arrive in Hawaii at the FestPac 2020.”

 

The Call of the Sea

 

It’s remarkable how widely dispersed and diverse groups such as the Ulitao in Guam, the Polynesian Voyaging Society in Hawaii and the Kaya ng Pinoy Inc. are simultaneously undertaking initiatives to reawaken the ancient seafaring routes and skills of their intrepid ancestors.

Two of Ron Acfalle's group Ulitao sail their proa into the sunset in Tumon (Pacific Daily News)

Two of Ron Acfalle’s group Ulitao sail their proa into the sunset in Tumon (Pacific Daily News)

 

For instance, the  Kaya ng Pinoy Inc. (led by Art Valdez that conquered Mt. Everest in 2006) reconstructed three balangays from ancient designs using the traditional expertise of Badjao master boat builders, with knowledge and skills passed on from their ancestors.

 

The Balangays, named Diwata ng LahiMasawa Hong Butuan, and Sama Tawi-Tawi,  navigated without the use of modern instruments, using the skills and traditional methods of the Filipino Badjao sea gypsies– steering by the sun, the stars, the wind, cloud formations, wave patterns and bird migrations. . They have journeyed from Manila Bay to the southern tip of Sulu, covering 2,108 nautical miles (3,908 kms.) (See  balangay)

The Balangays Diwata ng Lahi, Masawa Hong Butuan and Sama Tawi-Tawi underway on their historic Philippine trek.

The Balangays Diwata ng Lahi, Masawa Hong Butuan and Sama Tawi-Tawi underway on their historic Philippine trek.

Following that, the  balangay navigated throughout SouthEast Asia through to 2010, then Micronesia and Madagascar the following year. The Balangay then ventured across the Pacific onward to the Atlantic and all the way around the world and back to the Philippines  in 2012 to 2013.

The organizers said that the voyage “aims to bring us back to the greatness of our ancestors and how colonialism robbed these away from us and produced the Filipino today”. Their vessel, named Ngandahig can also be compared to the Hokulea voyages, and the voyages of the Polynesian Voyaging Society.

The Valley of the Latte Adventure Park is open 7 days a week, 365 days a year from 0900 to 1600 hours. Call 1 (671) 789 – 3342 or email Info@valleyofthelatte.com for information.

 

Cebu Pacific flies three times weekly to Guam (Tue/Thu/Sat)  departing NAIA III at 4:10AM and arriving in Guam 9:50AM (Guam is two hours ahead of Manila). Return flights depart for Manila on the same dates 12:00NN and arrives Manila at 1:55PM.

 

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*additional photos by Joros Razon

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