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Of Balanghai and Galleons: Our journey to nationhood

The stunning dance concert Of Balanghai and Galleons was a tour de force by Filipino Heritage Festival, Inc. (FHFI). It was a fitting finale to the successful National Heritage Month.

The exquisite Journeys on a Galleon (that was staged and filmed at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in May 2018) was shown. Playwright-director Floy Quintos wrote a new historical script for it.

“This production chooses to see the Circumnavigation of the world by Magellan as a period that was not of discovery by a western power. Rather, it was the start of the Philippines’ entry into a much larger community and into a historic timeline that Filipinos have enriched with any contributions. What we celebrate is our journey towards nationhood,” Mr. Quintos emphasized.

While the global pandemic is raging, the world commemorates the Quincentennial of the Circumnavigation of the world.

Here are some quotes from Mr. Quintos.

“Many Filipinos wonder why we must [commemorate it], when the eventual colonization of the Philippines brought so much suffering to the indigenous people. Other Filipinos celebrate the arrival of Christianity, and the faith imposed on our ancestors.

“In a world now full of barriers and restrictions, we choose to celebrate the journeys of our ancestors and adventurers. Through art and movements, we look back at the great voyages of both settlers and conquistadors. And we wonder, how these journeys meld into that one most important journey. The journey toward Nationhood.

“The first Austronesian settlers who populated our islands, had no idea that their voyages across the land masses and oceans would birth a country. Our forefathers were expert boat builders who knew how to craft vessels that could adapt to the waters of the Pacific.”

In Butuan, the excavations have unearthed pieces of the balanghai boats. Our ancestors had the ability and skill to build vessels for migrations, trade and culture — the swift balanghai and karakoa.

Long before the arrival of the Spanish colonizers, our islands were renowned as a place of wonder and wealth. We had names given by the traders: May-I, Lay-I, Tawalisi.

Colonization was a major challenge. Manila was a thriving business entrepot where Filipinos and the Chinese traders had established a maritime exchange since the 9th century.

“The newcomers envisioned a new trade of fabulous silks, ceramics and other exotic goods that they hoped to bring to American and Spanish markets.”

The pre-colonial island kingdoms (now the Philippines) were wealthy. They established trade relations with China and other South East Asian kingdoms.

San Pedro, the pioneering galleon reached new Spain on Oct. 8, 1565, after crossing the Pacific. The Manila- Acapulco galleon trade network lasted 250 years. It was the only link between the Philippines and Spain.

The galleon brought to Mexico the Asian products and people of different ethnicities and culture who brought their own social and culinary traditions. They represented “a small microcosm of the world wherein they lived.”

In the 1580s, Cavite had thousands of shipyard laborers (working for low wages) and a massive supply of the renowned Philippine hardwood.

From Manila, the galleon (with a Spanish captain, and Mexican and Filipino sailors), wove through the treacherous inland seas to the Pacific Ocean to start the month-long arduous, dangerous journey to Acapulco.

We have a glimpse of “…A mysterious and still misunderstood tapestry of histories, influences, memories.

“How do these great journeys live on in our memory?

“Through an evolving culture, shaped by historic interconnections. Through a trade that preceded globalization and made us a part of an empire’s economy.

“Through a continuing quest for knowledge that reconnects us to this vital part of our history. Through the gift of faith.”

The colorful costumes, the graceful dances, the dramatic, solemn and lively music with video capsules depicted our history through the centuries. The outstanding pieces were “Island Kingdoms,” “Trade and Conquistadors” (“Gloria” composed by National Artist Ryan Cayabyab), “Mantones de Manila” and “Viva La Virgen.”

The finale of the concert was the spectacular shimmering golden “Nuestra Virgen de La Naval.”

Behind the scenes, here are notes on inspiration.

Gener Caringal, the choreographer on “Island Kingdoms”: “I was inspired with voyagers in tackling the difficulties they experienced in handling the galleon in the roughness of the sea. The golden Tara was an idol of the early Filipinos. For the ‘Mantones de Manila’ (dance), I used Chinese traders with their silk that was made into alampay of the Filipinas. These were brought to Spain as mantones de Manila.”

Krina Cayabyab, composer “Of Balanghai” and “Te Deum”: “With the massive idea of the circumnavigation, I felt that the music score had to have that sense of galleons in motion, carrying peoples who would inevitably change the world. The music involves indigenous, symphonic, and vocal music elements. With the vision of Direk Floy and with shifting scenes and movements in mind, I worked around percussive rhythms, and sweeping harmonic notions.”

The performing artists were the Ateneo Chamber Singers, the Philippine Ballet Theater, the University of the East Silangan Dance Troupe, Ang Batang ROFG, and the Ramon Obusan Folkloric Dance Group, while narration was by Jeremy Domingo. The Introduction Host was Maritoni Rufino-Tordesillas, FHFI ambassador.

The members of the Artistic Team were: Floy Quintos, concept, script, and direction; Krina Cayabyab, composition and musical arrangement “Of Balanghai” and “Te Deum”; Gener Caringal, choreography; Jess Lucas, music “Journeys on a Galleon”; Ricardo Eric Cruz, production design; and, Leandro Calingacion, technical and lighting direction.

Of Balanghai and Galleons was produced by Filipino Heritage Festival President Armita B. Rufino. It was co-presented by National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the National Heritage Month, the 500 Quincentennial Commemoration in the Philippines, PAGCOR, Security Bank, DDB Philippines, and BusinessWorld.


Maria Victoria Rufino is an artist, writer and businesswoman. She is president and executive producer of Maverick Productions.

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