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Large Tao balangay launched for historic expedition
【Culture】2011-06-26  21:26:00
Taipei, June 26 (CNA) The largest balangay built in a century by the Tao people on remote Orchid Island off southeastern Taiwan, which was dedicated Saturday, is scheduled to start a historic voyage June 29 to promote greater understanding of the tribe's unique seafaring culture.

The traditional canoe-like wooden vessel, christened Si Mangavang, meaning "Port Calls ," was launched in a ceremony Saturday in which 60-some Tao tribesmen danced and roared along to symbolize the dispersion of evil spirits before throwing the boat into the air 18 times to solicit good fortune.

Eighteen oarsmen then rowed the 11-meter-long, 2.8-meter-high colorfully decorated canoe out of the island's Dongching Bay and into the Pacific Ocean for about a kilometer to mark the completion of the launch ceremony.

The nearly 1-ton vessel, its hull painted with white, black and red tribal totems, will embark on a passage to Taiwan, fighting the northward-flowing Kuroshio Current before making landfall later that same day.

"The voyage from Orchid Island to Dawu in eastern Taiwan's Taitung County will be a great challenge for the crew," said Huang Cheng-teh, owner of the vessel who is a Han Chinese but has been living and working in Orchid Island, also known as Lanyu, for more than 10 years.

"The 18-man crew will have to propel the balangay toward Taiwan without any modern navigation devices, while fighting the powerful Kuroshio Current," said Huang, an official at the Lanyu township office who has also devoted much of his time studying Tao tribal customs, culture and history.

Two crew teams will take turns to paddle the vessel during the 10-hour expedition and several support vessels will escort the canoe on its maiden voyage, Huang said.

Following the Dawu port call, the Si Mangavang will begin the second leg of a government-sponsored journey to Hsinhai fishing port in Taiwan's southernmost county of Pingtung on June 30 . The crew will hold an Orchid Island Night party at the Kenting National Park near the fishing port on July 1 to tout their island home and seafaring culture.

After that, the Tao oarsmen will navigate up Taiwan's west coast, making stops in Kaohsiung, Tainan, Taichung and finally Taipei, where an evening party will be staged at Dajia Riverside Park on July 16.

"It will mark the first time that a Tao balangay -- the symbol of the tribe -- has been paddled north along Taiwan's western coast," Huang said.

The building of the 18-seat canoe has been a great undertaking for the Tao, an Austronesian tribe known for its flying fish culture and colorful balangay, Huang said, adding that many tribal elders and younger members took part in the construction process.

The balangay is the same kind of vessel that about 800 years ago carried their forefathers from the Batanes Islands -- the northernmost part of the Philippines -- northward along the Kuroshio Current to Orchid Island. (By Lu Tai-cheng and Sofia Wu) ENDITEM/J
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