There was a night in Sibaltan, El Nido where a group of performers from the Sibaltan Heritage Society (SHC) showcased a few Cuyonon folk dances. Cuyonons, are an ethno-linguistic group that originated from Cuyo Island. I watch at least five pairs of young boys and girls enthusiastically dance on the sand, under somewhat dim light of the night from Tapik Beach resort. The sound coming from a boom box was all treble with scratchy bass but the performance was all heart and passion as we could see the expressions from the young performers as they execute dance steps highly Spanish-influenced, often upbeat to jumpy with a lot of swirl movements from the girl. I could not understand the lyrics but I was told these dances are often about Cuyonon life – livelihood, courtship, marriage that are often depicted with witty naughtiness to slightly obscene which is a character of Cuyonon songs. Watching this humble spectacle made me imagine how the Cuyonons manage to cross the Sulu Seas, traversing at least 100 nautical miles to reach the shores of Paragua, what we know now as the land of Palawan. The newly built Pangko Maritime Museum in Sibaltan, sheds some light into the history of Cuyonon migration.
The Pangko Maritime Museum
My motorbike driver cautiously rode the narrow dirt path hemmed by a growth of coconut trees. Once a while, glancing above to see if any old coconuts or leaves are are ready to fall out. I remember this road before, north of the town after the school and basketball court. It leads to a small community by a river with heavy growth of mangroves. I visited this place after checking out Sibaltan’s first museum the Balay Cuyonon. The Pangko Maritime Museum would be the second museum in town.
Pangko is a Cuyonon term for “sakayan” which means “to ride or a ship”. It is also what they call the traditional boat used by Cuyonons to venture the seas from Cuyo Island to Palawan. With little agricultural land left on the small island, Cuyonons decided to explore the mainland of El Nido Palawan and use it to rice planting. Pangkos were then used regularly both as a passenger and merchandise vessel from mainland to Cuyo island vice versa. Some Cuyonons opted to stay in Palawan since then. Pangkos were used until the 1950s but the heavy storms which often caused the vessels to capsize lead it to evolve to motorize boats to manage navigating on rough seas. “Lantsa” modern motorized soon replaced the pangko and eventually ceased to be used.
Cuyonon Anthropologist, Carlos Fernandez, asked SHC if there are still existing pangko in Sibaltan when he visited in 2012. Sadly, there was non but research yielded detailed descriptions care of the elders who used them before. The idea to build a replica of a pangko materialized when SHC received funding from the American Alliance of Museums through the project proposal from Ms Lace Thornberg for “Ancient Shores, Changing Tides” in July 2013. It was in April 2014 when five carpenters began construction of the pangko replica led by Mr Pablo Eleazar, the only carpenter currently alive who have experience building a pangko.
Onboard the Pangko
At first look the replica of the boat at the Pangko Maritime Museum is similar to a balangay from Butuan. It measures 13 meters long, the hull seems bigger and more depth than a balangay. I had to use a ladder to go up the boat. The plank woodwork is excellent. The deck has an even ground with a low-lying hut on top. There’s access below the deck where earthen jars, baskets and other tools used by Cuyonons are in display. The hut also have some tools, interestingly with Cuyonon names. The most popular section of the boat though is the native toilet seat with an opening straight to the sea. Unfortunately some of the tools were missing. I was told by the caretaker that some of them were “borrowed” which was personally quite amusing. It was a good effort for the local tourism and SHC to bring to life the pangko with this replica which will strengthen Sibaltan as the cultural side of El Nido Palawan. As I sit on the deck looking at the sea, I can half imagine the journey the Cuyonons did to reach this land. Now I wonder if this pangko is sea-worthy.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.