Sama shipwrights: Least-known for being gifted

By Nash B. Maulana

FROM BOW TO THE SKY: Kumpit launch building at a shoreline yard in Bongao. Tawi-Tawi. (Nash Maulana)

BONGAO, Tawi-Tawi—Sama shipwrights here are least-known for being gifted and precisionists, doing the craft without a naval architectural plan.

They build launch vessels, the traditional kumpit unaided by any technical supervision by the better schooled theoretically in this field. “The plan is imaginarily drawn in their head,” says Kuyoh Pajiji, the former mayor of Sibutu Island town.

Sama master launch vessel builders Jubail Muyong from Sibutu and Haji Musa Malabong from Sitangkai have built most of the kumpit vessels plying the routes of Zamboanga-Basilan-Sulu-Tawi-Tawi, transporting goods and passengers for decades. Indeed, kumpit has become a part of every life in the islands—be they Muslims, Christians or of the Indigenous People’s (IP) Tribes.

Some of the crew or workers on board are from the Visayas, and as many from the Badjao sea-based sub-tribe of Tawi-Tawi.

In Cotabato, launch and ship-sized vessels were also built without naval architecture plans by locally-known self-taught master shipwrights named Sumampao Maido and Gaerlan Lauban in the 1950’s through the 70’s. Among Maido’s heirs Hadji Teng and Ben Sumampao had briefly continued the trade but the age of concrete roads has overtaken the old coast-to-coast sea transport industry in the region.


Pajiji who owns a kumpit, says the locally-built wooden-hulled vessel can be as large in terms of load capacity as to carry 150 tons (150,000 kilograms) of gross buoyant weight.

BARMM and local officials: L-R Vice Mayor Alshefa Pajiji of Sibutu; MILG Minister Naguib Sinarimbo. MILG PMDD chief, Engineer Bob Sali,, and former Sibutu Mayor Kuyoh Pajiji –gather around Toroganan’s boat building yard in Sibutu. Mayor Nur-Fitra Pajiji Ahaja (fourth from the right) is partly hidden. (Nash Maulana)

Provincial Tourism Office head Pershing Tayag said incidents are very few, if any, of sea disasters involving kumpit launches. Also seen very few around are decommissioned old bodies of kumpit launches in Bongao. 

Bent to wavelength and amplitude, the keel frames of a kumpit are of curvature form, and in symmetry of shape and weight to maintain a centroid balance from yard to dock—to its sail of clear waters and rough seas. Square formed nails clip the wooden hulls onto lower and upper frame members. G.I. customized bolts and nuts fix the joints along the frame-keel members, to the bow.

Ustadz Amer Toroganan by his balangay-size craft 10 meters bow to stern ongoing, at his boat-building workshop in Jaafar, Sibutu, Tawi-Tawi. (Nash Maulana)

A group of Cahavacano carpenters here said they have sub-contracted from master shipwright Jubail Muyong of Sibutu, the building of a medium-size kumpit launch measuring 18 feet wide and 65 feet long from bow to stern.

Pajiji said the ship builders in his hometown build kumpit that is as big as one measuring 27 ft. in width by 80 ft. in length, from bow to stern.

The shipwrights here say building a 65-to-80 ft. long kumpit can run up to one year, and to cost up to P 15 million, including a 500 HP keel-fixed Cummins, an England-Made engine with an F-R hydraulic propelling transmission assembled in Malaysia.

According to a member of the Philippine National Historical Commission, shipwrights from Tawi-Tawi—Muyong from Sibutu, Malabong from Sitangkai and Ustadz Amer Turoganan, a Maranao-born Sama from Bongao—built the balangay boat replica in 41 days, from April to June in 2009 with no naval architectural plans, but based solely on knowledge passed from one generation to another.

Debris of the balangay boat, an archaeological find on display at the Butuan Museum, has been carbon-dated 320 A.D. when exhumed along the shores of Masao (Butuan) in the 1970s.

The modern-day balangay boat made here was previously set out by Filipino artists on a four-year voyage to Sabah, Malaysia from an undisclosed part of the Southern Philippines, and to other parts of Southeast Asia across the waters of the Indo-Pacific Region.

A balangay boat measures three meters wide and 10 meters long from bow to stern, according to Ustadz Amer Turoganan, the shipwright in Bongao. 

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