Simpio, 35, and his nephew Oten, 25, are from Española in southern Palawan. Both incredibly hardworking, supporting young families, they travelled to Maoyon to add their traditional designs to the paraw. “We are used to working until 1am and starting again at 5am,” says Oten. Upon hearing this Gener gave them head-torches to make their work easier.
Simpio has been carving since he was nineteen years old. He learned from his uncle, also a master wood carver.
“The tradition of wood carving is in our family, it’s in our blood,” he says.
They come from a family with a rich traditional and ritual life. Their designs include images of Palawan wildlife such as turtles, rays and fish.
“We want to preserve the traditional carving techniques of our ancestors,” says Oten. “Sometimes I invent a new pattern but usually I follow the designs of uncle Simpio, as he is my teacher.”
According to archaeologists studying the Tabon Cave in the municipality of Quezon, Pala’wan culture can be traced back 50,000 years and they are among the first people known to have inhabited Southeast Asia.
Their native script, or surat, as they call it is one of only three pre-hispanic scripts still in use in the Philippines today. The lettering on the paraw’s stern (pictured above) reads “Balatik“, “Orion” in English.
Although Pala’wan culture remains rich and vibrant, it is under threat. Learn more about the Pala’wan tribe from Survival International.
Download an article on Pala’wan ancient script from Discovery Channel Magazine.
On Thursday September 5, the day of the new moon and the highest monthly tide, the hull of the paraw was launched into a tributary of the the Babuyan River.
Over a hundred men, women and children came to help push and pull the boat into the water. A film crew came from Manila and others joined from Puerto Princesa but the majority came from the surrounding area of Mauyon.
It was amazing to see true Filipino bayanihan spirit in action. Local villages were all but abandoned during the launch. For those few hours, everyone had left their daily tasks to help get the paraw safely into the water.
The paraw, which had been on trestles, was lowered onto heavy logs, on which the hull could roll. Gener then set up a system of ropes and pulleys around the coconut trees. These ropes kept the boat from tipping to side to side while allowing a great number of people to pull the hull into the water.
It was a nerve-wracking process which took longer than expected. On three or four occasions the paraw leaned dangerously over and everyone rushed to the other side to correct it. The high tide (which peaked at 10am) had actually started to recede by the time the bow of the boat touched the water for the first time. By around noon the hull was afloat and just a small team continued to work to secure its position in the river.
The paraw will remain here for one or two months until it is ready to be fitted with outriggers, masts and sails.