Sunday, December 2, 2012

Manual Dredging in Kerala

Reader Paul Wilson shot these photos in the southwest Indian state of Kerala in 2004. Here's his description:
The boats are traditional construction with edge sewn planks using coconut husk (coir). They are normally used for a variety of purposes but when we were there they were using them mainly for collecting sand and gravel from the river bottom to use for building materials.
My captions follow.
Several boats work together, apparently cooperatively. It would be interesting to know the business structure. Possibilities include: all boats owned by a single party; all boats privately owned but contracted to a single party; or all boats privately owned but working in cooperation. (Click any image to enlarge.)
Dredging is done by hand. One man handles this smaller boat, while another is in the water, near the stern.
Sand and gravel are collected from the bottom in baskets and hoisted into the boat. I wonder what the digging guy thinks about his partner shielding himself from the rain.
One of the larger boats in the fleet collects a heavy cargo. The two shirtless man are diggers. There are two polers, at bow and stern. I guess the other two are managers, doing what managers do.
The same boat as above.
Even in the calmest water, I'd be nervous about this load.  Perhaps there's no word for "freeboard" in Malayalam?
The poles sticking up from the riverbed are probably used to keep track of which areas have been dredged.

In future posts, we'll look at Paul's photos showing the construction of these boats, including spinning the coir.

Thanks again to Paul for this contribution. For more of Paul's photos of Indian boats on this blog, see: boats of Varanasi and Rameswaram and Goa outrigger canoes.

Also see a previous post on surf boats of Kerala.


  1. Dear M. Holtzman,

    As always, a very nice post for a fantastic blog.

    About the boats of Kerala (both surf boats and sewn barges from the backwaters) i would like to mention a recent documentary produced by french archaeologists, wich depict nice sequences of building and using of those boats:
    "Les bateaux cousus du Kerala"

    Best regards


  2. Thanks for this input Pierre. From the Google translation, it appears to be an interesting resource.