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Monday, December 11, 2017

A Shuar Dugout from the Ecuadorian Amazon

On a recent visit to Ecuador, we did not have an opportunity to observe any boats in the field, but we did manage to visit museums in Quito, Cuenca, and Guayaquil that had items of interest on exhibit. These included miniatures of dugout canoes and canoeists, and boat-related artifacts, from a number of precolumbian societies, as well as a couple of contemporary canoes, related implements, and models. We'll organize them in more than one blog post according the museums in which they appear.

First up: a contemporary dugout canoe of the Shuar people of Ecuadorian Amazonia, i.e., el Oriente, in the Museo Amazonico in Quito:

Shuar dugout canoe, side view
The canoe was perhaps 16 feet long but, with its (presumed) bow partially hidden behind other display items, it was not possible to get a good full-length photo. Maximum beam is probably 14" to 16". The bottom has a flat run (no rocker). The charming museum guide is included for scale. (Click any image to enlarge.)
Shuar dugout canoe, view from stern
A view of the stern shows: rather straight sides and a flat bottom meeting at a hard chine; a sharp, angular transition where the bottom begins to rise toward the end; and a large overhanging stern platform where the paddler might sit. 
In the foreground is a scale model of a fish trap. Although an explanation was absent, I believe it is installed on a river bed with the right (higher) end facing downstream. Fish enter over the (submerged) lower end and find themselves aground on the upward-sloping poles, being prevented by the current from backing out before the fishermen can gather them. (This is speculation. Reader input is solicited.)
Shuar dugout canoe, interior stern view
Top view from the stern. From bottom of image: the stern platform; the flat, angular transition between the platform and the interior bottom, which is flat; nicely thinned sides, somewhat bulged outward amidships.
Shuar dugout canoe, interior bow view
The bow is pointed in plan view, rounded in section view and curving smoothly into the flat bottom. The interior appears to have been treated against rot and insect infestation by charring. Adze marks are visible.
Shuar dugout canoe, bow profile
Exterior side view of the bow shows a somewhat sharp, angular transition between the bottom and cutwater -- a surprising element, given the bow's appearance when viewed from above. Tool marks are visible on the exterior surface, showing capable adze or ax work but no attempt at smoothing through abrasive methods.
paddles for Shuar dugout canoe
The accompanying paddles are carved entire. They feature extremely large, heavy blades, short shafts, and triangular grips. The triangle of the grip of the paddle on the left departs from the shaft more abruptly than the one on the right and has a more distinct concave curve on its top edge. On both, the shaft extends somewhat into the blade and tapers gradually to the flat surface.

Shuar fishing gear
Fishing gear associated with the canoe:
a. The weighted net is little more than a foot in height; it is presumably stretched across a shallow, narrow stream or a constrained section of a wider one; an alternate explanation is that it might be stretched between two canoes and trawled.
b. Two fish traps: the lower one is roughly 3 feet long. With their very small openings, it's unclear how they work. (Perhaps bait is placed in the narrow end and a fish, after entering the trap to obtain the bait, is unable to back out?) Reader input is solicited.
c. The metal shaft might be part of a lance or harpoon. No explanatory material appeared.

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