Friday, May 25, 2018

Shuar Logboat at National Museum of Ecuador

Following a two-year closure caused by money problems and the need for extensive renovation, the National Museum of Ecuador at La Casa de Cultura in Quito reopened last Saturday. The essentially new museum is attractive, sophisticated, and free.

In the current fashion of most museums, this one takes pains to tell stories. Artifacts are displayed in service of narratives constructed by the curators (and, one suspects, by the museum's board of directors and management). This means that one might not find an extensive display of items from a particular culture or artistic movement all in one place. Instead, one or a few such items might appear in a conceptually linear display with different types of items from different eras, movements, or cultures, in order to illustrate, for example, the evolution of a national identity, art movement, or economy, the widespread effects of colonialism, racism, or nationalism, or some other major theme. In terms of public education and opinion-shaping, this is probably a good approach, but for visitors interested in a particular, narrow subject, it can be disappointing or frustrating. Count me in the latter group, even while I acknowledge that the museum is a fine one and well worth a visit.

I was there on opening day (ticket #36) and went searching for boat-related content. In this post we'll look at one notable item, a beautiful 20th century logboat (i.e., dugout canoe) of the Shuar people of Ecuador's Amazonian region, on loan from Museo Pumapungo in Cuenca, Ecuador. (We posted previously about another Shuar logboat of a different design on display in Quito.) As always, click any image to enlarge it.


Shuar dugout canoe
The Shuar logboat is about 17' LOA with a narrow beam of about 15.5". Type of wood was not identified. (Dimensions are either eyeballed or based on armspan and handspan measurements.)
Shuar dugout canoe
The sides are straight and parallel. The ends are virtually identical, leading to square-ended  extensions or platforms.

Shuar dugout canoe
The interior sections are rather square. Sides and bottom are flat and at very close to right angles. The sides are about 7/8" thick at the sheer. The bottom is roughly 1.5" - 1.75" thick.

Shuar dugout canoe
The platforms/extensions are fairly narrow, rising out of thickened "gunwales" near the ends. A slight ridge appears on the underside of the platform.


Shuar dugout canoe end view
The exterior of the hull shows rounded chines and a flat bottom. A single bent nail appears sticking out to the right of the end extension/platform. It does not appear to be robust enough to serve as a tying-off point. Might it be a guide for a fishing line?
Shaur logboat detail
Even while the sides and bottom retain a sharp angle between them, the interior hollowing tapers and rises to a sharp point, leaving a large amount of timber intact at the ends. This visually appealing feature probably helps the hull resist cracking.

Shuar dugout canoe adze marks
The boat was hollowed out using an adze, marks from which are clearly visible.

Shuar dugout canoe decoration
Applied decoration near one end does not appear to be paint. Perhaps it is derived from a plant resin (?).

Shuar dugout canoe decoration
Decoration near midships. Ax and/or adze marks can be seen on the exterior of the hull. 

Shuar dugout canoe paddle
The paddle is about 5'6" long, but the upper end of the shaft is missing, along with any end-grip that may have existed (unlikely). The shaft and blade are carved from the whole. The shaft is flat on its front and back surfaces, but the sides are rounded and the edges are relieved. The blade has wide shoulders and tapers toward a broadly rounded tip.  

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Madan Boat Use


In the prior post we examined the watercraft of the Madan or Marsh Arabs. Now we'll look at how the Madan used those boats -- particularly the plank-built ones. As in the last post, all the photos and essentially all the content are from The Marsh Arabs by Wilfred Thesiger.

Almost all of the economic activities of the Madan depended upon their boats. The most important were raising buffaloes, fishing, wildfowling, reed cutting, mat-making, and smuggling. Others included raising sheep and goats and growing wheat, barley, and rice. Some entire communities specialized in boat building. 

Madan boatman with reed mats ready for export
Huge stacks of rolled mats at the extreme right and left of the image are ready for export downstream. (Click any image to magnify.)
Mat-making relied upon the reeds and rushes that were ubiquitous in the marshes. Two passages from The Marsh Arabs are illustrative:
“We passed . . . a large two masted boat loaded high with reed mats, being laboriously poled toward the Tigris. Later we passed a great raft made of dry reeds. Forty feet long and ten feet high, it was aground and temporarily abandoned. When the water-level rose, this stack of reeds would be floated downstream, perhaps as far as Basra, and there broken up and sold.”
and
“The Nuafil [one of the many tribes Thesiger visited] kept some buffaloes, but their livelihood depended on the weaving of mats, which they exported in great numbers. Large sailing boats, like the one we had already seen, fetched the mats when the water was deep enough.”
Although the Madan, as devout Moslems, do not eat pig, they frequently mounted hunting expeditions in which several boatloads of men would go after the wild pig that abounded in the marshes and played havoc with their crops. Some of the hunting may have been done for the pure sport of it, however.

Madan boats on market day
Boats congregating in great numbers on market days.
Aside from economic uses, virtually every aspect of life in the marshes depended upon boats. All visits to other villages, for courting, weddings, funerals, the prosecution of feuds, visits by itinerant circumcisers, etc., were made by boat. As few of the reed islands or marsh dwellers had privies, the call of nature was often answered by hopping into a canoe, paddling a short way off, and squatting over the side. Drinking water, by the way, was drawn from the same source.

Madan boat carrying a load of passengers
Even with full load of passengers, there are still several inches of freeboard on this balam. Three men are paddling: one in the bow, and two (on opposite sides) in the stern.
Thesiger described a scene in which a family was moving their settlement by boat:
“Two boys in a canoe urged on half a dozen buffaloes, following behind a balam that was paddled by an elderly man and another boy, who made yodelling cries to encourage the swimming animals. A woman and three small children, one of them wearing nothing but a silver collar round his neck, shared the back of the boat with two buffalo calves, a kitten, and a lot of hens. The front was piled high with their belongings, including the dismantled framework of their house, reed mats, water jars, cooking pots, sacks of grain and a pile of quilts. A dog stood on top of all this between the wooden legs of a churn, and barked at us as we edged past.”
As a social convention, it was customary for a man in boat to greet a man on shore first, rather than the reverse, and for boats traveling downstream to issue the first greeting to those traveling upstream. Perhaps the first of these traditions arose because a person traveling was more likely to have news for one at home than vice-versa, or that a stranger passing by one’s home was viewed as a potential threat, so it behooved the boatman to be the first to express good intentions. As to the second tradition, perhaps those traveling downstream were assumed to be coming from home, while those traveling upstream were returning from market. News from home might have been valued more highly than news from the city. These are just speculations.

Fishing methods

Fishing, much of it done from boats, was the primary economic activity of many individuals and tribes in the marshes, and an important secondary one for others. Some fished on a subsistence basis, while others caught fish for market. The most common catch seems to have been different species of barbel, some of which are types of catfish, others being related to them. Several fishing methods were used, including spearing, netting, and poisoning. Also noodling – more on that in a bit.

Among those who used nets, differing tribes favored different types of nets and different associated methods, including the use of cast nets from shore, setting a net across a flowing channel, wading with a scoop net, and setting seines either from boats or by wading. Another shore-based fishing method involved setting up a barrier of reeds in a shallow area of current to provide fish with a resting place. When fish bumped up against the reeds, their movement alerted men waiting on the shore with spears

Fish poisoning was done in winter and early spring, before the water began to rise. Datura, a poison derived from a genus of plants of the same name, was purchased from local merchants, mixed with flour and chicken droppings or inserted into freshwater shrimps which were cast upon calm stretches of water. Fish ate the bait and were stupefied by the datura, causing them to float to the surface where they could be easily collected. This was a more productive method of fishing than spearing.

Noodling (a Southern United States term for catching catfish by hand) was also practiced, particularly for a large fish called gessan, which was probably a type of barbel. Gessan would shelter beneath floating islands of reeds, where they were safe from spear and net. They were targeted by teams of two men in a canoe. One man stayed in the boat while the other dove beneath the island with a rope tied around his leg. The swimmer would grab the fish (probably by the gills, if Southern practice is an indication) and be pulled back out by the man in the canoe.

Naturally, there was rivalry between different cultures and different tribes living in the marshes, and while this was probably based on simple “tribalism” (in the modern, nonanthropological sense), it manifested itself in a focus upon each others’ fishing habits. To quote Thesiger again:
“Far out on the lake, Berbera were fishing from boats. We could hear the beating of tins, and the smack of poles on water as they drove the fish into their nets. The Madan had a profound contempt for the Berbera and, except that they would eat with them, despised them hardly less than the Sabeans who were at the very bottom of the social scale. Yet no tribesman ever suggested to me that the Berbera were of a different origin. The prejudice was solely against their occupation. At first sight this appeared to be illogical, since the Madan themselves caught fish. But the Berbers netted fish to make money, whereas the Madan speared fish for food.”
This was changing however, and Madan were beginning to sell both fish and buffalo milk, which they previously had not done, instead keeping both commodities solely for their own use. Thus, when Thesiger visited, the Madan’s stated basis for their prejudice was in the process of shifting away from the occupation itself to the Berberas’ different method of fishing.

Madan fishing with spears from boats
Madan fishing with spears, their boats proceeding in line abreast to herd fish before them. One man paddles in the stern in each canoe. 

Of all the fishing methods employed by the Madam, the greatest prestige was associated with spearing – at least among the tribes with which Thesiger spent the most time. “In spring, before the water rose, the Madan collected in parties of forty or fifty canoes. They swept up and down a lagoon, in line and some four or five yards apart, while the spearmen tried to impale the fish as they broke back under the canoes. In summer they speared fish at night by the light of reed torches.”

During the height of fishing season, hundreds of boats might work a single lake at once. Merchants would set up buying stations on the shore, buying boatloads of fish, packing them in ice, and sending them by truck to Baghdad. (Fish were also salted.) There was fierce competition between groups employing spearing and netting methods, racing each other to the next favored spot and intentionally blocking each other’s access. Thesiger even described spearmen poaching a seine net already full of fish and in the process of being drawn in. This would seem to be strong evidence of the superiority of net fishing, but the spear-wielding Madan evidently didn’t see it that way.

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Boats of Iraq's Madan


Madan canoe
The Madan, or Marsh Arabs of Iraq, depended heavily upon their boats, including canoes like this one under construction. Note the heavy, closely-spaced, roughly-formed frames, inner planking at the tops of the frames, and heavy thwarts. (Click any image to enlarge.)
Wilfred Thesiger was an upper-class Englishman, born the son of a diplomat in Addis Ababa in 1910 and educated in England at the best schools. After conducting expeditions and serving in the diplomatic service himself in Africa, he served with distinction in the Second World War then became a wanderer in Africa, the Middle East, and central Asia, immersing himself in traditional, tribal cultures and writing about them – and perhaps gathering intelligence on the side.

In the early and mid 1950s, he spent many months living and traveling in the marshy lands between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in southern Iraq. In his book about these travels, The Marsh Arabs, he explains that he found peace of mind living in undeveloped areas in general, and the less Europeanized and regimented, the better:
“(H)aving seen Iraqi Kurdistan I had no desire to go back. Travel was too restricted, rather like stalking in a Highland deer forest . . . . Admittedly the Marshes, for which I was now bound, covered a smaller area than Iraqi Kurdistan, but they were a world complete in itself, not a fragment of a larger world to the rest of which I was denied access.”
Thesiger was no anthropologist – The Marsh Arabs is a mixture of travelogue and memoir – but he was sensitive to culture and a keen and appreciative observer. Naturally, he saw, used, and reported on the Marsh Arabs' use of boats. Although every aspect of the lives of the Arabs who lived in the Iraqi marshes was regulated by their watery environment, we will concentrate on his observations directly related to their watercraft.

Madan house built of reeds
A Madan house, built of reeds and covered with mats, on a kibasha, or artificial island, also made of reeds and rushes. Buffalo were a mainstay for many of the Madan.
For context: The Marsh Arabs, or Madan, are Shia Moslems. (Northern Iraqis are Sunni.) Dotted with thousands of lakes and lagoons and cut through with innumerable permanent and seasonal waterways, large parts of the marshes dry out in summer and inundate after the rains begin further north. Many of the Madan’s homes and villages are built on tiny man-made islands, although a few areas of slightly higher elevation allow the construction of more permanent, conventional structures and small communities. Some of the Madan did not live in settled villages, but led completely nomadic lives.

A mudhif, or Madan meeting house
A mudhif, or Madan meeting house, where the public business and pleasure of the community was conducted. Thesiger was entertained in many of these, which also served as guest houses. They too were built entirely of reeds.
Although I write about the culture indiscriminately in the past and present tenses, much of the marsh life Thesiger described is now past, destroyed in part by Sadam Hussein’s campaign against the Madan, which saw the swamps largely drained and destroyed. Some restoration efforts, however, are succeeding in bringing back parts of the habitat and with it, the culture.

Boat Types

A balam with a load of reeds
A balam with a load of reeds.
With communities and individual homes sited on tiny, often temporary artificial islands, watercraft were used by everyone for every purpose, and small, plank-built one- and two-man canoes were ubiquitous. Larger boats were also common. Those used for the large-scale gathering of reeds and other commercial carriage were called balam, which were typically 30’ to 36’ long.

The graceful bow of a Madan tarada
A tarada, with its incomparably graceful bow.
Taradas, which were indistinguishable from balams except for one detail, could only be owned by sheiks. Thesiger describes one of the first he saw:
“She was a beautiful craft that could carry as many as twelve people. Thirty-six feet long but only three and half feet at her widest beam, she was carvel-built, flat-bottomed and covered outside with a smooth coating of bitumen over the wooden planks. The front swept forwards and upwards in a perfect curve to form a long, thin, tapering stem; the stern too rose in a graceful sweep. Two feet of the stern and of the bows were decked; there was a thwart a third of the way forward, and a strengthening beam across the boat two thirds of the way forward. Movable boards covered the floor. The top part of the ribs was planked along the inside and studded with five rows of flat, round nail-heads two inches across. These decorative nails were the distinguishing mark of a tarada . . . .”
Madan zaima, a reed bundle boat
In spite of its reed-bundle construction, the zaima was a true boat, with a hull that displaced water by virtue of its water-tight shell, not because of the buoyancy of its materials.
Because the marshes are treeless, wood is expensive and even a small plank-built boat was beyond the means of some. Giant qasab reeds (Phragmites communis), however, were ubiquitous, and they were used to build bundle boats called zaima. Typically 10’ long and 2.5’ in beam, they were coated on the outside with bitumen to waterproof them and extend their life. Even so, they would last only a year, because, unlike on plank-built boats, the bitumen coating on a zaima could not be renewed. Even during Thesiger’s visits, the zaima was falling out of use due to a preference for wooden canoes among even the poor.

Madan child with rudimentary reed raft
A young child's rudimentary reed raft.

Madan child with bundle boat
This older child's reed raft is a bundle boat, floating by virtue of the reeds themselves. But with its rising bow, it mimics the form of the plank canoes of his elders. 
Thesiger mentions two more boat types in passing. Children would build rafts of rushes and paddle around on them. And two-masted boats, apparently much larger than balam, were used to trade large volumes of goods downstream with Basra.

Soon after he had bought himself a balam for 10 pounds sterling to use in traveling about the marshes, Thesiger received from his sheik-patron the extraordinary gift of a top-notch tarada, 36’ long, which he used henceforth. He hired local youth as crew and kept them with him for extended periods. To increase their loyalty, he did not pay them or treat them like employees. He was, in fact, more generous to them than would have been reasonable on a salary basis, but the arrangement allowed them to assert that they accompanied him as a matter of choice, respect, and friendship rather than a financial transaction.

Thesiger's tarada in choppy water.
Thesiger's tarada in choppy water.
As the only individual who was not a sheik to own a tarada – and an Englishman to boot – Thesiger was a notable individual in the marshes. The highly esteemed boatbuilder who made his tarada also made him paddles uniquely painted red. The boat and its crew were easily recognized for its distinctive paddles.

Boat Construction

Madan balam or large workboat
Balams and taradas feature a multiplicity of relatively light, closely-spaced frames and heavy thwarts, with floorboards and end decks. The one in the foreground lacks the inner planking at the tops of the frames that Thesiger described in the quote above and that was also typical of the Madan's canoes.
No suitable wood was available in southern Iraq and every bit – even for items as small as paddles – had to be brought in from elsewhere. In boat construction, the preferred material for ribs was mulberry from Kurdistan. No mention is made of the type of wood used for planking, all of which was imported “from abroad.” The one key material that was obtained locally was bitumen, which was gathered from small pools where it naturally “bubbled out of the ground.” After being allowed to cool it was broken up into chunks for transport.

Balam under repair
A balam being recoated with bitumen.
Boats had to be recoated annually, as the bitumen cracked off. Cracks could be temporarily sealed by heating the bitumen with a torch of reeds. But for proper annual maintenance, the entire coating would be removed with a chisel. Fresh, solid bitumen would be placed on a sheet of metal and melted over a fire, then spread onto the boat one quarter inch thick. Thesiger reports that the Madan believed that a coating applied in winter did not last long as a one applied in summer. This makes sense, as the boat’s planking would be warmer in summer, helping prevent the pitch from cooling too quickly to adhere properly.

Many of the Madan raised buffalo, and some of them acquired such a taste for pitch that they would eat it off the boats if allowed. This habit was apparently restricted to certain communities – perhaps buffalo are just as regional in their tastes as humans – and where it occurred, boats would be moored away from the shore rather than pulled up where buffalo could get at them.

interior details of Madan boat
With a tool kit limited to an adze, a hand saw and a bow drill, workmanship on most boats was rough.

Madan balam boat
Nonetheless, Madan boats, especially the larger balams and taradas, were fine and graceful. (The stem appears to be badly cranked to port, however.)

Most carpentry for boat construction and repairs was done with an adze. Thesiger offers this brief, sadly incomplete description:
“We watched an old man start on a canoe. He outlined the bottom with transverse slats of wood, an inch or so apart, and then nailed a single long plank down the centre. While we drank tea he fashioned the ribs, selecting suitable pieces of wood from a pile beside him. He used an adze, and his only other tools, a small saw and a bow drill, lay on the mat beside him with a heap of nails.”
Madan canoe under construction
Early stage of canoe building, with the floors and central plank in place.

Of the zaima, however, he provides a more detailed description: 
“First he made half a dozen tight bundles of five or six qasab reeds rather longer than the length of the proposed boat, and fastened them securely together side by side to form the keel, leaving eighteen inches free at both ends, which he bent upwards. He next bent five long reeds into the shape of a U, passed the middle among the loose ends of the keel, and laced them back to the keel itself. He repeated the process at either end alternately, until he had built up the sides and ends of the hull. This framework he stiffened by tying into it a number of ribs made from two or three willow wands. Bundles of a few reeds, fastened one below the other along the inside of the boat, covered the top half of the ribs and formed the inner planking. Finally, he wedged three stout sticks across the boat as thwarts and secured their ends in place with lumps of bitumen. The zaima was now ready to be coated outside with bitumen.”
Propulsion and Travel

Madan poling and paddling a canoe
A canoe being poled from the stern and padded from the bow through vegetation.
Boats were propelled by both pole and paddle as the situation required. Small fishing canoes would be punted with a fish spear, butt-end down. The spears were made of reeds, 12 feet long with five-pronged, barbed heads. Paddles were “shovel-shaped pieces of board nailed to lengths of bamboo” (actually reeds, not true bamboo). Those poles which were not fish spears were also simply straight sections of reed. Even such crude paddles were expensive to replace, and their owners would typically take them from their boats when they were ashore to protect them. Likewise with poles to which their owners had become accustomed. This was not to prevent theft, per se. Rather, it was accepted practice that anyone could take any paddle or pole that wasn’t in its owner’s immediate possession.

The method of poling balams and taradas was distinctive. In a boat with four men poling, two were in the bow and two in the stern. They poled in time, all of the same side of the boat, switching sides together as needed. In smaller boats with only two poling, the action was also coordinated on the same side. When carrying a full load of reeds, however, the crew of a balam would walk the boat along the gunwale rather than stand in place to pole. This would allow them to apply the full power of their legs to propulsion rather than relying entirely on their arms and upper bodies.

Madan paddling canoes
The solo paddler in the foreground canoe sits high in the stern. The tandem paddlers in the other boat are paddling on opposite sides.

When paddling a balam, two men would sit in the stern on the deck, one in front of the other. One would sit on the forward thwart, and one would kneel in the bows.

Passengers always sat in the bottom. The place of honor for a passenger was nearest the stern, leaning against the rear thwart. 

Some passages through the reedbeds were kept open artificially by driving buffalo through when the water was low. Thereafter, regular boat traffic would keep them open. Even so, during the dry season many channels would dry up, requiring much dragging through mud or even preventing passage. Some areas of swamp were dammed to create water impoundments for grain growing during the dry season. These dams interfered with free movement of boats through formerly open channels, forcing users to negotiate narrow, rapid sluices both up- and down-current, or even to be dragged over the dams. With a loaded, 35-foot-long balam, this was a difficult chore.

We'll continue with Thesiger's The Marsh Arabs in a future post, looking at how the Madan used their boats.

Quotations and images from The Marsh Arabs, Wilfred Thesiger, Penguin Classics, 2008. Copyright 1959. Originally published by Longmans, Green, 1964. This author thanks the copyright holders. Should they object to this use, he asks that they contact him through the blog comments. Their wishes will be respected.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Traditional Fishing Schooner Launched in Northern Vietnam

After Ken Preston saw my previous post about Vietnamese basket boats, which included one of his photos from his website Boats and Rice, he contacted me about another interesting and beautiful Vietnamese boat he was privileged to sail on recently.
Sailing fishing boat, Quang Yen, Vietnam. Photo Ken Preston.
Newly launched traditional fishing boat, Quang Yen, Vietnam. Photo: Ken Preston. Rights reserved/used by permission. (Click to enlarge.)
This type of sailing fishing boat from northern Vietnam went out of use some decades ago with the proliferation of engines. Ken hesitates to call this boat a "replica," because it was built authentic to tradition in every respect by an 11th-generation boatbuilder who worked on them many years ago (and who continues to do business building more contemporary wooden fishing boats). It simply IS one of the type, albeit separated by many years from the rest. 



The video shows the boat getting under way and looking quite lovely sailing up- and down-wind. The video was shot by one of Mr. Chan's sons; Ken edited it and added the explanatory text.

The (apparently unnamed) boat was built in the boatyard of Mr. Le Duc Chan of Quang Yen, a short distance upstream of Halong Bay. It was commissioned by Dr. Nguyen Viet, an archaeologist with an interest in Vietnam's maritime heritage. Dr. Viet caused the construction of the boat to be scrupulously recorded in still images and video, with the assistance of a naval architect who also documented the boat and its construction for legal purposes.

The boat is of a type that would have been owned (and lived on?) by a family and used for commercial fishing. Dr. Viet's version is true to the original, lacking modern accommodations belowdecks. It is 34.6' LOD, 27.3' at the waterline, with a maximum beam of 11.7', a board-up draft of just 18", and a daggerboard-down draft of 5.4'. It is junk-schooner rigged, and according to Ken's lengthy, colorful blog post, it can be easily handled by a crew of two: one at the helm and mainsheet, another at the foresail. Ken describes its sailing behavior as extremely well-mannered, getting under way, answering the helm, coming about, dropping sail, and docking reliably and with a total lack of fuss.

Ken's article about the boat will appear in the May issue of WoodenBoat magazine. He also has a book about Vietnamese fishing boats, with some 500 photos plus text, coming out soon from Women's Publishing House of Ho Chi Minh City. An English-language edition will appear this summer, to be followed by a Vietnamese translation. Neither appears on the publisher's website at the time of this writing.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Basket Boats on the Gulf of Tonkin

We've written before about woven or basket boats in Vietnam (see, for example, this post highlighting a canoe-form craft, and this one about coracles), but the one in the image below, from James Hornell's Water Transport: Origins and Early Evolution, so struck us by its graceful form that we thought it was worth sharing.
Basket boat, Vietnam, from Hornell
Woven boat of the Gulf of Tonkin, Vietnam. From Hornell, Water Transport. (click to enlarge)
The boat is common on the Gulf of Tonkin. We'll quote Hornell's comments in almost their entirety:
This is a light, graceful craft made of inch-wide strips of split bamboo, closely woven into stiff matting, a material of great strength, resiliency and resistance to strain. 
In plan it is of an elongated ovate form, the wider end being the stern. Both extremities are spoon-shaped like the fore end of a Norwegian praam [sic] and are rounded in horizontal outline. A gentle sheer toward each end carries stem and stern above the level of the midships gunwale, the stem rising the higher. The bent-up sides of the bamboo body are embraced around their margin by several broad bands of split bamboo on each side and bound together into a stout cylinder with rattan strips to form a stout, continuous gunwale. Four or five strong bamboos stretch from gunwale to gunwale to prevent spreading; they are secured partly by lashing and partly by pegging into the gunwales. Along each side above the gunwales and over the ends of the cross beam, a slender bamboo pole is lashed to form a top rail. 
On the floor two long bamboos, spaced some distance apart, serve as inner stringers. One of the thwart beams, usually the second from the stern, is supported below by two short stanchions fixed at the lower ends into a stout bamboo bar, fitted athwart the bottom. Before launching, the interstices in the matting forming the skin of the hull are daubed with a caulking mixture of cow dung and coconut oil [citation omitted], periodically renewed. Strips of split bamboo matting are fitted over the floor to serve as dunnage and so keep cargo and passengers dry against moderate leaking. 
Although very light and easily carried by one man, they are able to carry several passengers together with a quantity of baggage. 
The dimensions of one measured by Nishimura [citation omitted] were as follows: length, 12 feet 7 inches; width, 5 feet; depth, 26 inches: usually they run smaller -- about 6 feet by 4 feet, by about 10 inches deep. 
Nishimura states that this type of craft is very common in Tongking, where almost all families living near rivers and streams keep one or two.
A couple observations on the above:

1. It seems unlikely that the caulking mixture was applied only to the "interstices in the matting." It is almost certainly spread over the entire outer surface of the hull. Road tar and roofing tar have largely replaced cow dung and coconut oil for waterproofing.

2. The purpose of the top rail is not explained. They may serve as the top elements of girders that stiffen the boat longitudinally, with the thwarts or cross-beams serving to create a vertical gap between them and the gunwales. But read on.

The image below, from Ken Preston's Boats & Rice blog, shows what appears to be the same kind of boat in current use on Halong (or Ha Long) Bay, near Hai Phong on the Gulf of Tonkin. This boat has a more elaborate and substantial framework around the perimeter than the light top rails in Hornell's image, but the curve of the bow (?) rising above the transverse end-piece of the perimeter framework seems to identify the boat as the same basic type. Along with strengthening the structure further, the fore-and-aft elements of the rectangular perimeter frame serve to anchor the tholepins. This might have been another unexplained purpose of the top rails in Hornell's image.
Woven boat, Halong Bay, from Boats & Rice blog
Woven boat, Halong Bay, from Boats & Rice

Friday, January 12, 2018

Canoes and Canoeists of Ancient Ecuador

The Inca are certainly the best-known pre-European culture of Ecuador, but they were hardly the only one. In fact, they were latecomers on the scene, invading from Peru less than one hundred years before Francisco Pizzaro arrived from Spain to destroy their civilization. Prior to the Inca's arrival, the land that is present-day Ecuador had been occupied by a succession of regional cultures, several of which used small watercraft.

Dugout canoes played an important enough role in some Ecuadorian cultures to have warranted frequent representation in ceramic miniatures. Although we don't know the purpose of these sculptures, it's probable that they had ritual significance, as is the case with almost all art from almost all ancient societies. In spite of their pleasing aesthetics, it is unlikely that they were made for purely decorative purposes.


With the exception of the anchor, the following photos were taken through glass exhibit cases. The first three boats (six photos), the paddlers without canoes, and the anchor are at the Museo Antropologico y de Arte Contemporaneo in Guayaquil. The last canoe miniature (three photos) is at the Archaeological Museum of the University of Cuenca. Click any image to enlarge.

Chorrera dugout canoe with two paddlers
Chorrera dugout canoe with two paddlers. ("Existing in the late formative period the Chorrera culture lived in the Andes and Coastal Regions of Ecuador between 1000 and 300 BC." [Wikipedia]). The canoe has overhangs at both ends upon which the paddlers squat.
Chorrera dugout canoe with two paddlers
With its full-width bow and stern platforms, the canoe is nearly rectangular in plan view. The deep interior may simply represent a real canoe's hold, or the sculture might have been used as a vessel for food or other ritual offerings. Both paddles are held to the same side of the canoe. 
Chorrera canoe paddler miniature
The squatting bowman holds a paddle with a long blade that tapers into the shaft and a square bottom end. There is no end grip on the shaft. The paddler wears decorative ear plugs and a helmet of some kind.
Tolita canoeist and canoe miniature
Tolita canoeist and canoe. More crudely fashioned or "schematic" than the previous one, this canoe nonetheless shows small bow and stern platforms. Although the canoeist lacks a paddle, he is otherwise well-equipped. The Tolita lived on the northern coast of Ecuador from 500BCE to 500CE. 
Tolita canoe miniature
An elaborate Tolita canoe with several notable features, including:
  • a bow platform
  • structures that appear as side decks fastened to the outside of the hull from about midships to the stern
  • an arched shelter amidships
  • a coaming or seat backs aft of the shelter

The seat backs, and possibly the shelter, indicate the boat was used for transportation of people, although carrying cargo in addition cannot be ruled out. These features also appear to indicate a boat for a user of high status, perhaps a merchant who could afford to sit back and relax while others worked the boat.
The "side decks" are a curiosity Did men stand on them to paddle or pole the boat, leaving more room in the hull for passengers and/or cargo? If men stood on both of them simultaneously, the boat would have adequate balance. But if one paddler were to step or fall off, the boat might become highly unstable. Perhaps, instead of decks, they represent sponsons to increase the boat's stability and buoyancy, or simply planks that would provide momentary resistance if the boat were to heel suddenly.
Tolita canoe miniature
This angle shows a clearer view of the seat backs or coaming.
Tolita canoe paddlers miniatures
Two Tolita canoe paddlers. I speculate that in this and the following image, the missing canoes were made of wood, which disintegrated prior to the recovery of the ceramics. Unlike the Chorrera paddles, these have lanceolate blades. The paddlers squat, holding their paddles in a more realistic fashion than the Chorrera paddler, with their top hand nearer the end of the shaft (which, like the Chorrera example, lacks an end-grip). The paddlers appear to be wearing skirts and helmets.
Tolita canoe paddlers miniatures
Three more Tolita paddlers. The middle and rear figures sit with their bodies facing front and their legs extended. The front figure is in a more dynamic pose: his torso is twisted to his "on" paddling side and his onside leg is crossed over his offside leg. All three figures wear helmets but, unlike the previous example, their legs are bare. 
Miniatures of Tolita canoes and paddlers
Another angle showing the two groups of paddlers (and, behind them, the covered boat [left], two pieces of spondylus shell [right], which were used as currency and for decorative work, and the rude canoeist). 
Tolita canoe and canoeists miniature
Tolita canoeists in a dugout canoe. The canoe, which is broken crosswise amidships, has bow and stern platforms and a nearly rectangular plan view. The paddlers' disc-shaped headgear with side flaps is similar to that worn by the aft-most paddler in the group of three above. They hold their paddles on opposite sides of the canoe. Their legs are bare, and the bow paddler's legs are crossed.
Tolita canoe and canoeists miniature
The same item as above. Although simply rendered, the figures have the realistic energy of paddlers concentrating at their work, straining to push forward. 
Tolita canoe and canoeists miniature
Aft view of the same item, showing the canoe's broad stern platform, slab-shaped sides, and rounded bottom.
Stone anchor from the Manteño civilization
Stone anchor from the Manteño civilization, which dominated Ecuador's central coast from 850CE to 1600CE. The Manteño used large sailing rafts of balsa logs to conduct intensive trade along the coast of Ecuador and as far north as Central America. This anchor, however, appears much too small to have been used on an oceanic raft and was probably used with a smaller watercraft. (American currency is for scale. Rope is not original).