Thursday, February 26, 2009

Boats of Bangladesh

Bangladesh is virtually all river delta. The Bramaputra and its hundreds of tributaries and distributaries cover the entire western half of the country, while the eastern half is equally spiderveined by a large number of smaller rivers. During monsoon season, boats are the only practical way to get around large parts of the country, and so called "country boats" of a huge variety of types are pervasive throughout the country, coloring many aspects of culture, especially in rural areas.

Sailing Against the Wind: Boats and Boatmen of Bangladesh, a book of (primarily) photos by Trygve Bolstad, with a few short chapters by Eirik A. Jansen, was published in 1992. At that time, Jansen noted the rapid replacement of many of the traditional types with motorized versions of just a couple types that leant themselves well to such conversion. I don't know the extent to which this transformation has continued since then, but it seems a safe guess that it did indeed continue, and that several types may have fallen out of favor, if not out of use altogether.

Most country boats are built shell-style -- that is, the hull planks were assembled to each other, and any inner structure, typically minimal in nature, was added later. As shown in the sketch below, plank edges were commonly ship-lapped, and edge fastened with iron staples set into recesses on both the interior and exterior surfaces. The book doesn't give much additional detail on construction, and very little at all about the numerous boat types.

What it does provide are dozens of wonderful, wonderful photographs, some of which I've including here.

Ekmalaia boats at Jhitka market, Manilgganj.

Raptani boat, Meghna.

Swaronga boat carrying pottery on the river Kusiyara.

Malar boat on the Ganges.

A fleet of gypsy boats, Mirpur. The book's caption reads, "These gypsies live on the boats their whole life."

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