Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sampan Dwellers of Tam Giang Lagoon, Vietnam

Vietnamese Sampan from Hue area (line drawing)
A sampan from the Hue area, probably much like those discussed here. Source: Junk Blue Book*. (Click any image to enlarge)
The romanticization of traditional lifestyles is an insidious form of prejudice, one that leads to assumptions no less false and potentially no less damaging than racial prejudice. There's an assumption of something pure and right in traditional folkways that is lost when such ways are abandoned for modern/Western ways. It's little different from the old "noble savage" meme, which we've largely rejected in name, but which remains a strong theme in Western culture in the form of romanticizing supposedly more "peaceful" lifestyles that are "more in tune with the natural world," (in spite of the constant states of warfare that have been observed in many tribal cultures; in spite of smallpox, frequent childbirth deaths, illiteracy, et al, as being quite natural), and uncritically accepting, idealizing, ancient-and/or-Eastern "wisdom" that is often unwise in the sense that it is unsupported by science and often demonstrably untrue and harmful.
I acknowledge myself among such offenders – after all, Indigenous Boats is my blog, created and written because of my fascination with and appreciation for the boats and boating-related activities and peoples of non-Western – and especially, preindustrial (or should I say nonindustrial?) – cultures. I certainly can't shake the notion that there's something attractive about traditional, preindustrial folkways – in spite of the fact that, when given the chance, most preindustrial people eagerly adopt many, if not most, of the ways and material benefits of Western/industrial culture.
Vietnamese Sampan from Hue area, photo
Hue area sampan (type HUBC-1a in the Junk Blue Book)
So the sampan dwellers of Tam Giang Lagoon, in central coastal Vietnam, are a good object lesson about the relative attractions, to those directly affected by the choice, of a natural, traditional, or "primitive" lifestyle versus a modern, commercially-based one.
map of Tam Giang Lagoon
Tam Giang Lagoon (Source: DaCosta and Turner*)
Tam Giang Lagoon, near the city of Hue, is the largest lagoon in Southeast Asia – about 70 km long, fed by a number of rivers, and with two narrow openings to the South China Sea. Historically, it was home to highly productive fisheries of many species, and as recently as 1985, some 100,000 individuals lived there year-round on about 10,000 sampans, one family per boat. If I have correctly identified in the Junk Blue Book* the type of boat in use there in the early 1960s, these boats were rigged with lugsails, ranged in length from 22 to 46 feet, in beam from 4.3 to 6.5 feet, and typically had a laden draft of just 1.6 feet. Today, almost all are powered by inboard engines.
A van of Sampans in Tam Giang Lagoon
A van of sampans in Tam Giang Lagoon (DaCosta and Turner)
Sampan dwellers were mobile fishers, relying on hook-and-rod and dip-net gear for a mainly subsistence living, with surplus catch being sold, usually direct to the consumer, in local markets around the lagoon. Groups of thirty to fifty sampans, their families often related, would travel together to fish different areas of the lagoon and gather near one another in floating communities called vans.
This was hardly the idyllic life that it might appear. Although the origins of the sampan dwellers are disputed, it seems clear that they were refugees from other parts of Vietnam, who took to the water because there was no farmland available in the region. DaCosta and Turner* describe them as "marginalized," and state that "The sampan dwellers tend to have low incomes, are landless, lack accessibility to government services such as health and formal education, and have poor living conditions." Furthermore, "They are scorned by land-living…society in general, who consider them…poor and uneducated. In turn, the sampan dwellers consider themselves isolated…." The sampan life even had serious spiritual drawbacks, because "Being landless…means, among other things, that families cannot bury their dead in permanent burial grounds, considered essential in Vietnamese society to ensure a successful after-life." Although I speculate, this philosophical weakness of their lifestyle might have had a negative psychological impact on sampan dwellers continually worried about life after death.
Prior to and during the Second Indochina War (i.e., "the" Vietnam War, to Americans), land-dwellers around the lagoon began staking claims in the lagoon by constructing fixed-gear fishing installations such as fish traps, weirs, and corrals and permanent dip-nets. Although these installations had no legal sanction, they proliferated, excluding the legally- and socially-impotent sampan dwellers from areas of the lagoon. Following the war, these permanent installations expanded rapidly, with aquaculture facilities added to the mix.
Eventually, privately-owned fixed-gear facilities covered such large areas of the lagoon that open fishery areas became severely restricted. The density of aquaculture operations also had negative effects on water quality and on the natural flow of water through the lagoon, further reducing the wild catch (and causing health and productivity problems for aquaculturists as well).
net enclosures and small sampan, Tam Giang Lagoon
The lagoon's fixed fishing facilities and aquaculture pounds are largely tended with small sampans propelled through the shallow waters with a pole. (Source: Truong Van Tuyen, et al) 
After a typhoon in 1985 killed 600 around the lagoon – including many sampan dwellers – the Vietnamese government embarked on a program to resettle sampan dwellers to the land. The goals of the program were not only to reduce their vulnerability to natural disasters, but also to integrate them into the larger society and raise their standard of living. Entirely new villages were established solely for former sampan dwellers. Land was allocated to families, and partial funding provided for the construction of permanent homes.
These policies were far from ideal in their implementation. The land allocated was often marginal for agriculture, and the provision of credit for home construction was often inadequate and subject to political favoritism.
Nonetheless, some 90 percent of sampan dwellers came ashore, enticed by the chance to become landowners. Former sampan dwellers began establishing their own fixed-gear fishing and aquaculture facilities, farming terrestrially, and engaging in a variety of other land-based enterprises, while some of them also maintained their sampans for mobile fishing during the season when their time was not taken up by land-based agriculture. The former sampan dwellers were encouraged to join social and economic organizations and, as landed citizens, attained political and social parity in these groups and in society at large. They played a role, for example, in negotiated efforts to rationalize the location, size, and spacing of fixed-gear fishing and aquaculture installations. These efforts achieved success in improving flushing and water quality in the lagoon and establishing a fairer allocation of sunken lands both for landed citizens and remaining sampan dwellers.
Although DaCosta and Turner found significant disparities among the former sampan dwellers in the success of their adaptation to land-based living, they are, by almost any objective measure, generally better off than previously. They are now integrated into state educational and healthcare systems, are active in the larger economy, and, especially, are accepted into Vietnamese cultural life. In the words of one former sampan dweller:
"In general, I feel my life is much easier since I have been on land. Life on the boat is isolated. Now I have more friends, and my kids can go to school, and it is much easier for me to make a living… I feel that I have stronger ties with the members of the village than on the boat."
Another former sampan dweller reported that he had, in the authors' words, more "free time…to spend with his friends and neighbours. This allowed him to build stronger ties with other village members and, in turn, to gain information to aid his livelihood development." Those stronger ties included the pooling of resources among former sampan dwellers to finance the construction of individually-owned fixed-gear fishing and aquaculture installations -- something they might have done previously, had not their isolation discouraged such cooperation.
There's something sad in the loss of a traditional way of life – but that sadness seems to be mainly for those not living it. It is true that that loss was forced upon the sampan dwellers by external changes – especially by their exclusion from formerly accessible areas of the lagoon by the growth of privately-owned fixed-gear fishing and aquaculture installations. But to ask that the sampan dwellers be "allowed" to retain their traditional lifestyle unchanged by the modern world is essentially to ask that the modern world stop changing – and this is obviously a vain request. In the case of the sampan dwellers, their lot was made easier by humane government policies designed to incorporate them into the larger society rather than to marginalize them further. And that may be the best outcome to hope for for many traditional societies that will, in the future, be placed under pressure by inevitable changes in the modern societies that surround them.

Elsa DaCosta, Sarah Turner, Negotiating changing livelihoods: The sampan dwellers of Tam Giang Lagoon, Viet Nam, Geoforum, 38(1) 190-206 (2007)
Truong Van Turen, Derek Armitage, Melissa Marschke, Livelihoods and co-management in the Tam Giang lagoon, Vietnam, Ocean and Coastal Management, 2010
G. Levasseur, J.M. Lamperin, H. Le Neel, L. Chambaud, The Sampan Dwellers of the Vi Da District (Hue, 1993). Results of a survey preliminary to humanitarian aid intervention, 1994
Junk Blue Book: A Handbook of Junks of South Vietnam, 1962

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Baure's Linked Canoe and Road Transport System

dugout canoes in Baures region, upper Amazon, Bolivia
Contemporary Baure dugout canoes on the upper Amazon in Bolivia. (Click any image to enlarge.) Source.
The Baure people live between the San Martin, San Joaquin, and Negro Rivers -- upper reaches of the Amazon River system -- in northern Bolivia, near Brazil. The region is mostly savanna, cut through by navigable rivers and streams and with many wetlands and lakes. During the 3-5 month rainy season, the flat savanna and pampas grassland is completely covered by water. As the rainy season ends and the water recedes, the land gradually dries out to support agriculture and grazing.

The Baure people now number less than10,000, but when first described by Jesuit missionaries in the sixteenth century, they were more numerous, living in hundreds of towns on slightly elevated sections of land that naturally support patches of forest dotting the otherwise flat landscape. According to archaeologist Clark L. Erickson, each town was ruled by a hereditary chief, and the towns “had large public plazas with a large men's house or temple in the center. Around the plaza were hundreds of houses arranged along streets and wide avenues. Deep defensive moats and tall palisade walls surrounded many settlements.” Between the towns, raised agricultural fields were built up above the floor of the savanna. Altogether, the area was a "densely populated region filled with large, well- organized dispersed settlements."

Between about 2,000 BP and the time of European contact, the Baure built thousands of raised roads between their towns, totalling tens of thousands of linear miles. Radiating like spokes from every town, these roads connected the towns to one another and to surrounding raised-field farms. They were perfectly straight, often 3 (and occasionally as much as 7) miles long, and no more than a meter high – just high enough to raise the road surface above the seasonal floodwaters. Usually 12-15 feet wide, they were occasionally as wide as 60 feet. They were of simple packed earth construction, the material for which was excavated immediately adjacent to the road itself on one or both sides, creating a network of canals alongside each road.

recreation of precolumbian Baure road/canal complex
Roads carrying foot traffic and canals floating dugout canoes worked in parallel in precolumbian Baure culture. Source.
The road-canal system served multiple functions. The roads were, of course, used for communication and trade. Road travel may also have had important ceremonial or social significance, and the roads may have served as property or territorial boundaries. The roads also likely functioned as dikes to keep certain areas dry and/or to maintain stocks of water in others (for fish empoundments, example), and the canals would have been used to control the flow of water for these functions.

The roads themselves were often built in parallel to and relatively close to one another, so that as many as four roads might connect two towns. This was probably redundant for transportation needs, but it makes sense for the purposes of water control, demarcation of land rights, and possibly ceremonial purposes. Lacking any monumental architecture, the Baure may have viewed their roads – the result of large-scale communal effort – as the equivalent of individual municipal monuments, and the vast road-and-canal network might have served that purpose on a culture-wide basis.

Dugout canoes are in use to this day in the Baures region, and it is almost certain that they were used on the canals for transportation in the precolumbian era. Dugouts made possible the movement of larger quantities of agricultural produce and trade goods than could have been efficiently carried by manpower on the roads. (The Baure had no draft animals or wheeled vehicles.) The canals would have retained enough water for canoe travel long after the savannas dried out at the end of the rainy season, and many of them connected to navigable rivers, expanding the transportation network even further and linking the Baure to distant areas in the Amazon system.

Pre-Columbian Roads of the Amazon, Clark L. Erickson, from the publication Expedition, published by Penn Museum (date unknown)
Prehispanic Earthworks of the Baures Region of the Bolivian Amazon, Arqueologist Wilma Winkler Verlarde and Dr. Clark L. Erickson, a project of the Instituto Nacional de Arqueologia de Bolivia and the University of Pennsylvania Museum

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Two Current Bits of Nautical Archaeology

Mars was the largest ship in the world in its day. It exploded and sank during a battle in 1564.
Swedish warship Mars

A couple of quick marine achaeology links:

Recent news about the discovery of the remarkably intact 16th-century three-masted Swedish warship Mars. Not within our definition of "indigenous boats," but fascinating nonetheless (if you ignore the ludicrous "cursed warship" in the headline of the National Geographic article). 

Reader and contributor Edwin Deady sent me this link for a free online course in marine archaeology, offered by the University of Southampton. It starts in October and, according to the description, it does address non-European examples and topics.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Irish Logboat Finds

An article in the current issue of Current Archaeology tells of multiple logboat finds in Lough Corrib, County Galway, Ireland. I haven't seen the full writeup (it's pay-to-read), but a decent summary appears here.

The five boats, found in various locations around the large lake, were discovered during a bathymetric survey, and they were preserved by the lake's soft mud bottom and (presumably) cold temperatures and still waters at depth. One of the logboats, dated to about 4,500 BCE (Early Bronze Age), exhibits 2-3cm raised features carved on the inner side of the hull. There is a lengthwise feature that serves as a kind of keelson, and four cross-members. The article speculates that these served to divide the hull into compartments, but I think it more likely that they served as strengthening members in the nature of ribs.
Bronze Age Irish logboat (Source Current Archaeology)
The Early Bronze Age logboat found in Lough Corrib is 12 meters long and probably had a crew of 10-12 paddlers. (Source: Current Archaeology)
A 3,400-year-old boat was apparently carved in two halves, held together by rods that passed through internal cleats on the interior of both halves, and probably supplemented by lashings through bored holes. (The article summary is ambiguous on this point.) This strongly suggests kinship with the sewn-construction techniques used in England, as displayed in the Bronze Age Ferriby boats and Dover boat.

Another Lough Corrib boat, dated to the 11th century CE, was found in conjunction with several battle axes. Although battle axes were introduced to Ireland by Vikings a couple centuries earlier, the article states that it is more likely that the boat carried Irish warriors who had adopted the Viking weapon. Clear evidence for the use of oared propulsion exists in the form of holes for four pairs of tholepins. Five thwart-seats were present, indicating that the boat carried a coxswain or some other non-rowing individual (e.g., a passenger, dignitary or the captain). Clinker-planked construction was common by the 11th century, and of course skin-on-frame curraghs were also in use in Ireland at that time, so it is interesting that logboats remained in use for apparently high-prestige purposes that late in Ireland's history.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Australian Overlapping-Triangle Raft

Reader Geoff Cater steered me toward his fine summary page of indigenous Australian watercraft where, along with excellent images of various canoe types, there are a number of rafts.

The type that I find most intriguing consists of two triangular platforms, one stacked atop the other and facing in opposite directions. In two of the examples shown, fastening on each layer is by means by wood rods inserted through holes bored through the logs. In the model, the logs are fastened to their neighbors with thread, which may indicate lashed construction on the example from which the model was based, or might have been simply the modelmaker's expedient. Also in the model, the layers are attached to one another with a nail; it's unclear how the layers are attached in the other examples.

The photos and captions below are borrowed directly from Mr. Cater's webpage, for which thanks are given.

1931: A model raft made from six cylindrical wooden rods, collected in 1931 by Gerhard Laves from Bardi people at Cape Leveque, WA. Description: A model raft made from six cylindrical wooden rods with pointed ends and joined together with thread. A second "deck" of five pointed cylindrical wooden rods are attached to the first with a metal nail. Source: National Museum of Australia.
1931-1994: Double triangular raft, pole and paddle, Western Australia. Illustration by Xiangyi Mo. Barlow: Aboriginal Technology: Watercraft (1994) page 27. The illustration by Xiangyi Mo is possibly based on the model raft held by the NMA, above. The grass matting is possibly represents a seat or, if mixed with mud, a hearth for the fire often carried on board. Below are a punting-pole and a short-staffed spoon or pudding-stirrer paddle, as used by George Water in the photograph [below]. Their use throughout the continent and Tasmania indicates the pudding-stirrer's great antiquity, perhaps back to the last of the migrations from SE Asia.

1916: Worora youth on a mangrove tree raft (or 'kaloa'), George Water, Western Australia, 1916. Photograph by Herbert Basedow (1 of 2). Basedow, Herbert: The Australian Aboriginal. F.W. Preece & Sons, Adelaide, 1925, plate 22.
National Museum of Australia

In the model and, apparently, in the 1916 photo, the ends of the two layers line up pretty well. In the drawing, the two layers are offset, so that the logs' wider ends extend beyond the other level.

Why did the raftmakers face the two triangles in opposite directions? If two layers of logs were needed for buoyancy, it might make more sense to place the narrow ends one atop the other to form a roughly conventional "bow," since a forward-pointing triangle is more hydrodynamic. 

But as the photo shows, the bottom layer seems to provide enough buoyancy to hold the top layer and its passenger nearly or entirely clear of the water. By reversing the directions of the triangles, the logs of the top one do not nestle between the logs of the bottom one, so the top one actually rides higher and drier, while the forward-pointing triangle on the bottom still provides the desirable hydrodynamic efficiency.

Both the drawing and the photo show short, one-handed "pudding stirrer" paddles, and the drawing shows a pole as well: no doubt poles were commonly used for propulsion in shallow water.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

"Whaleback" Chinese Junks

sha-ch'uan or sand boat
sha-ch'uan or sand boat. The big basket tied to the house side is not a dinghy: it's a sea anchor. Illustration by Valentin A. Sokoloff. Click any image to enlarge.
Some aspects of the design and construction of Chinese junks are pretty familiar: one the best known is the use of numerous bulkheads rather than frames to provide transverse strength and divide the vessel into a series of watertight compartments. Others are the lifting or retractable rudder, and of course the fully-battened lugsails that are almost synonymous with the term "junk." One design and construction element that is not so well known, though, is the whaleback shape of the hull on many junks. 

One type exhibiting the whaleback was the sha-ch'uan, or sand boat, which was in use well into the 20th century. These bluff-bowed Kiangsu traders typically measured 85' LOA and 18.5' beam, and were distinct from larger traders of the same port by generally finer lines. 
sha-ch'uan or sand boat sail plan and interior arrangement
Sail plan and interior arrangements of a sha-ch'uan by G.R.G. Worcester. (Please excuse distortion at the bow, due to tight binding on the book from which the image was scanned.)
Among the more obvious features of  the sha-ch'uan is the five-masted rig, in which only two of the masts were stepped along the vessel's centerline, and all of which were raked at different angles, so that they were splayed like the fingers of an open hand. The two drawings above show different sail types: only the mainmast carries the familiar fully-battened Chinese lugsail in Worcester's line drawing, while Sokoloff's watercolor shows that type of sail on four of the five masts. 
sha-ch'uan or sand boat cross-section
Cross-section of sha-ch'uan. Note the use of frames along with the bulkheads to provide transverse strength. Illustration by Sokoloff.
sha-ch'uan or sand boat cross-section
Cross-section of  sha-ch'uan. Illustration by Worcester.
Sokoloff surely based his color cross-section on Worcester's. Both show the whaleback structure, in which the hull-proper angles sharply inboard from a chine that is well above the waterline and might almost be called a sheerline. Worcester calls this top surface a "guard deck," but from a construction standpoint, it's really the upper surface of an all-around hull, like that of a submarine's (although it is pierced by numerous hatches). The main deck is added atop the guard deck, and there are planks, apparently enclosing dead space, that fill the gap between the guard deck and the overhanging ends of the main deck.

With its extreme tumblehome, the whaleback junk seems to give up a lot of storage capacity compared to Western ship design, in exchange for superior safety. Should the junk's entire upper deck and house be swept away, its hull would remain intact and enclosed. There were numerous incidents of Western-style wooden ships losing their houses in storms and sinking as a result.

Although the sha-ch'uan had no backbone, it did have a substantially thicker central plank that provided some longitudinal strength (and some lateral plane), aided by several half-round wales along the sides and three timbers running full-length along the top surface of the guard deck at both sides of the hatches. Rising well above the waterline was a false stern that extended 7 feet aft of the hull proper, and beyond that was a 10-foot-long stern gallery.

The sha-ch'uan was by no means the only whaleback junk. Two more are shown below, and Worcester's book contains many other examples.

shaohing-ch'uan, or Hangchow Bay Trader
Although its built-up gunwales make it less obvious than on the sha-ch'uan, the shaohing-ch'uan, or Hangchow Bay Trader, also had whaleback construction. Illustration from Worcester. 
Chinese junk of war
In contrast to the preceding image, the whaleback construction of this vessel is entirely obvious, its deck being far narrower than that of either the sha-ch'uan or the shaohing-ch'uan. Very heavy wales just below the sheer-chine add great strength to the structure. I have no information on the vessel type, identified by artist/author Bjorn Llangstrom only as being a warship similar to that upon which Marco Polo returned home to Europe. 
The Junks and Sampans of the Yangtze, G.R.G. Worcester, 1971, Naval Institute Press
Ships of China, Valentin A. Sokoloff, 1982, Sokoloff
The Quest for India, Bjorn Llandstrom, 1964, Allen & Unwin

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Best Resource for Indigenous Boats Ever!

The title of this post is hyperbole in only the slightest degree, for Admiral A. Bertrand Paris's work Essai sur la Construction Navale des Peuples Extra-Europeéns (Essay on the Boatbuilding of Non-European People) is without doubt a superbly valuable resource for anyone seeking design and construction details of native watercraft from around the world at or around 1841. (Pity that it's in French.) 

Pointed out to me by Capt. Robert Whitehurst, Admiral Paris's book is available for download in numerous formats at the Internet Archive. The work is subtitled Collection des navires et pirogues construits par les habitants de l'Aise, de la Malaisie, du Grand Océan et de l'Amérique (Collection of ships and boats built by the inhabitants of Asia, Malaysia, the Great [i.e., Pacific] Ocean and the Americas). In spite of its length and apparent comprehensiveness, the subtitle omits Africa, which is also represented in the book.

Along with thousands of detailed, measured, engineering-style drawings and lines drawings, Paris includes hundreds of wonderful sketches of boats in use in their native habits -- wonderful as much for their artistry as for their detail and accuracy. Just to try to get you to go over to the Internet Archive to view (and hopefully, download) the entire book, I'll include a few representative images here.

Boom dhow from Admiral Paris
Sail, construction, and lines plans of dhows (click any image to enlarge) 
beached dhows by Adirmal Paris
Beached dhows 
inflated skin raft in Chile, Admiral Paris
A scene in Valparaiso, Chile, including (at right) an raft buoyed by inflated skins (presumably seal or sea lion)
Inflated skin raft, Chile, Admiral Paris
Detail drawing of the inflated skin raft in the previous image
Log boats, single- and double-outrigger canoes, umiaks, kayaks, bark boats, dhows, rafts...these are just a tiny sampling from a superb resource that has the power to hold the attention of any indigenous boats fans for hours. Do yourself a favor and check out the full document.

Capt. Whitehurst also kindly provided these links to biographical background on Admiral Paris:

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

What Moves Your Boat in Bangladesh

Reader Deek Rose steered me toward his video of boats in Bangladesh.

The footage in Always a River to Cross was shot in 1996 and 1998. The work's title obviously refers to the geography of Bangladesh, which is essentially a huge delta of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers. Getting anywhere in Bangladesh, especially during the wet season, usually involves water transport.

What struck me most about the video -- aside from the beauty of Rose's photography and the skill of his editing -- was the variety of propulsion methods used on traditional boat types. There are several types of oars, oar pivots, and styles of rowing; poling; paddling; spritsails of more than one type; stern sculling; inboard engines; and engine-powered towing.

There are also fascinating boat types to note and some footage of boatbuilding activities. Overall, a fine video. Thanks for sharing, Deek!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Bark Canoe and Skin Kayak Items at L.C. Bates Museum

Although founded in the early 20th century, the L.C. Bates Museum, in Hinckley, Maine, is a throwback to an even earlier time, when many museums were more or less random collections of oddities. Here you will find biological specimens, works of art, and anthropological artifacts side by side, many of them labeled poorly or not at all and too many deteriorating from a lack of care due, apparently, to a paucity of funds.

Nevertheless, it's a fun place to browse on a short visit, it's cheap ($3 for adults), it's on the way to good canoeing and rafting in northern Maine, and it contains a couple exhibits of interest to us. One is about Native American (primarily Maine) birchbark technology; the other displays Greenland Inuit artifacts from the first decade of the 20th century.

bark model canoe with porcupine quill decoration
This bark canoe model is over 3' long. It's decorated with hundreds of dyed porcupine quills, both ends of which are tucked into small holes pre-punched in the bark. Although the exhibit card says that it's "likely mid-west in origin," the ends are exaggerated representations of those on Canadian fur trade canoes. 
Penobscot bark canoe model and moose call
From the exhibit card: "This old, well-made model is an example of the thousands sold to Maine tourists in the late 19th and early 20th century (sic). This canoe shows how heated tree resin was used to seal and waterproof the birch bark joints. The word for canoe in all Abenaki languages in Aquiden."
Below the canoe model is a moose call, also made of birch bark.
Abenaki canoe paddle
An Abenaki canoe paddle, "of a size suited for teaching a young person the art of propelling a canoe."
Incised Penobscot covered birch box
A 19th century box with hinged covers, probably Penobscot, probably made for the tourist trade and intended for use as a picnic hamper. The crossed paddles and tepee designs -- of poorer quality than the box itself -- are incised in the bark in the same manner that canoes were decorated. 
Incised Penobscot covered birch box
Perspective view of the same box, with a round covered box, also of birch bark, behind.
Greenland Inuit kayak models
The exhibit card identifies the miniature kayaks in this and the following photo as toys, made for indigenous children. This may be incorrect: except for the wooden one (above, right), they were probably made for the tourist trade and/or upon the request of researchers or collectors. The one above left is ivory, and the kayaker's hand is made to hold the harpoon that rests across the cockpit coaming.  
Greenland Inuit kayak models
Two nicely authentic skin-on-frame kayak models.
Greenland Inuit projectile points
The Greenland kayak was essentially a hunting tool, used primarily in the pursuit of seals and walruses. The main hunting weapon was a harpoon with a detachable head or foreshaft. The largest of these bone harpoon points and fragments are only about 4" long. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Nice Nicaragua Dugout and a Few North American Canoes

Yesterday I received training in first aid and CPR at Three Rivers Whitewater in The Forks, Maine. (The town is named for the confluence of the Kennebec and Dead rivers.) This whitewater raft trip outfitter runs The Boatman's Bar & Grill, the interior of which is decorated with several interesting boats, prime among them a 20th century dugout canoe from Nicaragua.

The boats are displayed on walls and ceiling. I've rotated the photos for the most logical view of the boats, but the context may appear confusing for that reason. 

Nicaragua dugout canoe
We'll begin with three full-length photos of the dugout. We're looking at the bow here. The sides of the boat are thin -- about 1" thick. The ends only appear to be thick and heavy, and what we're seeing here is actually an overhang beyond the buoyant section of the hull.
Nicaragua dugout canoe
View from the stern. The hull is carved from the trunk of a conifer that is known in Nicaragua as a spruce, but it is a far harder wood than northern spruces.
Nicaragua dugout canoe
I estimate overall length at 16', and maximum beam around 14".
Nicaragua dugout canoe bow
The bow shows substantial overhang. The hull bottom is somewhat flattened, but the sections are quite round overall. With its narrow beam, this must be a rather tippy boat. And given its extreme length:beam ratio, it would be fast but very difficult to turn. Definitely a craft for protected waters only.
Nicaragua dugout canoe bow
Top view of the bow, showing the stem decoration.
Nicaragua dugout canoe stern
Top view of the stern. The sharply-pointed shape of the carved interior contrasts nicely with the rounded end of hull's exterior form. As at the bow, the apparently heavy stern is actually an overhang, and the stern itself is not much thicker than the sides.
Nicaragua dugout canoe stern
Side view of the stern, showing the round hull and overhang.
Canvas-on-frame double-paddle canoe
Hanging just above the dugout is this canvas-on-frame double-paddle canoe. It was built by a member of Rhode Island's Haffenreffer family, famous as the brewers of Narrangansett Beer and benefactors of the Haffenreffer Museum, Brown University's museum of anthropology (which, by the way, possesses some excellent, very old Inuit kayaks).
Canvas-on-frame double-paddle canoe
Looking at the bow of the Haffenreffer canoe. This looks like a handy, stable, fun boat for exploring tiny streams and backwaters.
square-stern cedar guide canoe
A square-sterned "Grand Laker" canoe is hanging upside-down from the ceiling of the dining room. Probably from eastern Maine (i.e., "down east"), the cedar hull was once covered with a canvas skin. It looks to be in good condition. 
square-stern cedar guide canoe
The Grand Laker has rather square sections amidships, half-ribs between every rib, a full-length keelson over the ribs, and four nicely-proportioned thwarts with a subtle arch.
cedar-canvas solo canoe
Another canvas-on-cedar canoe, this one a double-ended solo boat with nice heart-shaped decks (unfortunately painted, not varnished). The presence of a seat in the stern is surprising, as a paddler sitting there would make the boat extremely stern-heavy. It's probably less than 12' long, so it's unlikely that it was used for extended tripping with loads of gear in the bow to level out the trim. The starboard gunwale is cracked amidships, giving the boat a sharply-angled outline. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Maya Canoes

The Maya, whose civilization was based in the southern Mexico (including the densely forested Yucatan Peninsula) and parts of Central America depended heavily upon waterborne transport to supply goods to their several urban centers. Within Mayan territory, goods traveled by river from the interior to coastal areas, and from the coast inland as well. Coastwise trade also occurred both among Maya and with neighboring peoples.

Christopher Columbus encountered the Maya in the Yucatan on his fourth voyage to the New World. His son Ferdinand wrote:

"...there arrived at that time a canoe long as a galley and eight feet [2.5m] wide, made of a single tree trunk like the other Indian canoes; it was freighted with merchandise from the western regions around New Spain. Amidships it had a palm-leaf awning like that which the Venetian gondolas carry; this gave complete protection against the rain and waves. Under this awning were the children and women and all the baggage and merchandise. There were twenty-five paddlers...."
The cargo in this single canoe included clothing, tools, weapons, foodstuffs, wine and luxury items. Obsidian was also an important import. The reported width of 8 feet seems unlikely for a logboat.

Although no Mayan boats have been recovered, there is ample evidence that dugout canoes were the standard means of transportation. Aside from the matter of size -- we can safely assume that river craft were smaller than seagoing boats -- Maya canoes took several forms. Incised illustrations appearing on bones found in a royal burial in Tikal depict some of these variants. Mayan illustration showed most objects in profile, which limits our understanding of the canoe designs to that view, but shows some clear differences in sheerline, end decoration, and in the forms of the stem and stern.
Mayan canoe
Paddler gods and animal deities vigorously transport a passenger -- probably the royal individual buried in the tomb in which this carving was found -- beneath the surface of the water, possibly into the underworld of death. The canoe accommodates several paddlers and passengers, and the stern is high and decorative. (Click any image to enlarge.)

Mayan canoe
This canoe has an even more elaborate raised stem, shown in perspective overlapping two other fancy canoe bows.

Mayan gods fishing from a canoe
Two gods fishing from a canoe. The straight sheer and overhanging end platforms are less ceremonial, more appropriate to a workboat.
Mayan canoe bone model
Found in Maya territory on Moho Cay, off the coast of Belize, this canoe model agrees with the previous image, including the straight sheer and the overhanging platform ends. The model, possibly a child's toy, was made from manatee rib. It's not clear if the tapered shape is an accurate representation of the canoe form, or if it was necessitated by the taper of the bone from which it was carved.
Mayan gods paddle a canoe
Stingray god and Jaguar god paddle another straight-sheered canoe in an image from a temple in Tikal. The stern is similar to the two previous images, but the bow is more vertical, with less overhang. The paddle blades are entirely to one side of the shafts, which have no end-grips: the upper hand grasps the shaft several inches below the end, and the lower hand several inches above the decorated blade. (Similar paddles can be vaguely made out in images #1 and #3 above.) Stingray appears to be sitting at about the level of the sheerline, possibly on the stern platform, with his feet inside the hull, while Jaguar appears to be sitting cross-legged on the bow platform. (Stingray appears anxious, and Jaguar resigned. We can imagine the conversation: "Jaggy, are you sure you shut off the stove before we left?" "Yes, dear.")
Maya canoe paddle
A paddle discovered at a Mayan saltworks on Punta Ycacos Lagoon on the Yucatan Peninsula in Belize agrees almost perfectly with those in the image above. The paddle does have a very narrow bit of blade opposite the main part of the blade. Total length is 1.43m. The shaft is round, 5cm diameter. The association of the paddle and the saltworks indicates waterborne trade in salt. 
Canoes in Chichen Itza Temple Fresco
A temple fresco from Chichen Itza shows three canoes traveling coastwise, each carrying two warriors. The canoe ends are high and similar to image #1. The single "paddler" in each boat appears to be using his long-shafted paddle to pole from the bow. The paddles have conventional symmetrical blades.
So important was coastwise trade that the Maya established aids to navigation. Marks were erected on trees, and even the massive citadel of Tulum appears to have served at least in part as a lighthouse. 
Tulum El Castillo
At Tulum, two windows in the thick stone walls of El Castillo's upper level face directly toward the harbor entrance. When illuminated from within, the lights would be clearly visible only when a canoe is properly lined up to pass safely through the gap in the protecting coral reef.

  • With one exception, all content is from "The Earliest Watercraft: From Rafts to Viking Ships" by Margaret E. Leshikar, in Ships and Shipwrecks of the Americas: A History Based on Underwater Archaeology, George F. Bass, Editor, Thames & Hudson, NY, 1988.
  • The content about the Punta Ycacos paddle is from "Finds in Belize document Late Classic Maya salt making and canoe transport," Heather McKillop, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol.102, #15.