The lost art of boat making in Bangladesh

The art of boat making is an ancient craft and one of the oldest living technologies in the world. The intricate craft of boat making is an essential part of the rich tradition and culture of Bangladesh.

Being a riverine land, boats were, and still are, an integral part of the rural life of Bengal. From the Moyurponkhi nouka of the prince from a faraway land or the Shampan of the fearless sea explorer, boats have been a crucial element in our folklore, folk music, and mythology.

The rich boat-building heritage and skills have been passed down orally, for thousands of years. However, those tales and skills are now on the verge of extinction with the advent of motor boats.

Bangladesh once boasted the largest fleet of wooden boats, exceeding over a million. These boats used to come in all shapes and sizes, with different functions and designs.

Here are some of the most famous boats from Bangladesh that you should know about:

Shampan

Indigenous to Cox’s Bazar and Kutubdia area, the Shampan was a large sea boat of Bengal with a triangular mast. Throughout history, many songs, folk stories, and poetry have been influenced by this beautiful vessel.

Shuluk

Indigenous to the Kutubdia area, Shuluk was the only known large sea boat of Bengal with a double mast. Although this boat was widely famous in its time, the Shuluk is now entirely extinct. Back in its days, this large watercraft was used for transporting salt and other cargo across the sea.

Goina

The opulent Goina was a dream houseboat which sailed on the narrow channels of the Padma river in Rajshahi. Goyna translates to ornament and much like ornaments, it’s beauty was a standout. Used by the Zamindars (landlords) for leisure, the Goina had a harmonious balance between elegance and performance.t

Chand-Nouka (Moon Boat) 

The arches of the crescent moon are reflected within the curving lines of the chand-nouka. These moon boats still dot the coastlines of Southern Bangladesh. The mid sized fishing vessels sail out to the open sea with the tide, only to return with the next. In earlier times, the celestial shape of the chand-nouka, allowed the boat to sail in either direction, although now, with the introduction of the engine the primary utility of the shape has forgone

Corpai

Starting its journey from the river banks of Potuali in Gopalganj Sadar, the illustrious Corpai treads along the native waters of the Modhumati River. A true symbol of the working class, the Corpai boat transports grains, rice, and heavy cargo.

Malar

One of the largest riverine boats of the country is the malar boat. Made on the banks of the Padma and Brahmaputra in the heart of Bengal, these majestic boats were primarily used for transportation of cargoes including livestock. With one of the most recognizable shapes, the malar frequently shows up in paintings of typical Bangladesh riverscape. The last remaining large sized malar boat has been converted to be used by tourism purpose by Contic cruises. The large red orchard sails outlined against the blue sky is a sight forever lost in Bengal.

Podi

A cross between a river and seagoing boat, the Podi which is found in the southern Khulna belt, is one of the few unique boats that have adapted to the saline water. Squat and wide, the Podi was specially made for carrying heavy cargo through the tidal rivers of the Sundarbans. Originally the Podi boat was used by the golpata gatherers during their seasonal foray into the mangrove forest. The golpatas, being the primary material for thatching in the southern belt, was then sailed back upstream with the tide.

Cultural preservation

Fortunately, Friendship, a non-governmental organisation, is saving Bangladesh’s boat building heritage from extinction through its activities on cultural preservation. Their activities include helping to create a sustainable livelihood for the boat builders. The organisation also documents the ancient techniques of boat building and raises awareness through exhibitions around the world. Handcrafted replica of model boats which serve as a record of boat building techniques can be purchased to further support their efforts.

Additionally, our heritage of boats and boat making is so rich that Bangladesh National Museum has an entire separate gallery dedicated to boats of Bangladesh. Do check it out when you can.

 

Facts, figures and photos are sourced from Friendship.

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