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The Traditional Art of

Wooden Boat Making


The Traditional Art of Wooden Boat Making

The Traditional Art of Wooden Boat Making

Statement of Purpose
Union ministry of culture is going to study the coast of Gujarat and make the ports a part of
transnational inscriptions on the world heritage list. There are several tourism development
initiatives also along the Gujarat Coastal line. I wish to make a small contribution in heritage
communication to children by recording the revered art of wooden boat making in a way they
can understand and presenting it in form of a book.

Research Objectives
Boat is such a design which communicates for itself. The boat makers are so adept that they
dont need maps, guidelines or sketches to build such big boats which would be facing turbulent
storms at the sea. I wish to communicate their design principles and convey the story of boat
making while maintaining the traditionality of designs. The questions I wish to address is how
the tools and techniques have evolved over the time and study the culture of the communities
involved in the process of boat making.
I have selected Salaya, Mandvi and Veraval as my field sites and my target audience is children
belonging to the age group of 10-12. The objective is to draw their interest towards boat making
and tell them the story of boat making and boat makers and communicate my immersive

Sea worthy boats were probably built by Homo erectus. Based on the plants and tools available
anthropologists can guess that they made bamboo rafts. Since 3000BC wooden planks started
to be put to use to build ships by Egyptians, Phoenicians and Greeks.

Boats and ships were very important means of transport on the River Nile. Egyptians traveled
within the country and to the Sudan and to other African countries to bring back animals such
as lions, elephants, leopards, baboons, and cattle. Boats have served as a medium for cultural
exchange since centuries.

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The Traditional Art of Wooden Boat Making

Vikings the Old Norse seafarers raided and traded their Scandinavian homelands across
Europe. Vikings were known for their slender flexible boats. Viking ship is deeply rooted in
Scandinavian culture serving both pragmatic and religious purposes.
The evidence of boat making can be traced back to the Harappa civilization. Boat making
started in Gujarat before 350-400 years, since the time of Mughals, British and Portuguese.
The traditional boat Makers were called Wadia.

Literature Review
Boat Making in India has great antiquity but very little documentation exists of the cultural as
well as technical aspects of the traditional art of wooden boat making in our ancient or medieval
records and literature. During Colonial Times substantial documentation emerges mostly
focusing on fishermen. James Hornell made notable contribution in examining the Indian boat
designs and boat types now existing in India. Dr. Manubhai Pandhi recorded shipbuilding art
and collected old documents which allow us to study the traditional boat building techniques.
River craft throughout India are all very archaic in their general features resembling ancient
Egyptian and Mesopotamian types so closely that they vivify scenes on the Nile.

Boats are an excellent example of how far human perseverance and strength can take
handicrafts to in terms of scale and can realize any vision. All water driven countries have
different local boat building cultures. Each region has its own types of boats, its own
characteristics in weather climate and coast formation. The boat designs are influenced by the
foreign sea trade. Gujarat coastal line is arid and stony, with physical and climatic conditions
closely approximating to those of Arabia so Arab boat designs are dominant and characteristic.

The construction of Dhov starts with "Pathan", a single beam which forms base of the ship's
hull followed by the frame to support the boat. Wood is bent into required shape over a fire,
holes are drilled and planks fitted together with enormous nuts and bolts. Thin cotton cord
soaked in fish oil is wedged between the planks which acts as a sealant. Whole thing is glued
together, sealed again and again and then finally treated to several coats of paint to create a
robust and watertight structure. The engineer called "Gaider" instructs the carpenter. They are
so skilled that plans are carried out in his head. Just by using simple tools and complex feats of
engineering this piece of brilliant workmanship is made ready and during high tide boat is
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The Traditional Art of Wooden Boat Making

moved into the water. Although salt water and sun degrade the wood, a well-built boat can last
50 years.

1. Field Sites

Field Sites marked on the map of Gujarat

I have chosen Salaya, Veraval and Mandvi as my field sites. I visited Salaya on 9th August,
Veraval on 23rd of August and Mandvi on 3rd of October. I chose these places as the places of
research because boat making has flourished at these places across the coast of Gujarat due to
the availability of raw material, cheap labour and manpower and they form appropriate
construction place.

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The Traditional Art of Wooden Boat Making

Since the increase in the sea trade between India and Middle East and North Africa region these
centres have been thriving as major boat building centres across the coastal line of Gujarat.
Once a self-sustaining craft has now become a multi crore international business.
Veraval is situated 6km away from Somnath, it has a predominant Gujarati population.
Amongst Gujaratis, the Kharwas and the Kolis form a sizable part of the local population. Apart
from boat making industry fisheries and seafood industries are the main industries of the town.
Sea dhows and wooden fishing boats are built without using high-tech machines, these
traditional skills are passed from father to son.
Salaya is a city under Jamnagar district. It mostly has population consisting of Vaghers
following Muslim Sunni religion. Salaya is famous for the traditional business related to sailing
vessels trade and fishing. Here also most of the dhow construction is done without using
modern technology or maps.
Mandvi is the port where Rukmavati River meets the gulf of Kachh. 56 kms away from Bhuj,
this city has a 400 year old ship building industry which was started by the Kharwas. Mandvi
has been the junction of famous trade routes and it is a unique town which captures the Kachhi
culture. It is a town of merchants and seamen.
All the places chosen by me are approximately 400kms away from Gandhinagar which makes
roughly a 7 hour journey by bus. Buses and Trains are regularly available and these places have
decent accommodation options.
Other field sites I would visit would be different libraries including the city library and rotary
library which children frequently visit. I will visit the bookstores frequently to learn about what
kind of books interest children which will give me a better understanding on which mediums
to use to tell the story of boat making to make it a gripping experience for children.
I will have to stay in touch with different schools and access different textbooks so that I can
understand which concepts pertaining to the process of boat making can be fit into the
curriculum of 10-12 year old students. I will even have to visit different toy stores to know
about the games in demand and which kind of games the children nowadays find engaging.

2. Community
The Vaghers, Sanghars, Kharwas are mainly involved in the boat making industry. Roman
Catholic Christians and Hindus are also involved in the boat building but they dont
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The Traditional Art of Wooden Boat Making

discriminate themselves based on their caste, religion or other things but they work together
harmoniously and call themselves Boat Makers.
There is a Muslim dominance in the boat making business but there is a symbiotic relationship
between the Hindus and Muslims. The contractors are Muslims who hire Hindu carpenters.
They work in harmony, even celebrate each others festivals.
Their business is dependent on the fishing community who is currently facing threat because
of the industrial development so inadvertently they are also facing scarcity. The business of
boat making is not dying but it is seeing a gradual decline due to the changes of technology
and advancements in mechanized system and automation. Now fibreglass and other composite
material are used so these traditional boat makers face competition. Government also hasnt
provided any subsidies since years, neither have they received any support from the
government nor are there any upliftment measures.
Boat Makers, carpenters are paid on daily basis, they are hired based on verbal contracts and
although the contractors earn a lot the workers are paid less and there is a lack of work during
certain seasons. They are hardworking people and earn enough to get through but their living
standards havent improved. The boat makers who are repairers have to go on crew for months
and they get to spend just a few days with their family after spending entire year at the sea.
During my visits to veraval, salaya and mandvi I have interacted with carpenters, helpers and
engineers. I have spent ages talking to them, shared a cup of tea with them and tried to make
them comfortable. I have acquired their contact numbers and I intend to spend more time with
them to effectively communicate with them, to be there when they are working to get the feel
and to learn the process of boat making. I havent previously worked with boat makers but so
far they have been very friendly and helpful which makes the interaction easy and fruitful.

3. Plan
In order to understand everything involved in the process of boat making and reproducing the
entire procedure in a way that children studying in 5th-6th standard would understand the
procedure of boat building as well as the science involved, I need to interview the carpenters,
participate, observe the procedure and spend time during each procedure of the entire process
of boat building so as not to miss tiniest detail. I intend to read as many books and papers
pertaining to the same topic as I can, even archives of newspapers and magazines to get as
much information as I can gather.
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The Traditional Art of Wooden Boat Making

In order to collect information I prefer to click lot of photographs, draw sketches, take down
notes and every time I am interviewing a carpenter I would turn on the audio recorder of my
cell phone so as to record the information and even not make the person conscious and aware
of the fact that his voice is being recorded so he can feel free to express himself. I will visit the
sites as frequently as possible so I can see the boat building in each stage and record each detail.
The constraints are they have their own terms and own language for different terms and certain
concepts are instilled in their brain so they dont teach or inform up to that detail, these answers
we need to seek. I already have a field log to organize my research findings. I jot down on cards
and later I write in a dairy to keep the thoughts organized.

4. Schedule
January is the best season for boat building. The trade flourishes all over the coast of Gujarat
during that season so I intend to visit the different sites frequently during that month and I plan
to conduct interview, be present to at the field site for longer hours to witness the and participate
in the process of boat building and I plan to complete the fieldwork by first week of February
and simultaneously start working on the final deliverable along with the field work itself.

Since people started communicating, hearing a story has been a request from both children and
even adults tend to ask each other to say "what else is up in life? I chose to use storytelling to
tell the story of this ancient craft in an interesting manner to make it a more pleasurable

I wish to take the children belonging to the age group of 10-12 on a virtual journey of the
creation of a boat. Deliverable includes a book which is a journal of the kind, My Own Book
of Boat Making communicating the technique of boat making through a kid of their age who
is keen to build a boat and learns boat making from his father and understands all the concepts
which can be applied to the process of making a boat and the act of fishing. Also the science,
techniques, pedagogy and other principles applied to the process of boat building.

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The Traditional Art of Wooden Boat Making

Children tend to perceive the story like animation so they like to see the story while they read
it. They expect to feel the incidents in the story, the gesture, posture, fear, sound, beauty, power,
horror, strength, fantasy as realistically as possible. The typed matter will be as expressive as

Expanding on the plot of the story I would like to keep the central character a kid of 11 years
who lives in Salaya, Aliaz. His father is a boat maker and he goes to the school so the readers
can relate to him and every day he goes to the port to learn boat making from his father. In
order to interest the readers a story is introduced within the story. Aliazs grandmother tells
him about what happened in Salaya years ago. Pirates attacked the town and kidnapped all the
boat makers. When calamity hit on the town, Shoeb a teenager and the younger generation took
control and worked hard day and night to build a new Dhov to fight the pirates. The readers
join Shoeb in his endeavours and adventures and learn Boat Making in a different way.
The story within the story will add exaggeration and sense of drama and also make them feel
as though they are participants. It will add interest, surprise, curiosity and continuous
entertainment by use of different materials making the book interactive. The structure of the
book will be such that it is exciting for the child to read as well as for story teller to narrate it.
Combining fantasy and imagination is an attempt to give information in exciting manner. Also
I will be using bright colors, big pictures and several illustrations.

The backdrops will be like coloring book pages so children can color it as they read. I chose to
give them the freedom to color the backdrop to hold them longer to the book, give them a visual
experience and allow them to be creative.

The book will be designed to teach children basic concepts related to engineering including
design, optimization and cost management. Exposing children to engineering at a young age
will help develop interest in a field that is otherwise unfamiliar. The primary aim is to introduce
the scientific concepts such a fluid statics, centre of gravity, conservation of volume, etc.
through the application of boat construction in such a way that students are engrossed in the
same. By incorporating scientific principles into something that is fun to do and read, the
students are more likely to develop an interest in the subject.

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The Traditional Art of Wooden Boat Making

Through this book students will learn concepts like buoyancy and its applications, differences
between flat and round bottom boat, different types of boats in Gujarat- history and their uses,
modern and traditional names for different parts of the boat using cross sectional illustrations.
The boat makers are not aware of the techniques they apply. Whenever the central character is
taught some simple trick of boat making which he can relate to his studies he jots it down in
his diary along with sketches. The portion where the boy takes down notes will be in form of
diary and rough illustrations where rest of the story will be in narrative form. There will be
photos also on which sketches can be incorporated to give an interesting look to the book.
The illustrations will be in the style of vignette. The book should be of approximately 50-70
pages which tells the adventure of the central character in words and pictures in simple
language easy for the students of 5th grade and higher to understand and be glued to.
Along with the book deliverable will include a board game for the children wherein they will
go on a boat ride, the objectives of the game will include reaching the home port before other
players and earning maximum money through fish trade.

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The Traditional Art of Wooden Boat Making

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Personal Rationale
If asked Why Boats? Id say it has to do with the ritual of involving the community in building
something that has a part of them in it. All the wooden planks somehow go together and make
a boat and that boat holds me, takes us all on a voyage.
I chose boat making because I am interested in crafts which combine skill, science, technique
and engineering. I am intrigued by such a creative construction and the fascinating final product
just from wooden blocks and planks. The journey from scratch to the finished product holds
me in captivity.
Usually signs of puberty appear at the age of 13 and then children start focusing on social
acceptance and appearance so I decided to make a book for the kids aged 10-12 years who are
big enough to understand boat making in detail and the science involved and they are curious
enough to know more about it. They even dont have studies pressure.
Lot of courses have shaped me as a better communicator and designer. Ethnography and its
Applications has played a major role in moulding me for undertaking this research but
Narratives have also helped me gain confidence and prepared me for communicating the
technique of boat making as a story. Fundamentals of Design have given me an insight on
graphics and added the skill set to produce the book I am intending to.
I will definitely gain a lot from this research and it will help me become a better design but
more importantly I will become a better communicator and I looking forward to work hard to
achieve all goals.

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The Traditional Art of Wooden Boat Making


History of Ships, Prehistoric Craft, Jean Vaucher

People of Gujarat, K.S. Singh

The Origins and Ethnological Significance of Indian Boat Designs, James Hornell

Animators Sketch Book

The dhow: an illustrated history of the dhow and its world, Clifford W. Hawkins

Dhovs, David Armine Howarth

Dhow building : survival of an ancient craft, Tessa Rihards






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