Traditional Boats of Bangladesh
Boats, boat-building and traditions surrounding water-based transportation have always been vibrant in the south Asian region including Bangladesh. Riverine traditions play an important role in the lives of a large number of people in Bangladesh since 60% of the country is covered in a vast river system part of the largest deltaic plain on the planet. Until relatively recently, the waterways were the principal arteries of transportation. Due to the sheer need of boats for different purposes, more than 50 types of boats have been developed and used in the rivers of Bangladesh. While sea- going boats’ designs showed foreign influences, the wooden boats of the inland waterways developed their shapes and forms with limited foreign influences. These riverboats were built using skills and technologies that have been passed down orally by boat builders from generation to generation.
In the 20th century, two big technical “revolutions” occurred that changed the riverscape of Bangladesh. In the 1980s, cheap diesel engines imported from China started being used as in-board engines for the river boats as their efficiency allowed the boats to become more economically profitable. This resulted in sudden motorisation of river boats and enabled the crew to save on costs of mast and sails. However, it also meant the disappearance of all the marvellous and unique riggings of our boats in less than 5 years.
The second “revolution” occurred with the change of boat-building material from wood to steel welded sheets. Rural electrification and the political will of preserving forests encouraged boat-builders to use steel welded sheets to build their new boats and wooden boats soon became too expensive and less economically viable. With the exception of a few types of boats such as salt carriers, wooden boats are thus no longer built. Traditional shapes are not even copied any more.
These sudden changes are bringing an end to a rich cultural heritage and technological know-how of the boats of Bangladesh. Traditions which are thousands of years old are on the verge of extinction. This loss also means the disappearance of a whole professional trade and the livelihood of a group of very skilled people. The services of carpenters, sail-makers, rope-makers and blacksmiths, who have been respected and honoured craftsman, are no longer in demand. Their skills and knowledge orally imparted are no longer required and are going to be lost forever.
We strive to preserve the traditional boat making heritage, adapt it and find new ways to grow the trade and the communities skilled in it. Additionally, it is important for us to solidify our knowledge and understanding of the boat-building tradition, conserving and researching further, and to promote this art and technology internationally.
Thus we have four major components to our work:
Friendship promotes its work of cultural preservation at home and abroad through travelling exhibitions.
Take a look at our past and upcoming exhibitions. . . .
Model BoatsOur team of master boat builders create miniature model boats that capture every detail of the life size boats as a way to record the different methods and designs passed through the oral tradition. . . .
Research and DevelopmentsWe conduct research and development with the help of local craftsmen and marine consultants from abroad, and document every stage and technique of building different types of boats. . . .
Our Cultural Preservation programme strives to not only create awareness, to save a central part of our heritage from being completely lost, but also to build upon the ancient knowledge, employ innovative ways to develop boats that will ultimately aid in making lives of fishermen, boatmen and others in the industry easier.