Life Life

10/06/2019 - 17:13

The bamboo boat - building craft revives

The craft of building bamboo boats which once seemingly came to a dead end now revives when seafood resources (SR) inshore are restored, and fishermen buy boats to return to fishery.

That carrying the boat is heavy or light depends on the curvature, (bamboo laths)…

Esteemed by the fishermen

Mr. Nguyen’s family in Quang Cong Commune (Quang Dien) has had a tradition of building bamboo boats for three generations. This year, Mr. L. is over 60 years old and is the third generation. Although his children followed him to learn how to build boats at a young age, so far no one has "graduated", because there was a time when SR were exhausted, many fishermen quitted their fishing job, so the bamboo boat-building craft was "ignored". Now RS are restored, Mr. L. wishes that when his life ends, children must become the masters of the craft, and must not let the ancestors' traditional craft be eroded.

In Mr. L’s memory, the bamboo boat-building craft is not only for a living, a stable life but also a passion. About 15 years ago, when the inshore fishing was booming, it was also the time when the bamboo boat builders could live by their craft. Almost every day, the bamboo boat builders had work. No sooner had they finished building new boats than they went on to repair the damaged or degraded boats.

Mr. L. related that at that time, in coastal areas, there were two jobs always done by conscience’s sake, the workers only got affordable wages; some minor repairs were free.

There was a time when the people in the coastal area suffered economic hardships, but bamboo boat builders always led a stable, even well-off life. The good craftsmen like Mr. Tran X., Nguyen G. in Quang Cong Commune, or Nguyen A., Vo L., Nguyen H ... in Phong Hai Commune (Phong Dien) were noted for wealth thanks to boat building. The descendants who later succeeded their fathers have also had a settled life.

Building a boat usually needs only one worker; the owner and boat-mates can support the steps of sawing, converting timberdaubing tar… "Each year I can build as many as 10 boats, and repair dozens of boats. According to the current price, building a new boat earns me VND 6-7 million, and the repair cost, several hundred thousand a day,” Nguyen A. in Phong Hai Commune said with openness.

Bamboo boat repairers now have a stable income

Especially the fishermen in Quang Tri and Quang Binh provinces came as far as the good boat builders’ houses like Nguyen A., Nguyen L. ... in order to hire them to build boats. The boat-building trips away from home lasted for a month and a half to 2 months. Although working hard, missing the wives and children, they were often well treated by fishermen here in the demand for eating and stay.

In addition to remuneration, they are also rewarded if their building a boat ensures the quality, aesthetics to the boat owner’s liking, and exceeds the schedule. Remuneration for building a boat outside the province is usually 1.5 times higher than in the locality, plus a bonus of VND 1-2 million per unit.

However, once abundant SR were exhausted due to fishing by using explosive or using nets with small mesh (giã cào)Therefore, many fishermen were not interested in fishery; the need to build boats is no longer, which caused many workers to quit their job. For more than 5 years, the SR inshore have grown and have been restored, the fishermen in the coastal areas have returned to their job. Therefore, the bamboo boat-building craft has been revived.

"The newly- built boats are not as many as they used to. Every year only a few boats are built, but there is a great need for repair because many boats are degraded and damaged due to overuse. Almost every day, there are boats under repair; remuneration is usually from VND 250-300 thousand. Particularly, repairing boats in other provinces, mainly in Quang Tri, I am paid VND 500 thousand a day; the boat owners pay for travel expenses,” Mr. Nguyen A. revealed.

A bamboo boat inshore in Quang Cong got a windfall of herrings

Exact in "every millimeter"

According to the fishermen’s conception, the boat must be beautiful and sharp so that they can thrive; this is what Mr. Nguyen L. in Quang Cong Commune as well as boat builders often give attention to. The workers not only get the work finished but also must constantly explore and think about how to create a durable and aesthetic boat.

Although starting the craft from a young age, having spent many years of experience in building boats, he always pays attention to improving the standard and sharpness of the boat when implementing the steps.

“A boat builder is like ‘everyone’s daughter-in-law’; building a boat is not only to his liking but also matches the taste of the owner and many fishermen. Only when the boat is finished and complimented by everyone can I eat and sleep well, and if the boat is heavily criticized, I fail and am discredited,” Mr. L said with his experience.

One of the unforgettable memories for Mr. L. in his life as a bamboo boat builder is that the boat owner required him to disassemble the whole boat in order to assemble again from the start. They thought that the boat was unaesthetic and criticized by relatives in the village for the fact that lô (the head and end of the boat) was badly shaven, ben (boat side) was not sharply smoothed, and the boat is not curved enough...

Building a new boat usually takes a month and a half, but Mr. L. had to follow the owner's instructions to disassemble and rebuild. It took 10 days to assemble and reprocess the steps, and another week to reassemble the boat. Completing this boat took more than two months; such "cases" are considered to be labor in vain.

Mr. Nguyen A. said that a perfect boat in aesthetics and durability must ensure the quality of wood and skills of processing steps. The parts of the boat must be made of Merawan Giaza; lô (the head and end of the boat) must be absolutely made of Jacquier for beauty and durability. At that time, to buy Jacquier, people had to go to the hilly areas, even as far as Nam Dong, A Luoi for beautiful wood.

The boat, after being completed, must achieve a certain curvature. If the boat is too curved or too straight, its "physique" will be bad with poor wave resistance. This requires the workers to be exact in “every millimeter" in the process of cutting wood from the stage of smoothing ben (boat side), bèo (part of boat side).

Before lô (the head and end of the boat), nan (bamboo laths) are assembled, ben (boat side) must be pressed with a heavy object with enough time to ensure the standard of warping so that the boat can be beautiful and good at wave resistance. Lô must be sharply shaven; the point (boat head) is moderate; lô lái (boat stern) is not made sharp, and some beautiful patterns should be added…

The worker should also be experienced in creating a boat as light as possible, ensuring durability. This requires the workers in the process of knitting nan (bamboo laths) to choose old bamboo, dry it, only use cật (outer layers of a bamboo stem). When nan (bamboo laths) are assembled on the boat side, the depth of the "belly" should ensure the size commensurate with the length and width of the boat.

The nan part of the two ends of the boat is processed to reach the standard, neither too deep nor too shallow. Other parts are made of wood neither too thick nor too thin. These factors will create a balanced boat that becomes light when carried by fishermen and stable at sea...

According to the Provincial Fisheries Sub-department, the number of bamboo boat builders is small; each coastal locality usually has only 1-2 ones. The skilled boat builders are often hired to build new boats and paid fairly well, and ordinary builders are hired to repair and paid VND some hundred thousand a day.

Story and photos: HOANG THE