A beautiful portrayal of our rich heritage

Monzurul Huq
Thursday, September 14th, 2017


Sea-Folk Museum, an inside view.

 

The earliest recovered boat in the world was constructed around 8,000 year BC. However, historic records in various parts of the world suggest that the advent of boats in the form of primitive rafts dates back to a much earlier period. Rafts were the first mode of transport that humans started using for covering distances. It was much before the radical invention of wheels, our predecessors started to use rafts and boats for crossing a distance separated by water that otherwise would have been impossible for them to cross. So, boats are also the first means of transportation allowing us to travel further and thus expand our perceptions about the surroundings.

 

From a single floating log running downstream and carrying early humans as they cling on to its rolling surface, rafts have evolved over centuries to become not only an important means of transportation, but also a significant component of war potential that might allow a country to rule over the seas thousands of miles away from its own shore. However, the charms of boats that are operated manually remain a wonder as they display not only the navigational knowledge of those who build them, but also the aesthetic sense of the builders reflected in the beauty of their design. A quick glance at various types of boats seen in Bangladesh might provide a convincing evidence of such an assumption. Hence it is important that we collect and preserve various specimens of our early water transportation means before it becomes too late for such an initiative to be taken.

 

I’m not sure if my good old friend Enayetullah Khan, editor-in-chief of this much admired weekly magazine, was sensing that urge before joining hands with Yves Marre, the wondering seafarer from France with a deep love for our country, in producing a marvellous book detailing the evolution of boats in Bangladesh. A brief forward written by our Nobel laureate, Professor Muhammad Yunus, is obviously helpful in introducing the book to international audience. However, the five main chapters dealing with the subject from various aspects ranging from the early history of water navigation in our parts of the world to the importance of preserving for the future generations the rich cultural heritage associated with boats are comprehensive enough to give readers an in-depth understanding of the importance of water transportation means and the aesthetic senses associated with their craftsmanship. Even the folkloric aspects related to life in water are also not forgotten as we’re reminded the story of Manosamongol, where the rivalry of Chand Sadagor and Manasa Devi and the eventual victory of Behula takes us back to a time when all important things happened keeping rivers and boats within the proximity.

 

The co-authors of the book “Boats: A Treasure of Bangladesh” also did not hesitate to show their deep appreciation for others in Bangladesh and abroad, who has been working relentlessly in the same field and making meaningful contributions. In between the chapters we come across short but significant pieces written by many of them and also hear the opinions of those who have devoted their whole life to boats and vessels. The interviews of boatmen and craftsmen involved in making boats give the inside details of people and their thinking about watercrafts. These are the people whose lifelong association with our river transport system is a quintessential element for getting a better understanding about boats and their importance. Yet, they are also those who we forget quite often even to mention while talking or writing about the subject.

 

All such inclusions make the book a comprehensive one, capable of providing readers with a thorough understanding of boats in our part of the world, and inclusion of page after page of high quality colour plates and photos makes the process complete. Getting hold of a copy of that wonderfully designed and attractively printed book at a place thousands of miles away from home compelled me to feel nostalgic as texts and photographs reminded me many of the scenes that I came across long back while travelling through the rivers of Bangladesh.

 

It was a mere coincidence that more or less at the same time when I received a copy of the book “Boats: A treasure of Bangladesh,” I just happened to visit a museum in Japan dedicated to the sea-life of which boats are important components. The museum, situated in the central Japanese city of Toba, next to Ogitsu Bay exposing to the Pacific, exhibits not only boats but also many other items associated with sea life, including the reproduction of the life-style of female divers who collect abalone and other shell fish from the sea bed.  However, boats are among the prime attractions of the museum and it has a repository that houses more than 100 wooden boats that sailed long ago carrying fishermen and sailors who now rest in peace. Collected from all over Japan, the boats also give an understanding of the craftsmanship as well as aesthetic sense of their builders. The museum itself is an attraction in the sense that the complex is composed of beautifully designed structures that match perfectly with the surrounding atmosphere as well as with the theme of the museum. Designed by a well-known Japanese architect, Hiroshi Naito, it has received a number of awards for attractive and innovative designing.  More than 60 thousand exhibit items that the museum has collected so far are displayed in two exhibition halls and three repository structures, all of which are built in the same complex that also houses an experience learning facility as well as a study room.

 

Browsing over the pages of the book “Boats: A treasure of Bangladesh” also reminded me of the necessity of building something similar to the Sea-Folk Museum of Japan, which will give visitors first-hand knowledge of our boats that has so long been an inseparable part of the life of people living in Gangetic delta and also help preservation of that glorious past for generations to come. While I was recently sharing this idea with the Courier editor and co-author of the book, Enayetullah Khan, he assured me that it was exactly what they also had in mind while working on the book and preliminary works to enact a structural set-up for that goal is already under way. A very pleasing reminder indeed; after having a wonderful sense of fulfilment by simply going through the text and images of those marvellous flotillas that once had been part of our life from the very early days when human settlements first started unfolding along those innumerable rivers and canals that still serve as an important lifeline.

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