Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Boats to Build

We did a really interesting little tour of a village known for building boats. Unfortunately, I seem to have neglected to write down the name of the village, so I hope one of my trip mates can fill in that gap.

Anyway, they build boats in the traditional Indonesian way, which is to say, by hand, from wood. They use a few metal bolts in key locations, but for the most part, it’s wooden pegs, driven by wooden hammers. They do use an electric drill, however.

Some of the fascinating aspects of the process are that, unlike Western ship-building, they build the hull's planking first, then individually shape the ribs to fit the planks. By hand. And nearly everything about the process is handmade of wood, like the ladders down into the boat, the roof over the hull that shelters the workers (and the boat) from sun and rain. I hope my pictures can convey some of that.

We climbed up a ramp to look into one of the hulls that was in process. It’s not nearly as rickety as it appears, though it is a bit steep, with not much in the way of a railing. Depending on who you ask, the four guys building this boat have been at work on it for either one or two years so far. There’s still much to do, including plugging the gaps between the planks and adding decking. Once the hull is complete, they have to launch the boat and tow it to another island where it gets its engine and other finishing.

The village itself was pretty interesting. We stopped by one house and saw people weaving. We walked through much of the town, followed by a horde of children. One teenage boy was talking to his girlfriend on his mobile phone so she could hear us speaking English. Several people in our group had brought gifts for the children of the village, including pencils and books. I thought a riot was going to break out over the package of pencils. It’s hard to believe how much of a difference such a thing can make in a kid’s life, but we later had one little girl showing off her pencil and just beaming.

We saw lots of motorbikes in town, but only a few cars. The biggest, fanciest house belongs to one of the big boat-builders, naturally. That is really the business of the village. But we saw other interesting stuff, like a shack with a hand-painted sign that reads "Rental Playstation." For a place with little apparent electricity, that seemed odd.

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