Given that Bangladesh is a riverine country, it comes as no surprise that boats of various shapes, sizes, and forms had been crafted — to use and commute its many rivers and canals, and to cater to the diverse needs and purposes of those aboard, be it recreational or functional.
And hence, the craft of boat-making thrived for numerous centuries.
Today, however, we do not see as many varieties as our ancestors did. In recent times, this rich tradition of boat-making has waned away to a large extent.
It is a heritage in despair.
And that is where 'Friendship Colours of the Chars,' a concern of the non-governmental organisation, Friendship, comes in.
Spearheaded by Friendship's Founder and Executive Director, Runa Khan, the organisation (which also has a number of other notable projects to empower marginalised groups in society), has taken initiatives to preserve and promote the craft of making various kinds of boats, such as documentation of traditional boats to making their miniature versions for sale, and to even making life-size ones.
These initiatives are a relief to this boat-making heritage which is in peril; after all, most of the traditional wooden boats have gone extinct.
"On one hand, boats started to become motorised. And on the other, wood got replaced by steel," explained Md Redwan Ferdoush from Friendship, who works as a Senior Programme Officer of Cultural Preservation. "And so, in pursuit of moving on with changing times and in pursuit of efficiency, we started to lose an age-old craft."
Nazra Mahjabeen Sabet, Assistant Director, Nodi Limited (an enterprise of Friendship) continued, commenting, "The craft is our heritage. And therefore, we are striving to keep this heritage alive by offering people, model boats so that they can have an appreciation of the boat-making craft, locally and globally."
She further informed that most of the craftspeople are the very same ones who were involved in making life-size boats.
Bhojon Chondra Shutradhar, for example, comes from a line of ancestors involved in the craft. In fact, he himself was also involved in it in the past.
Now that the sun has almost set in the world of traditional boat-making, he is one of the carpenters who mainly focus on making model boats for Friendship Colours of the Chars. "I apply the same skill-set used in making life-sized boats," he said, while working at a 'goina' (a kind of boat).
After he is done, he will pass it to another craftsman, such as Md Abdul Halim — who once used to be a boatman — who will then work on it further, such as burnishing.
Boat carpenters like Shutradhar and Halim have perfected even the tiniest details, with the end-products being the immaculate replicas of life-size boats, right down to the last motif and design — a mark of craftsmanship extraordinaire.
The work not only gives the craftspeople a livelihood, but the due recognition the craftspeople deserve. And, the heritage lives on.
And you too can get your hands on it! You can purchase model boats from 'Friendship Colours of the Chars,' a fashion and lifestyle brand.
Check out their outlet, located in House 40, Floor 2, Road 12, Block E, Banani, Dhaka. For more information, find 'Friendship Colours of the Chars' on Facebook.
Photo: Orchid Chakma