Saturday, August 22, 2009

Boat building and Living tradition of the Mentawai Tribe

by Charles Roring


In today's post, I am going to tell a story about boat building tradition maintained by one of the tribes in Mentawai. Mentawai is a group of islands located west of Sumatra, Indonesia. Boat or canoe is made from log in the middle of the jungle. The boat will be used for transporting people and food. There are not calculations of displacement or stability involved in this boat building. The builders only used their intuition and tradition..



mentawai-boat.jpg


The boat is not constructed from pieces of wood but it is dug out from large log. The length of the boat can be up to seven or eight meters. One thing that is interesting here is that the Mentawai tribe performs unique ritual in every step of boat or canoe building. After making the boat, they will have to push it to the river which is quite far from the place where they built the boat. The inauguration of the boat was carried out with simple ritual and prayers.



mentawai-tribe.jpg


Although the boat is very simple in design, its draft is well predicted if I should not say well calculated. Even experienced naval architects will admire their way of making boat from the log. Last week, TV5 Monde Asie, a global satellite French TV aired a program about the daily life of the Mentawai tribe. This indigenous people are still living in traditional ways - no electricity or even basic health care facilities provided by the government. They still have to go out for hunting boars using bow and arrows and machetes. I forgot the name of the producers of this documentary film. I highly respect and appreciate their works in making this film.



rowing-mentawai-canoe.jpg


What I like the most from the TV program is the rituals the tribe performed to heal sick person. A shaman and some men killed a boar and used it in the healing ritual. They performed a dance until they were trance. I wish I could understand the whole story of the natural dance unfortunately the program was in French.


The rapid deforestation or the conversion of tropical rainforest in Mentawai islands into massive mono-culture palm plantation is a major threat to the survivability of this indigenous people. They had to face investors who are only greedy of making money from the lucrative CPO or bio-fuel commodity.


The concern of this indigenous Mentawai people should be ours too. As more and more trees are cut to make way for palm plantation, questions should be raised whether the bio-fuel industry is legitimate if large areas of forest should be jeopardized. Also read: Sailing Across the North Pole with Boat to the New World;