Friday, June 2, 2023

Last voyage for traditional Iranian wooden boats

They have been plying the Gulf seas for centuries but the solid wooden ships built in southern Iran no longer have tailwinds and are being replaced by cheaper and faster boats.

From Muscat to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, passing through Dubai, the silhouettes of wooden ships, called langes, are as much a part of the Middle East’s maritime landscape as the sailing ships of the Arabian Peninsula.

But there are fewer and fewer, says Captain Hasan Rustam, who has been sailing for 40 years in the Strait of Hormuz, between Iran and the United Arab Emirates.

The 62-year-old testifies to the calmness at Guran beach, where about thirty wooden boats rest at low tide.

This small port on the Iranian island of Qeshm was long home to several shipyards specializing in the maintenance and repair of these ships.

But that morning only twenty laborers are able to get active barefoot in the mud.

A hull is still under construction, but it will not be completed due to lack of money. Its owner plans to dismantle it and use the boards for other purposes.

In 2011, UNESCO included these wooden boats in its list of intangible heritage that needs urgent protection.

With this ship, “the philosophy, ritual context and traditional knowledge associated with navigation in the Persian Gulf are slowly fading away,” the United Nations Cultural Institute said at the time.

– An open-air museum –

During their “Golden Age”, these rustic and resistant boats were used to transport grain, dates, dried fish, spices, timber or cloth between countries reaching the coasts of East Africa, India and Pakistan.

They can also be used for fishing, including the highly attractive one for pearls.

Although this last activity has practically disappeared, boats built in fiberglass or steel continue a long tradition of commercial cabotage.

In all sizes, they speed through the turquoise waters of the Gulf, careful to avoid the giant oil tankers, which reach the Indian Ocean with full tanks.

Ali Pujan, who oversees the Guran shipyard, explains, “Today a new lange is very expensive” because “the wood used comes from abroad” and “the construction is completely manual” on the beach itself.

Each ship is unique as there is no plan. “It is built on the basis of artisan experience”, which is “transmitted from generation to generation,” he says.

Yunus, 42, has been repairing these boats in his hometown Guran for the last 20 years.

“It’s a painful profession,” he confesses under the blazing sun, working on “kalafat kobi”, an old technique of waterproofing the hull with cotton strips soaked in sesame or coconut oil.

Knowing that Guran’s future is no longer in shipbuilding, Ali Pujan is betting on tourism, a promising sector on Qeshm Island, which is attracting more and more visitors.

“We have restored several boats to make them cruise-friendly,” he explains.

There are also ambitions to turn the port of Guernsey into an open-air museum, with colorful hulls lying on the particularly photogenic sand.

In the middle an old lanez is being converted into a cafe. Its wide bridge will welcome visitors when the temperature, hot in summer, becomes bearable again in autumn.

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
Nation World News is the fastest emerging news website covering all the latest news, world’s top stories, science news entertainment sports cricket’s latest discoveries, new technology gadgets, politics news, and more.
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