Unique one piece timber boat making by the Ma
Oct 8th 2014.
The tourists had visited to Dalat city, on the way back to Saigon, they almost like to stop by Cat Tien National Park and experience more one day here. One of attractions tourists would not miss that is ride the unique one piece timber boat by Ma People.
Residing in an area with many rivers and streams and primeval forests, especially, with Cat Tien forest previously supplied sources of precious wood for boat making, long ago, the Ma living along Dong Nai river were very famous for the making and use of one-piece timber boats.
Making one-piece timber boat is a traditional manual profession of the Ma living along Dong Nai river. Long ago, their boats were not only used for catching fish, transportation in rivers, streams… but for communications with neighboring ethnic minority peoples as well.
The Ma’s one-piece timber boat has a difference in design and method of making compared with that of other ethnic minority peoples. The unique characteristic in the making of one-piece timber boats is the experience in choosing trunks, method of chiseling and secrets of making good, beautiful and especially durable boats.
The Ma live along Dong Nai river and they therefore make full advantage of existing century-old trees in primeval forests, where they are living, to make one-piece timber boats, for instance, the sao xanh, dau cao wood… According to the Ma’s experiences, the best wood for making boat is the sao xanh wood. for it usually has straight trunk, with few nodes, and due to its softness, it is easy to chisel, carve in the process of boat making.
The wood is required to be light but durable, with straight, smooth fiber, no crack, water- resistant, no worm eaters and a large horizontal section. As a result, it would be difficult to very choose a suitable tree trunk, and people work very hard, looking for wood throughout forests, it may take weeks to find suitable material.
The Ma’s one-piece timber boat is chiseled from a big tree trunk.The boat is bulged in the middle, and shrunk and curved at both ends of the prow.The boat is about 8-9 meters long and 1.50 meters wide, the boat side is about 10 cm thick. The inside part of the boat has bamboo sticks evenly arranged to be seats for people. The boat shape looks slender, lightweight but very sturdy.
Method of boat-making
The method of making one-piece timber boat by the Ma is mainly a traditional manual method. The tools include a very sharp axe and fire.
After choosing the trunk, in order to shape the boat, the worker will pierce the hollow portion of the trunk to make the inside part of the boat and dry the trunk.
After shaping the boat, the final step is for the worker to smooth away the outside part of the boat and heat the wood in order to bend the 2 ends of the boat prow. This is a rather complicated stage, requiring high skills of the worker.
Making one-piece timber boat is not only difficult but time-consuming as well. A worker must spend 4-5 months to finish making a boat. Not only does he have good health but he must be also dexterous, diligent, persevering and having experiences of rivers and waterways. As such, in the Ma’s tribal village there are only a few people who can make one-piece timber boats and they are very proud of these skilled workers.
Secrets of boat-making
The wood for making boats must be taken from forest on moonlight night so the wood is not eaten by worms.
The boat must be balanced so when launched into water, it is not skewed. Without balance, the boat would be prone to be cracked and could not be used. Both sides of the boat must be thin enough to reduce the drag of the water when the boat moves, but still firm enough to withstand repulsive forces of high waves when circulating up and Prior to down. operation, the secret of boat durability is to soak it into mud for about 5 to 6 months.
The rituals relating to the making of one-piece timber boat
According to the Ma’s belief, each forest is governed by a different God, which is called yang bri The forest god(yang bri) is very sacred and always confers blessings on people. As a result. in the process of making boats, the Ma follow special rituals to seek help form yang bri: Prior to entering forests to bring back tree trunks, the Ma conduct rituals to seek support from the Forest God in showing them perfect logs for boats. The ritual usually takes place at the foot of the century-old tree in the jungle. When the boat is finished, they offer sacrifices to the forest god as a sign of gratitude for helping them to have a beautiful, new boat, they also pray god for a smooth and safe launching. The ritual often occurs at the wharf of the tribal village.
Danger of Possible oblivion
Since ancient times, the Ma had lived along Dong Nai river, and were famous for the making and use of one-piece timber boat. Previously, their boats were not only used for catching fish, transportation on river, streams… but also as a means to exchange things and for communications with other people in the neighboring areas. Yet nowadays, at the river wharves, where the Ma are now living, there is an absence of one-piece timber boats at anchor. The Ma profession of making one-piece timber boat has gradually whittled away, perhaps those workers have quit and large logs are hard to find.
The unique trait of the making of one-piece timber boat by Ma people has represented as works of visual art, bearing original characteristics of the Ma community. These unique art values should be always preserved.
By Thanh Binh