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Saturday, August 8, 2015

Canoes on Lekki Lagoon, Nigeria

Lekki Lagoon is a large freshwater body to the east of Lagos Lagoon and connected to it by a narrow channel, its only outlet. Close to Lagos, it  has recently come under significant development pressure and is now among the most desirable and expensive housing regions in Nigeria. It is also a major fishery, but the rapid loss of wetlands and mangrove swamps to development will almost certainly affect its productivity.

Three types of canoes were in common use in Lekki as recently as 2008: dugouts, plank-built, and half-dugouts. The latter, also known as extended dugouts, have a dugout base with planks added to raise the freeboard. Of nearly 1,000 canoes counted, planked construction accounted for 54 percent, dugouts for 24 percent, and half-dugouts for 21 percent. 

Dugout canoe, Lekki Lagoon, Nigeria
Beautifully formed dugout canoe in Lekki Lagoon, Nigeria
Dugouts are made of red ironwood (Lophira alata) and range in length from 3.1 to 5.86 meters, with beam from 0.71m to 1m. Both draft and freeboard and low. Their size is limited by the available trees, which are subject to competition for other uses, such as furniture building. They are double-ended in design, and a small platform extends from the aft end, on which a fisherman stands while fishing, and sits when paddling. Propulsion is by paddle.

Fire is used to hollow out the trunk to a thickness of 2.0-2.3 cm, with dry grass used as fuel. The fire softens the wood, and while it is still hot, the sides are forced outward to increase the canoe's beam, thwarts being added to maintain the shape and strengthen the boat transversely. The heat of the fire also drives out insects and other parasites, and so helps preserve the boats, which have an average lifespan of ten years.

Half-dugouts are longer, ranging from 5.33 to 10.2 meters, with accordingly greater beam and freeboard, permitting larger crews and more productive fishing methods. Softwoods including opepe (Nauclea diderrichi), mahogany (Khaya ivorensis) and black afara (Terminalia ivornesis) are used for planking. My source does not specify the source of the sawn lumber, or whether it is commercially milled. No frames are used, but thwarts add transverse strength. Planks are nailed to each other with "u-shaped metal fasteners," which I interpret as steel or iron staples. Outboard engines are used on 15% of half-dugouts, the rest being paddled. Those with engines have transoms; the others are double-ended.

Planked canoe from Lekki Lagoon. The planks are not full-length. Plank bend in the bottom and bilge strakes is minimal, and the boat is formed mainly by angling the scarf joints to create rocker at the ends. The bottom strake is wide and straight-edged, while the end bilge planks are triangular, narrowing to nothing at the ends so that the topside strake cuves in the meet the outer corner of the bottom strake.   
Lekki Lagoon planked canoe under construction
A Lekki Lagoon planked canoe under construction, with one bilge plank yet to be installed. The canoe is apparently build on a form. 
Planked canoes are similar in size to half-dugouts, and use a comparable ratio of mechanical to paddle propulsion, again with transoms for the motorized vessels. Engines range from 8hp to 40hp. Plank seams are caulked with an unidentified material, and covered on the inside surfaces with sheet metal, described as "galvanized iron aluminum."
Lekki Lagoon planked canoe interior
Lekki Lagoon planked canoe interior. Plank seams are covered by strips of sheet metal. The uppermost planks are joined to a broad breasthook at the stern. Thwarts have yet to be added.
All Lekki canoes are left in the water year-round, where the wood absorbs water and is subject to infestation by algae -- both of which make the boats heavier and slower. Canoes are painted with a mixture of cement and bitumen as a preservative. Ground pepper added to the mix as an antifouling agent, although scientific support for its effectiveness is lacking. During the rainy season, canoes will sometimes fill entirely with water and swamp or sink. Sunlight causes splits and cracks to wood above the waterline.

Between one yearlong study beginning March, 2006, and another conducted the following year, the number of fishing canoes on Lekki Lagoon decreased from 1,027 to 995 -- a loss of 3 percent. One suspects that the loss of fish nursery areas to development may be impacting the lagoon's productivity, and that the increase in real estate values is simultaneously displacing artisinal fishermen.

Primary source: "Fishing crafts characteristics and preservation techniques in Lekki lagoon, Nigeria," by Babatune Eniola Emmanel, in The Journal of American Science, v.6, #1, January 1, 2010.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Sewn Canoes of the Society Islands

Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN, was stationed in Tahiti in 1846-47, observing the French takeover of the island. Our most recent post looked at the dugout canoes of Tahiti that he observed, while the previous one examined a large sewn double canoe from the Tuamoto Islands that he saw in Tahiti This post will focus on native stitched boats that Martin illustrated in the Society Islands, of which Tahiti is one.

sewn canoe, Society Islands
Titled "Cleopatra's barge: a free translation, Utaroa, 27th October, 1846." Utaroa is a community on Raiatea, one of the Societies, where Martin visited Pomare, the queen of Tahiti who had self-exiled herself while attempting to reestablish her position and authority in the face of the French takeover. Although Martin doesn't explicitly identify this image with Pomare, I believe the sketch's title is an ironic reference to her. The stout, seated, cigar-smoking figure in blue beneath the palm-leaf sunshade matches his description of her essential characteristics. (Click any image to enlarge.)
The previous image is from the cover of a published version of Martin's journal, while this one is from the book's interior. The color and detail are better here, but unfortunately the page gutter obscures the middle of the image. Between the two, one can make out the following: 
  • Stitched upper strakes, attached to (probably) a dugout base. The stitches are discontinuous.
  • There appears to be a square transom. The long, probably flat "bowsprit" extension is in keeping with the design of Tahitian dugout canoes. 
  • Two paddlers in the bow provide propulsion, while one aft, apparently female, steers. It is remarkable that there are only two power-paddlers for such a large and heavily-burdened boat, and also that they are seated on the bow's overhang, not further aft where the hull's buoyancy would provide greater support.
  • The paddles have large, rounded blades and probably no grip at the top of the shaft. 
  • The curved, mostly-horizontal boom is a mystery, for there is no outrigger on the visible port side, and no indication of a second outrigger boom aft of it that might support the aft end of an outrigger float on the starboard side either.
Capt. Martin relates the following tale concerning canoes and royalty on Raiatea:
"Mr. Barff [a Christian missionary on the island] told me with reference to the ceremonies at Opoa point -- that formerly the Kings & Queens of Raiatea were inaugurated there. On those occasions the new sovereign landed from a canoe of state, which was hauled up the beach on the bodies of 6 victims -- one from each island. Hence it became a cant term to send for a roller -- which meant a mauvais sujet [lit: "bad subject," i.e., troublemaker] that the chief wished to dispose of." 
Although this sounds like a fantasy conjured by the prejudice of European cultural imperialism, many of the earliest European visitors to Tahiti -- those who visited before the onslaught of Christian missionaries -- observed and confirmed that human sacrifice was indeed practiced, and that those sacrificed for ritual purposes were typically -- and conveniently -- those very individuals who had made themselves inconvenient to the society.

sewn canoe, Society Islands
It is unclear at which of the Society Islands Martin observed this fascinating boat. It appears to be entirely of stitched planks: at least, the extreme rise of the stern would be difficult to form from a straight tree trunk, although carving it dugout-style from a curved tree is not out of the question. In any case, there are at least two courses of strakes, and the stitches appear to be continuous. The shield-shaped, square transom is unusual and eye-catching. Other features:
  • The spritsail rig is probably indigenous, but the square topsail may be an adoption of a Western type. There is a sheet to the upper end of the sprit.
  • The topsail has both both upper and lower yards. The whole topsail rig is mounted on a topmast that is lashed to a lower mast and overlaps it by a few feet. 
  • One can just make out an outrigger boom to port. 
  • The spar sticking out to starboard serves to anchor the lower ends of three shrouds, which all meet the mast at the same point, just above the spritsail's head. Presumably there are similar shrouds to the forward outrigger boom to port. Since there are no lines holding the starboard spar down, the man sitting on it may serve more as a mast support than as a hiking counterweight against heeling. One assumes that on the opposite tack, the man would scramble to the forward outrigger boom before the helmsman allows the sails to take any pressure of wind.
  • The attachment of the plank bowsprit to the uppermost strake is unclear and one wonders how it could be fastened securely with no visible supporting lines or brackets.
  • Steering is with a single paddle held surprisingly far forward from the transom (but fairly close to the aft end of the waterline, given the long stern overhang).  
Images and quotation from: The Polynesian Journal of Captain Henry Byam Martin, R.N. In command of H.M.S. Grampus -- 50 guns, at Hawaii and on station in Tahiti and the Society Islands, 1846-1847.
Also: Early Tahiti As The Explorers Saw It, 1767-1797, Edwin N. Ferdon

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Capt. Martin's Tahitian Dugouts

While stationed in Tahiti in 1846-47, Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN, made several sketches and paintings of local watercraft. Here are all of the dugout canoes which show any useful detail as reproduced in his journal. (See the previous post for a more background and Martin's illustration of a double canoe from Tuomoto.)

Tahitian dugout canoe by Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN
The dugout canoe in this family portrait appears to have no outrigger, but it does have an interesting bowsprit-like platform, apparently curved from the same log as the hull. The sheer is very flat. (Click any image to enlarge.)
Tahitian dugout canoe by Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN
Line fishing from an outrigger paddled canoe. The sheer is quite flat, except for a bit of rise at the bow. The bow itself rises out of the water. The outrigger booms are strongly curved, unlike the booms in most of the images below.
Tahitian dugout canoe by Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN
A lovely beach scene with Tahitians fishing with a seine and a canoe pulled up on the shore.
Tahitian dugout canoe by Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN
Detail of the above painting, magnified as much as resolution allows.
Tahitian dugout canoe by Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN
The forward boom of this outrigger canoe is connected to the outrigger float by struts, while the after boom curves downward to connect to the float directly. The extension of the bow appears to be an addition, not carved from the trunk of the hull.
Tahitian dugout canoe by Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN
Another scene in which seine fishing from shore is aided by canoes to bring the net out. Because of the man standing in the water, it's hard to tell if the "bowsprit" belongs to the boat in the foreground or the one behind it. The quadrilateral sail is supported by a mast, boom, and sprit. As in the previous image, the sterns are upturned sharply. 
Tahitian dugout canoe by Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN
Detail of the previous image. The bowsprit seems quite thin, and it has no supporting rigging, but is apparently strong enough to support the child's weight without sagging. 
Tahitian dugout canoe by Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN
This quicker, looser watercolor sketch shows the same features as the previous few images (upturned stern, plumb bow, "bowsprit," quadrilateral sail with three spars, and outrigger float connected directly to the boom in the rear, and with struts in the front), but adds another detail: multiple shrouds supporting the mast. All of them attach at the same point on the mast. To port, the lower ends attach to the forward outrigger boom at regular intervals. To starboard, they attach to a boom that serves both as an attachment point for the shrouds, and for hiking out (as seen in the next image).
Tahitian dugout canoe by Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN
The top boat in this image is very similar to the previous image and may be just a slightly refined version, except that a crewman is clearly seen hiking out on the starboard boom. The arrangement of struts connecting the float to the forward port boom is clear: four struts in two pairs of inverted V's. The bottom boat seems to have elements of Western boat design.
Tahitian dugout canoe by Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN
The hulls of the canoes in the background are similar to the preceding ones, but the sailing rig hoists a squaresail: this was probably an adoption of a Western type.
Tahitian dugout canoe by Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN
A paddled dugout canoe with a nicely carved cutwater and fine shaping and finishing all over the hull. Its shape is rather different from the paddled dugout shown at the top of this post. The paddle has a teardrop-shaped blade and no end-grip on the shaft. 
Images from: The Polynesian Journal of Captain Henry Byam Martin, R.N. In command of H.M.S. Grampus -- 50 guns, at Hawaii and on station in Tahiti and the Society Islands, 1846-1847.