Preserving Bangladesh’s Boat-Building Heritage

A Tribute to Master Craftsmanship

The B613 is the largest existing malar-class sailboat in the world, and part of Friendship’s cultural preservation initiatives. © Friendship
by Syed Abu Sinjan Saadat,
April 18, 2024

Within Bangladesh’s intricate cultural fabric lies a tradition as diverse as its rivers – the art of boat making. At its heart, nestled within the world’s largest delta, communities have thrived for centuries, fostering a fleet as varied as the people it serves. As we unite globally to celebrate World Heritage Day under the theme “Experience Diversity,” our focus turns to the stewards of a 3,000-year-old legacy: Bangladesh’s master boat makers.

The craftsmen, carpenters and other artisans and boatsmen directly benefit from Friendship’s initiatives in finding a means of income. © Friendship

For millennia, these artisans have navigated Bangladesh’s waters with ingenuity, crafting vessels reflecting the diverse landscapes and lifestyles. From robust cargo carriers to graceful passenger vessels, the diversity of Bangladesh’s traditional wooden boats is unparalleled. Yet, this legacy faces a looming threat as modernisation casts a shadow over the future, endangering ancient techniques and eroding cultural heritage.

In response, initiatives like Friendship’s cultural preservation efforts stand as beacons of hope. Through exhibitions and outreach, they illuminate the stories of resilience and innovation woven into each vessel. To keep the tradition alive, miniature and larger replica boats are crafted by the last surviving artisans, preserving generations of technique in detailed form.

The artisans also benefit from the intrinsic value of having their work, skills, traditions, material culture and Bangladesh’s heritage acknowledged and appreciated. © Friendship

Among these efforts, the last surviving Malar boat stands as a testament to Bangladesh’s maritime legacy. Converted in 1997 using thousand-year-old techniques, the B613 Malar boat is a marvel of craftsmanship, equipped with modern amenities while retaining its historical essence. With its towering mast and magnificent handwoven sails, it offers a glimpse into the beauty of Bangladesh’s rivers, echoing traditions of bygone years.

As we mark World Heritage Day, let us not only celebrate the past but also reaffirm our commitment to safeguarding diverse legacies. In the hands of master craftsmen, Bangladesh’s boat-building heritage endures, a testament to tradition’s enduring power amidst the currents of change.

The model boats crafted by the artisans are featured in exhibitions and museums in Bangladesh and around the world, as well as being part of private collections. © Friendship
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