By Amruta Talawadekar, Research Associate, Maritime History Society
Most of us have ferried across water in boats to a touristy destination. Most of these boats that we use are made out of wood or steel. Have you ever wondered what form of boats the habitants during the Indus Valley Civilisation used, almost 5000 years ago? The answer is a Reed Boat. Today if you want to see a reed boat in India, it will probably be only on the Maritime History Society’s logo which was designed by its founder Late VAdm MP Awati or you might have to travel all the way to Bolivia or Peru. Let’s explore how a Reed Boat is made.
Reed is typically a form of tall thin grass that generally grows in wet or marshy areas. A Reed Boat is thus a boat made out of this material. The reeds were tied together using indigenous material to form a bundle. The bundle was tied tightly using ropes made out of leaves in order to give it enough strength while on water. This prevented the water from seeping in and allowed it to float. The taper of the bundle was said to be crucial as it gave the boat its shape. Many a time, the reed tends to crack inside the bundle. Studies show that ancient techniques prior to the assembling of the reeds such as crushing the reeds with the fingertip, beating the bundle with heavy piece of wood or rock or dancing on the reed prevented the crushing of reed inside the bundle1. After the bundle was tied, both the ends of the bundle were then curved upwards. This was done by tying a rope to the centre of the bundle, pulling it till the end of the structure and tying it to the end resulting in its curved shape. The bundle was replicated and the two bundles were tied together to form the boat. Thus, emerged the shape of the boat that is thick and hollow at the centre and tapered towards the ends. The last layer involved a coat of waterproofing to keep the vessel safe on water. The absence of a mast in the Indus Valley reed boats depicted in the Indus seals indicate that the boats were only used for river transport. Later versions saw the use of several similar bundles that were tied together to form the boat. This form of the boat involved the use of timber to form a frame inside the boat that was hollow at the centre for storage purposes.
Apart from India, reed boats were constructed in areas where wood was found in scarce such as Egypt, Iraq, Peru and Ethiopia. They are still seen in parts of Peru and Bolivia. Thus, the Reed Boats built by Indians almost 5000 years ago is a perfect example of knowledge of the sea, indigenous techniques and use of traditional material that the ancient seafarers possessed.
- Tom Vosmer, “Building the reed-boat prototype: problems, solutions, and implications for the organization and structure of third-millennium shipbuilding,” in Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 31(London: Archaeopress, 2001) 236.
- Osman Erkurt, Sidar Duman, “Reed Boat,” Academia, accessed on 17 Oct 2020, https://www.academia.edu/29671177/REED_BOATS_docx.