Monday, December 17, 2012

Building a Tana Tankwa

The first knot
Building a Tana tankwa (papyrus canoe) is beautifully simple. The 3 meter long reeds are cut from the edges of the lake (trying hard to avoid the huge hippos and crocodiles who show only their eyes at the surface). After soaking a few bundles of dried (2-3 weeks) papyrus reeds, a handful are tied (using nylon rope, replacing a grass rope) to a wooden pole the length of the desired canoe hull. The two ends of the rope go each way up the side of the boat, to be looped and weaved around added papyrus.

Weaving in the bulk of the Tankwa from the central pole

The weaving process uses 4 to 8 large papyrus reeds looped onto the bundle with the cut ends pointing into the boat. The whole time the builder is careful to tie tightly and shape the boat as he wishes while tying.

Carrying more reeds to soak in the lake, note a large cargo tankwa in the background

The hull starting to take shape after an hour of weaving.
The reeds overlap each other, showing no exposed ends on the outside of the craft. A curved scythe (also used for harvesting papyrus along with local grain) is used to thin the ends of the tankwa.

Once enough papyrus is weaved upwards to make a suitable hull, the ends are lashed together, simply by looping the rope over and over to make a curved tip. To ease this process, the builder cuts papyrus from the ends, or cuts it down the middle, as well as bends it upwards.

Fixing the ends

Cutting the ends and tightening with the nylon rope
Cutting the ends, with a slight curve upwards (less so than the ocean ready caballito), a chunk of reeds are cut about a half meter long and added to the inside of the boat as a seat as well as form for the hull.

Paddling a new canoe out into the lake

Though water slowly seeps through the reeds, paddling the tankwa is easy and fun. Not a bad day, building a boat and the paddling it into the lake, all the while making lots of local friends. Cheers to Lake Tana!

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