Friday, December 28, 2012

Christmas Canoe from the Cradle

Lake Victoria and plank boats at Gaaba, a port town near Kampala.
I spent the holidays with the lovely Sister of Saint Francis, a catholic order of nuns, and Lauren, here lakeside in Kampala, Uganda. Though my weeks has been filled with plenty of overeating, relaxing and wine drinking (or Balancing as our new term has been coined from the fruity South African wine Balance) I still didn't stray far from the boat yard.

Lake Victoria is in the Albertine Rift section of the Great Rift Valley here in East Africa. If you're rusty on your anthropology, this lush and extremely wet chain of lakes is known as the "Cradle of Humanity", where eons ago (more than 200,000 years) the first humans began to play around with consciousness, stand upright, use their extremely dexterous hands to make things like tools, and began to innovate. That's right, the first canoes undoubtedly came from the African Great Lakes, dug from single trees or even made from the papyrus reed which grows abundantly in the Lakes region. It would have been a funny sight, seeing your great grandpa (a thousand generations back) trying to ride a fresh log to make fishing easier, but make no mistake, he (or she) was one of the greatest inventors of all time.

Single piece paddles for sale at the port.

Yes, since being raised by quite a nurturing mother, Africa, we have used our environment to make many new things, and added quite a lot of ideas to the pool of possibility. But the boat I was able to help build this week lake side is a combination of necessity and ancient ideas.  Not necessarily a canoe, the plank boats of Northern Lake Victoria today are made as quickly and cheaply as possible, combining a couple board with nails in a way that works and has worked for a long time (more on the original plank boats of Victoria in the next post).

A central board is placed at the bottom and two slightly angled boards are added to that with a temporary ribbing system for support (later replaced by seat and carry boards). Two more planks are added to the side with a stem as a guide and a flat back board. A keep is added and strengthened with aluminum. I spent a few days in Gaaba and was able to help my new friends put the final nails into the useful little craft. Thus getting my canoe building fix and learning some new things.

Sealing the seams

Its hard to feel as if you matter with thoughts about the general scope of humanity here in the Great Rift Valley. But I am also continuously humbled by the scope of knowledge and ability for many of the people I meet to work harder then I believed was possible. I am even more so humbled by being continuously uprooted from culture to culture and place to place this year. It has taught me the power and beauty of simply being a part of it all. Even to contribute a single nail to these beautiful boats is an opportunity to be appreciated.

Just putting in a single nail.

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