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Indonesia’s traditional boat builders reach into the past

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By Agence France-Presse

Under the blazing tropical sun, Indonesia’s traditional ship builders hammer, drill and carve timber from nearby forests into intricate two-mast vessels that have plied the archipelago’s waters for centuries.

A shipbuilder works on a traditional Pinisi boat in Tana Beru, on Indonesia's South Sulawesi island.PHOTO: AFP/MANILA BULLETIN

A shipbuilder works on a traditional Pinisi boat in Tana Beru, on Indonesia’s South Sulawesi island.PHOTO: AFP/MANILA BULLETIN

Sulawesi island is the heart of the country’s industry creating the iconic schooners, known as Pinisi.

It has earned a reputation as home to master craftsmen and some of the best sailors around.

Their tools may have changed over the years, but builders still reach into the past by performing rituals and prayers key to the building process which takes place on Sulawesi’s palm-fringed beaches.

Once the vessel is ready to be pushed into the water, a goat or cow is slaughtered in a final purification ceremony.

“The process to build a Pinisi boat could take months or even years depending on its size,” boat builder Muhammad Bahri Jafar told AFP at his workshop in Tana Beru, about 175 kilometres from Makassar, capital of South Sulawesi.

Builders carry long pieces of wood over their shoulders as they weave a hull from a criss cross of timber that looks like a whale’s rib cage.

The ships — which can weigh upwards of 200 tons — once transported lucrative spices and other cargo around Indonesia’s vast archipelago and beyond.

Today, they still carry timber, cement, house tiles, rice, cigarettes and even motorcycles around the vast Southeast Asian country’s 17,000 islands.

Many have also been outfitted with sleeping cabins, kitchens and toilets for liveaboard diving trips.

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