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Indonesia's traditional boat builders reach into the past

News Desk

Agence France-Presse

Tana Beru, Sulawesi | Thu, July 12, 2018 | 09:00 pm
Indonesia's traditional boat builders reach into the past

This picture taken on July 7, 2018 shows traditional Pinisi boats moored in Tana Beru, on South Sulawesi island. (AFP/Yusuf Wahil)

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.

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. 

This picture taken on July 7, 2018 shows shipbuilders working on a traditional Pinisi boat in Tana Beru, on South Sulawesi island. This picture taken on July 7, 2018 shows shipbuilders working on a traditional Pinisi boat in Tana Beru, on South Sulawesi island. (AFP/Yusuf Wahil)

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

Read also: 'Phinisi' nominated for world cultural heritage

"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 kilometers 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.

This picture taken on July 7, 2018 shows shipbuilders working on a traditional Pinisi boat in Tana Beru, on South Sulawesi island. This picture taken on July 7, 2018 shows shipbuilders working on a traditional Pinisi boat in Tana Beru, on South Sulawesi island. (AFP/Yusuf Wahil)

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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