Sons of Sailors : Dhow-makers of Mandvi
“A ship in the port is always safe
This is not what the ships are built for”
The 400 year old Medieval age shipyard in Mandvi, Kutch district of Gujarat continues to produce the handmade ships or dhows as they call them. Mandvi was once a prosperous port on the bank of Rukmavati river bustled with life and trade of oriental goods to Africa & Greece also called the gateway to west Asia.
Ship-making tradition in Mandvi dates back to the 16th Century when Kharva community of seafarers honed the skill of boat making and fixing the damaged ones along with their Navigation skills. They used to call their ships Dhows which would serve the purpose of cargo trade.
These dhows are made of quality Sal wood imported from southeast or indigenous babool, aplenty in Gujarat. This craft takes a great deal of menial work and precision but no wonder if the craftsmen have mastered the craftsmanship by inheritance, they are after all the sons of Sailors.
Dhow-makers of Mandvi
Besides the traditional dhow-makers some people from the carpenters families have also learned the art of shipbuilding as they naturally come handy when it comes to chiselling the woods. Over time the size and techniques have also evolved, now they are making the ships even up-to the capacity of 2000 tonnes in comparison to erstwhile 20 tonnes.
Handmade Ship making is reckoned as one of the world’s Largest Handicraft industry. Uru boats made in Beypore village, Kozhikode district, Kerala is another such archaic tradition of making dhow shaped Ships. Even now Uru boats are crafted and exported to the gulf countries from Beypore , earlier they would use Teak wood procured from Nilambur Forest but now imported Malaysian Saal wood is used.
Number of dhow makers are now dwindling owing to less demands and high cost of imported wood still some craftsmen are adamant to stick around with their traditional vocation.
As they call it sometimes the ship sinks even when the Sailors become too Numerous.