Customs

Making the Small Boats of the Jungle

A nice Landscape of Puerto Maldonado River

The manufacture of boats in the jungle of Peru was of great importance since water craft were the main means of transportation and fishing for the natives of the area. Their construction had a degree of craft and difficulty and was taught from father to son.

At the headwaters of the Rio Madre de Dios east of the city of Cusco many jungle peoples were dedicated to hunting, fishing and collecting medicinal plants, for which boats were essential.

Small boats of up to five people called “cascos” (shells), were manufactured from a tree called “topa” was characterized by having llittle weight and being soft for carving. The length of this tree was approximately thirty meters making it possible to carve up to five hulls.

The tools used were bones of animals, such as the femur of the huangana (the white lipped peccary. They were sharpened on rough river stones and were transformed into chisels for gouging and carving. The teeth of the river crocodile made a tool for finishing the boats. They also used mallets or hammers and small chichihuaco wood stakes that had a weight and hardness similar to metal.

A shell was built by two people in approximately in fifteen days. Its size was approximately four meters long by eighty centimeters wide. Its construction began by choosing mature trees from fifteen to twenty years old. Once cut, the most laborious part, the carving, begins.

The whole tree was used since the branches were also used for the manufacture of oars. The process was to put the shell on two wooden rollers and was taken out in the sun by day and at night. With the rains this process lasted about a month.

This process was done so that the case becomes tough. This type of hardening was used so that when the boats entered the river they were feather light and yet hard like metal.

The shells were used to transport products such as bananas and cassava, for fishing, and for the transportation of the natives of this place.

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