Traditional wooden boatbuilding in Carriacou and Petite Martinique


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Inscribed in 2023 (18.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

© John James, 2021

Traditional wooden boatbuilding is a centuries-old tradition practised in Carriacou and Petite Martinique in Grenada. The men, women and children in the boat-building communities each have specific roles and functions during each stage of the process. Established shipwrights build the boats, felling trees that have been hand-selected for the natural bends and contours of the wood. This must be done during the right phase of the moon, based on guidance provided by elders. The work cannot start in earnest until rum and water have been sprinkled on the keel and stem for the ancestors. Once the boat is completed, it is given a traditional blessing and designated godparents. The godparents, traditionally children under the age of eight, are tasked with revealing the boat’s name, which is embroidered on a red flag to be flown from the deck. Women and girls prepare the traditional smoked food and cake for the launching celebration. While traditionally enacted by men, the practice increasingly involves women who provide technical assistance in the process. The knowledge and skills are transmitted informally, through oral instruction and hands-on learning. The practice promotes camaraderie and social ties, as people gather around the construction site to observe and participate in the process and celebrate milestones.