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Lali Shali-boat maker

The ancient art of Boat Making: Easily enriches but unfortunately departed

Boat-building industry in Lamu County has always been left or reserved only for the elderly as youth shy away from engaging in such a business.The youth always consider the sector ancient, outdated, and primitive.

Boat building industry is one of the sectors that have easily enriched those engaging in it.Many of those engaging in the art continue to fetch millions of cash daily contrary to those employed in an office and depending only on salary every month.

For instance, making a normal-sized speedboat goes for between Sh1 million and Sh1.5 million and it takes less than a month to assemble according to the masters of the art interviewed by Coast Business.

For the water buses-the large-sized boats, however, boat builders demand between Sh2.5 million and Sh3 million to manufacture them. These boats take about three months to build.

Ali Hassan,45, a renowned boat maker in Lamu Old Town, says he learned the art through apprenticeship.Mr Hassan says his grandfather and father are among the famous boat makers of Lamu.

“I inherited this art of boat making from my grandfather. My father was also a boat maker. As I was young, I would sit at their workshop and watch them build the boats. I was interested. And that’s how I grasped the skills. I am now earning good money from it,” said Mr Hassan.

Ali Ahmed,60, a boat maker in Faza Island, Lamu East says he has tried to teach his sons about the art but many seem disinterested.Mr Ahmed says just making a simple fishermen dhow which can take him like three to six months, he makes not less than Sh2 million.

He calls on the young people to immerse themselves in the boat-making sector, adding that it has the ability to make them live decent lives.

“This is a profession like any other. The advantage is that you won’t enter a class to be taught how to manufacture a boat. You can learn it directly from us. It generates good money for those who have mastered the art like us,” said Mr Ahmed.

Lali Shali,65, a boat maker in Wiyoni within the Lamu Archipelago, blamed the government for neglecting the sector and ensuring their welfare is taken care of.According to Mr Lali, many of them are using ancient and outdated tools.

He called on the government to provide them with sophisticated and modern tools to enable the industry to expand.

“That’s why most of the youth here shy away from this industry because the tools used are old and energy-consuming. You can imagine that in this century, we’re still using chisels and other outdated tools. We need to be provided with modern tools and loans to expand this crucial trade,” said Mr Lali.

This year, the Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA) announced a plan to engage traditional boat makers in Lamu county with a view to expanding the art and ensuring it is passed down to future generations.

KMA Chair Geoffrey Mwango expressed concern that the unique boat-making art could soon disappear considering it is only the older generation that understands it with the younger generation showing less interest in learning.

The art of dhow and boat making is unique, complicated, and time-consuming, as each vessel demands a different type of skillset and attention.

It is also worth noting that most traditional boat makers have no formal education but learned the art through apprenticeship.

Mr Mwango stressed that there is a need to harness the old boat-making art and ensure it stays on as it is unique and timeless.

“I am worried that in the entire Coast region, including here in Lamu, most of the current boat craftsmen are the elderly, yet just a handful of youths are interested in the craft. I urge the youth to adopt boat making for the sustenance of the art and as a source of livelihood, considering it’s a field less frequented,” said Mr Mwango.

He added, “We’re working on an initiative where youths will be recruited and trained by skilled craftsmen in boat and dhow making.”

The Lamu archipelago is made up of over 35 tiny islands that have more than 5,000 boats. There are less than 300 boat makers in Lamu.

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