Dhows and pirogues

Malagasy lady rowing a small pirogue

Dhows and pirogues

Posted on 24/02/2022

"The traditional Sakalava pirogues are the way to move the most widely used on Nosy Komba island."

Among the many charms attributed to Madagascar, there is one that the traveller cannot forget, it is that of the pirogues (traditional wood canoes) and sailing dhows. These timeless wooden vessels skim the seas every day, from one end of a shore to the other, recalling a distant past. They perfectly illustrate the simplicity and authenticity of Madagascar.

Pirogues are an important part of the daily life of the island’s inhabitants. If plastic pirogues (resin) have become the majority in recent years, wooden pirogues are still very much part of the local culture.

pirogues nosy komba nosy be

The plastic pirogues are used as public transport, ensuring the connection between Nosy Komba and Nosy Be, or the mainland.
The departure of the shuttles is done daily, early in the morning. The return takes place at the end of the morning. It is possible to reserve a pirogue for a given duration, in order to go to another village, or to make an excursion towards the neighbouring islands.

Wooden canoes, called “laka” here, are mainly used for fishing and short distance trips. Many inhabitants own one of these small sailing boats which depend only on the wind or the strength of their arms.

Wooden pirogues are made on the island. Most of them are built in Antamotamo, famous for its building sites. They’re built-in various sizes. The smallest ones can carry one person, the biggest ones, more than a dozen people.

The bottom of the boat is hand-carved from a tree trunk, to which are added planks on the sides, fitted together to form the pirogue. Then a single outrigger for extra stability, a mast and sails are added to the canoe. It is steered with an oar, which serves as a rudder. Some are equipped with a motor.

From their youngest age, the children of Nosy Komba learn to navigate. Some children have a small pirogue, which they use regularly, to go fishing with a net or a line. During the shuttle trip to Nosy Be, it is not uncommon to come across fishermen between the two islands, including children fishing on the shore.

Other boats that are an integral part of local life are the dhows. These wooden boats, which are larger in size, can be sailed or motorized. Unlike pirogues, they have no outrigger. These timeless vessels, with their giant sails, are mainly used to transport heavy loads from one destination to another.

Dhows are part of the charm of the seascape. Whether seen from the coast or out at sea, the sight of these vessels with their large sails billowing in the wind evokes ancient times.

dhow nosy be sakalava boat
dhow sailing past nosy komba

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