This is the story of a boat that was painted in the colours of the ocean, but found her home in the jungle.
The men on Tioman island are natural fisherman. For thousands of years, the Malays have plucked the tropical bounty from their shores, wading out past the coral reef to find flitting mosaics of rainbow wrasse, bumphead parrot fish, barracuda, red snappers, tuna, jewel puffer fish, golden trevally, nudibranchs, grouper and mackerel. Experienced fisherman can catch sharks, sailfish, and attempt to land the elusive marlin fish that caught the imagination of Ernest Hemingway.
But this story is not about the fish, or fisherman. It is about a wooden boat that was conceived from the hardwood of the rainforest.
The boat’s bones lay on the ground, and the splintered ribs were forged into soft curves by fire. Each day as the sun arrived and departed, hands smoothed its rawness away to reveal marbled swirls of tawny gold. The wide hull was laid down, and tiny cylindrical pins protruded like veins that attached themselves to the next layer of wood. Caulking bark skin sealed the body and the boat continued to grow upwards until the shape of her was formed. Her sides curved into a slender bow that softened the wideness of her hips. She was dressed in licks of emerald and sky blue paint, inspired by the ocean that she would fearlessly ride.
During her birth, she was carried into the soft waves which rushed to welcome her before playfully forcing her back. But their salty touches washed off her: she was ready to join the sea. The men gave her strength to ride past the frolicking waves and out over the coral reefs. Relinquishing its fight, the water embraced her and no longer pulled her back to the shore. She was free to glide where liquid met air. The men silently rocked the boat as they bowed their heads to peer into the moving depths below.
She quickly learned the tricks of the sea and could counter the rocking tides and shallow rocks. An eternity was spent on that gently swaying surface, and she would have happily drifted out into endless water, never quite reaching the horizon. Every morning and evening she was dragged out and left to burn and creak uncomfortably in the sticky sand. She had aged. The sun had stripped away the glory of her satin greens and blues and left the naked wood exposed beneath. Her name had peeled off and she had forgotten it altogether. Secretly, she enjoyed being reminded of the time when she was part of that exotic rainforest that stood stoically against the shore, but that was another life.
One day as she lay languidly on the beach, waiting to be released back into the water, the men stood around her. These were her oldest friends: the hands that crafted her, the hands that stole the treasures of the sea and left their flopping bodies in her own, giving her purpose. As they lifted her up and carried her along the beach, she anticipated the cool wash rushing over her. But she never would taste the ocean again.
The jungle canopy swallowed her whole, reclaiming her body once more. She was abandoned in a dark stagnant pool that was fringed with heavy foliage. The sunlight could not reach her, and the breeze could not comfort her. Curious insects crawled all over her and strange fish brushed against her before darting away.
Years passed and she was never rescued. The trees began to lift the boat where it rested, splaying thick roots underneath her and steadily draining the pool into its thirsty mouth. She was no longer afraid, and did not yearn for the open sea any longer. For this was freedom, she thought as the twisted vines slowly tore into her hull, this is the unknown. Many boats know the sea, and many better boats rode waves far further than I ever did. Her body began to rip apart, but it was so gradual that she barely noticed it. Yes, it was right to end here. Her side collapsed and thin branches moved in. As she sat in the shallow pool she gave the illusion of floating above the surface.
Angling in Tioman, http://www.tiomanferry.com/angling.html
The Wooden Working Boats of Indochina, http://www.boatsandrice.com
Traditional Malaysian boats, http://www.diethelmtravel.com/malaysia/PDF/Naga%20Pelangi%202%20-%20History.pdf