Fishermen learn art of traditional boat building during current monsoon break

BANDAR PERMAISURI (TERENGGANU), Jan 4: The northeast monsoon season is usually a time for fishermen in the Setiu district to rest as they cannot go out to fish because of the treacherous rough seas.

During this periodthey spend their time on dry land in other activities such as repairing broken fishing traps or nets and finding side income like river fishing or undertake odd jobs in the village to cover family expenses until the monsoon is over.

But for a new generation of young fishermen like Muhammad Hafizudin Bakri Abdullah, 22, he takes advantage of the monsoon lull to learn the vanishing art of building traditional fishing boats.

Hafizudin said he decided to take up the Terengganu art of traditional boat-building, not just for the wage of RM300 a week, but to keep alive the near-forgotten legacy of Terengganu-style boat-building.

“Before this, when the monsoon season came, I would repair the boat I used to catch fish in or fish in the river. But this time I was hired by a traditional boat-builder. It can be likened to the Malay proverb ‘sambil menyelam minum air’ (killing two birds with one stone) because while I learn, I also receive wages,” he said in Kampung Telaga Papan in Setiu near here.

As someone from Kampung Telaga Papan who became a fisherman since he was 10, Hafizudin sought to learn boat-building skills from veteran fisherman Abdullah Daud, 69, the only traditional fishing boat builder in the village, also popularly known as ‘Pok Pen’.

Along with four other workers, they are currently building a boat 18m long and 5.5m wide commissioned by a customer from Kuala Nerus.

As for Hasrul Abdullah, 32, unlike many of his peers who prefer work in the city, he chooses to hunker down in the village to help his boat-builder father ‘Pok Pen’.

The fifth of six siblings said he is the only one in the family interested in becoming an apprentice to inherit the skills of traditional fishing boat-building from his father.

“Since I was little, I have watched my father build boats, so the interest gradually grew. After all, my father is also ageing and not that fit to cut a lonely figure working in the boat yard alone. I also want to continue what my dad is doing so that the craft does not disappear,” he said.

Hasrul also uploads videos of his work and the boat-building process on his TikTok account to attract more young people to learn about traditional fishing boats, especially in Terengganu.

‘Pok Pen’, meanwhile, is grateful that there are still young people like Hafizudin and his son Hasrul interested in mastering the skills of making traditional fishing boats from him.

He said he was also happy because he was able to learn the knowledge of boat-building using the wooden pegs joinery technique where thousands of wooden pegs are tediously made for enjoining planks together, a process often used by boat makers in Terengganu.

“For wooden boat hulls in Terengganu craft, many artisans use wooden pegs to join the planks instead of using ordinary steel nails because if the nails are exposed to seawater, they will quickly rust, become loosened and drop out.

“Besides that, between the gaps of the enjoined planks, we will insert the bark of the Gelam tree to ensure a tight fit so that there are no gaps in the boat that can leak,” he said.

The current boat being built by him is made of Cengal Kampung and Merah Seraya timber, and will fetch a price of RM550,000, said ‘Pok Pen’.

“In the past, the price of a boat like this was only around RM300,000 but the price of timber is getting more expensive these days. If we use better quality Cengal, we can sell the boat for RM800,000 because the cost of Cengal planks is very expensive,” said ‘Pok Pen’, who has been mastering the Terengganu heritage of building traditional fishing boats since he was 15 years old.