Ship building in Beypore
has been described as the most graceful of sailing vessels. This is
the dhow which, for centuries, plied the western trading routes of
the Indian Ocean. This vessel was the prime mover in commercial
links between East and the west.
travelers like Ibn – Battuta, Ma – Muan, Abdurazzack and later
European observers provide important information on material, types
and variety of ships. This tradition of shipbuilding has important
influence even in folklore of the region. A Sufi poem ‘Kappeppattu’
ascribed to a 13th century author depicts human body as
ship, soul the captain and god as port of destination with details
of life similar to a voyage in the sea.
first written account of dhows was made in the book Periplus of the
Erythrean Sea. But before its publication, the boats were a common
feature in the western ports of Indian Ocean and those of the Red
Sea. Indeed, it is said that when Portuguese seafarer Vasco da Gama
arrived at Matondoni island, the pristine tourist site better known
for its historic sites, he found a people who believed that they
were cursed into making a living from the sea. They were expert
canoe and dhow makers. The sailor, it is said, fell in love with
these people’s creation - the dhow.
upheavals influenced the rise and fall of many of the above centres.
The unalterable factor namely the availability of timber and workers
helped some of the centres to sustain; Beypore near Calicut is one
such centre which has a continuous tradition of ship building.
Beypore is on
the mouth of River Chaliyar. Nainar identified ‘Shaliyat’ of Arabs
with Beypore. But there were these ancient towns of Chaliyam and
Beypore on either side of the confluence. The Romans, Chinese and
Arab travelers mention Chaliyam and Abul fida makes an important
statement that its inhabitants are Jews.
of timber was easily available in Beypore. The rain forests which
formed the upper basins of the river enabled an endless supply of
timber which helped Beypore to develop as a center of ship –
of timber for plank – built ships was varied and many. The Pandi
(keel) required a strong hard and heavy timber. The Vari (ribs)
frame, on which the strength and durability of the ship depended had
to be stronger and if possible should be essentially of teak and
mast should be straight, strong but of light weight. Timber with all
these qualities arrived in Beypore thevappam. Thevapam was not only
the cheapest means of transport, but logs in any size could be
carried to the yards, which was otherwise impossible.
At the forest
felling sites builders ordered certain timbers in specific size.
Various types of
ships were built in Beypore. Some of them were
required at various stages of construction and in case of timber,
different types of timber, different types of timber with specific
qualities were readily available in Beypore.
The Pandi (Keel)
of the ship was made of Marimaruthu (Terminalia crenulata). The
lengths of the keel was taken to be the lengths of the ship and had
to be less than 100 ft. The Vari (rib), frame as far as possible in
required size from Pilavu, Jackfruit tree (Artocarpus integrifolios).
The natural ‘V’ shape was stronger than any other joints. Hand sawn
teak alone was used for planks. It was the teak that gave
preeminence to Beypore in ship – building.
The quality of
teak grown in the upper basins of Chaliyar tempted the British
Administration to start the Conollys teak plantation in 1850. The
British administration also promulgated a series of MPPF Acts
(Malabar Preservation of Private Forest Acts) from preservation of
certain varieties of timber. Teak was also exported as timber to the
building centers of West Coast. From the 17th – 19th
Century English ship-building was concentrated in Bombay. The Bombay
Dockyard in 1775 rivaled any in Europe. The Arab geographers have
well attested the export of teak. Yaqut and Qazusmi mention huge
and tall teak tree in Kulam. One British expert James Kyd observed,
“ Malabar teak was certainly the best timber in the world” for ship
Digby staple commodities produced in India included teak wood with
its superior virtues for ship-building which had been used since Pre
– Islamic times for ships plying in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian
Sea. With other woods teak was in demand for pillars, beams and
roofing in the almost treeless areas of the Persian Gulf and South
straight, strong but light, tapering to top, Pali was best suited
for mast. Pali (Palaqim Elepticum) was abundant in Waynad forests,
not in Nilambur.
various stages was done with Coir. The raw iron nails were locally
manufactured. These days industrial units manufacture nails and cast
anchor. The only material not locally available in Beypore was
cotton wicks used in caulking.