Building and use of expanded dugout boats in the Soomaa region


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Inscribed in 2021 (16.COM) on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding

© Estonian National Museum, 2019

The Estonian expanded dugout boat from the Soomaa region is a canoe-like boat, hollowed out from a single tree (usually aspen), with expanded sides and a shallow base. The building of a dugout boat is a complex process, beginning with the identification of a suitable tree and culminating with the boat’s launch. Dugout boatbuilding is a communal activity involving masters, apprentices and other community members. The practice is transmitted through apprenticeships and formal studies, and it is accompanied by storytelling about legendary masters and their boats. Dugout boats form an essential part of everyday culture for Soomaa residents. Until the mid-nineteenth century, they were used for daily transport and fishing. With the advent of modern and cheaper boat types and extensive road networks, dugout boats are no longer indispensable for everyday life. Despite their continued cultural significance and recreational uses (including for nature trips and hobby fishing) the element is also threatened by factors such as a lack of knowledge-transfer between masters and apprentices, weak demand for boatbuilding and use, the limited availability of raw materials, and declining populations in the Soomaa region. Consequently, only five master practitioners remain, and for the past two decades, only one or two dugout boats have been built each year.