History & Culture

Manapad fishermen sail miniature boats to spread awareness on COVID-19

The boys sailed the boats at a one metre distance from each other

The boys sailed the boats at a one metre distance from each other   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

It has been over a decade since the seaside village of Manapad has seen a dhoni sail its waters. The man-made country boats have been replaced by engine-powered fibreboats.

However the lockdown, and the fact that fishermen are out of work, has resulted in a resurgence of the dhoni, or vallam as they are locally known. These dhonis are not the life-sized ones that fishermen take to sea. They are miniatures, a little over one-and-a-half metres long, made of tin and wood. Boys in Manapad made over 50 of the miniatures and sailed them in a grand parade, weaving in the message of physical distancing to tackle the pandemic.

On July 25, when the winds picked up a little after 12.30 pm, the boats were placed at a one-metre gap from each other. The boys let the winds steer the boats in waters alongside the coastline, from Fishermen Colony to Raja Street, as locals watched them from land. They even called out awareness messages on COVID-19 as they did so. The boats did four rounds, and the parade lasted one and a half hours.

The miniature boats are over one-and-a-half metres long

The miniature boats are over one-and-a-half metres long   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Stephilan Fernando, who represents the boys, was documenting it all on his mobile phone. “We had a lot of time on our hands since we were not going to sea,” says the 22-year-old over a phone call, adding that they decided to put this time to good use. “Each dhoni that we made took us six days of work; we carved out the base in used wood,” he explains.

This was quite a task, since none of them has sailed a dhoni themselves. “A lot of them went to their fathers and grandfathers, who helped them design the vessels from memory.”

Stephilan says the last time a dhoni was used for fishing in Manapad was in 2005. “After the tsunami in 2004, people gradually began shifting to fibreboats since they were easier to maintain and manoeuvre,” he explains.

High octane boat races, those involving life-sized ones and miniatures, have long been part of Manapad’s festival traditions. “I’ve heard how the entire village would turn up for the races held during the Holy Cross Church Festival in September; there were prizes too,” recalls Stephilan, adding that sadly, they have now become a thing of the past. Thanks to the lockdown, they got a chance to relive some of the excitement, as well as spread word on the pandemic.

This awareness wave is now catching on in Manapad’s neighbouring villages too. “We heard that people in Periyathalai, some five kilometres from us, as well as those in Uvari, are planning something similar this week,” says Stephilan.

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Printable version | Aug 7, 2020 2:28:18 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/manapad-fishermen-sail-miniature-boats-to-spread-awareness-on-covid-19/article32221090.ece

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