Oct. 19, 2016

Text200 Year-Old Ancient Arakanese Boat Found in Bangladesh by Archaeologists

An ancient boat, believed to belong to the first Arakanese settlers from Arakan State in Burma over 200 years ago, was found in Bangladesh on 29 June during low tide, according to a report of the Daily Star published on 11 July.

The ancient wooden boat recently surfaced from a sandy beach in Kuakata in Khulna Division in Bangladesh.

The precious brass sheets from the boat were looted by a group of local people as soon as the boat was seen on the beach.

A three-member team from the Department of Archaeology of Khulna Division  have excavated the boat and found that only two feet of it’s upper portion had emerged from the beach. The boat measures 72 feet long and 22.5 feet wide, the report said.

According to Arakanese history, thousands of Arakanese families from Arakan fled to Bangla Awa Kyunyt area, known to locals as Kuakata and Balguna, in Bangladesh, in many wooden boats to settle there after Burma’s King Bodopaya invaded Arakan in 1784.

The Arakanese kingdom fell on 31 December, 1784, after the Burmese king invaded and conquered Arakan. Arakanese king Maha Thamada Raza and his royal families, along with many precious royal treasures, were brought by the Burmese royal army to the Burmese king in his capital Amra Pura near Mandalay as captives.

After that, many Arakanese families, including nobility, deserted Arakan to seek shelter in the areas of Kuakata and Barguna in the nearby West Bengal area of India using wooden boats across the Bay of Bengal.

People gather in Kuakata to see the ancient boat that surfaced from beneath the sandy beach. 

A three-member team from the Department of Archaeology of Khulna Division yesterday set off for Kuakata where an ancient wooden boat recently surfaced from beneath the sandy beach.
The ancient boat, believed to be belonging to the first Rakhine settlers from the Arakan province in Myanmar over 200 years ago, was found on June 29 during low tide.
As soon as the boat surfaced, a group of local people started looting precious brass sheets from its joints, said a Daily Star report on July 4.
Contacted, Abdul Baten, regional director (acting) of Department of Archaeology, Khulna Division, said on seeing the report and being informed by locals from Kuakata, the Khulna division office sent three experts to assess the importance of the wooden boat.
Research Assistant Md Golam Ferdous is leading the team, which consists of draughtsman Md Jahandar Ali and photographer Md Abdus Sama.
The team was assigned to send a thorough report detailing their findings to the Khulna division office, Baten said.
“We will forward the report to our headquarters in Dhaka for further direction,” he said. The director, however, did not comment on the antiquity of the boat saying, “We are yet to see the report from our team.”
“Quite large and partially buried beneath the sandy beach, the boat will be difficult to heave up. We may have to wait till winter for the water to recede,” Baten said.
“Then there is budget to consider. A venture like this needs a budget and planning,” the director said adding that all these await the report and direction from the head office in Dhaka.
Yves Marre, who initiated a traditional boat museum under the banner “Protection and Preservation of National Naval Heritage of Bangladesh”, told The Daily Star that if the boat is indeed 200 years old, it is a national treasure.
French born Bangladeshi, Marre has so far replicated 65 types of traditional wooden boats of Bangladesh and exhibited those in France and other European countries.
Talks are underway to soon open an exhibition of those boats in the naval museum of Greenwich in London, he said.
Consisting of timber made of Gorjon tree, the boat is 72 feet long and 22.5 feet wide and only two feet of its upper portion has emerged from the sandy beach near the tamarisk garden in Kuakata.

The 200-year-old wooden sail ship, salvaged from under the beach in Kuakata at a cost of over one crore taka now lies in tatters due to a lack of conservation efforts.
In 2013, engineers of the Bangladesh Army salvaged the ancient ship, believed to be a schooner. They painstakingly laid railway tracks over a distance of about three kilometers, in order to move the 72 feet long and 22.5 feet wide ship, weighing about 70 metric tons, eventually placing it near the main Buddhist temple at Kuakata Zero Point. From the same spot on the beach from where the ship was salvaged, the engineers had also dug out a 5o-foot long chain, now on display, weighing over four to five tons. Ever since it was placed there, the sail ship, popularly known as Shonar Nouka (the ship of gold; called as such for its hull’s coating of a golden copper sheet), has been a must visit destination for thousands of tourists.
During a recent visit, the wooden artifact was found open to everyone without any guards or caretaker. Interestingly, the Department of Archaeology, on paper, has employed three local people each with a daily allowance of Tk. 280 to maintain an eight hourly shift each, thus ensuring a round-the-clock vigil. However during the three-day visit by this correspondent, no one was sighted at the site.  Instead, vandals were carving names and writing love messages on the panels of the artifact. There was no protection whatsoever.  A scribbled warning sign was nailed to the boat urging people not to damage the national heritage.

The scribbled warning sign haphazardly nailed to the side of the boat.
A group of tourists from Khulna wondered about the probable history of the ship and looked around eagerly to find a signboard. There was none to be seen.
“They (the archeologists) should have put a board explaining its significance and its most probable history to help people like us to learn more about our history,” said Ananta Kumar Dey, a student of Khulna University of Engineering and Technology.
Afroza Khan Mita is the assistant director of the Department of Archeology, who from its Dhaka office worked on the salvage operation of the ancient ship. She told reportsbd.com that the department does not have funds to do what is necessary for conservation of the historic sail ship.

The 50-foot chain displayed next to the ship near Kuakata Zero point.
“We have appealed to everyone to come forward and fund its restoration and conservation program,” Mita said. “We have three men working for us to safeguard the artifact but as per reports they are absent most of the time.”
“We had written to the national museum more than two months ago for help to restore this unique piece of artifact, but they seem to have ignored our appeal,” she added.
Mita also added that the Rakhaine community is objecting to setting up a structure on the land claiming land ownership. “They are even obstructing us from building a wall around the precious ancient sail ship,” she added.
The origin of the schooner
There are two theories about the origin of the sail ship that partially surfaced on the beach on July 2, 2012 with the receding tidal water of the Bay of Bengal.
One theory suggests that many Rakhines came here from Myanmar in 1784 with around 50 boats, in order to escape from persecution and torture of Bodpaya, who captured the power after defeating Thamada, the then king of the Arakan province. The sail ship now on display in Kuakata might be one of such vessels.
The second theory links the sail ship to the Portuguese pirates in the 16th and 17th centuries, who used schooners for its speed to travel to this part of the hemisphere and disappear fast after looting villages along the coastal areas.

The outer hull of the ship on display after salvation.
Whatever the present situation, we need scientific analysis such as carbon dating and further research to reveal the mysterious past of this beautiful gift of time bestowed on the people of Bangladesh.

edited by Richie Aung