Movie you need to see: “Ten Canoes”

Ten Canoes image

Here’s a movie you Chine bLog readers should see: “Ten Canoes.” The movie recounts an Australian Aboriginal myth, highlighting the culture and practices of the people of far Northern Australia in the process. It is another in the genre of movie that features actual members of an indigenous community in the area where the film is set. I happen to go for this type – these “untrained actors” always do an amazing job and, in this case as well as others, create a lovely tale.

Here is the bonus: as the title suggests, local traditional canoes, and the making of them, play a hefty “supporting actor” role. I clipped the image here from the movie site. They are bark canoes (the tree species is not identified). The builders basically cut around the circumference of the trunk at the bottom and then make another cut around it about 15 feet for so up the trunk. Apparently it has to be the right season so the bark is supple. They then cut a straight line down the trunk, thus allowing them to unroll a roughly 15 foot buy three foot sheet. As best I could tell, they then stitch the ends together, stitching two rows in the bow to create a flat surface. Somewhere in here they also some branches as athwartship “frames.” Finally, they cut the bow shape out of the stitched end. Voila, a bark canoe, down-under style.

As I have mentioned before, I am always impressed to see how different boaters around the world design their craft…

It seems that in this are there are not large trees from which one could make a dugout. The waterways are choked with reed, particular where the hunting grounds are, so a raft wouldn’t cut it. These boats turn out to be the perfect solution, given available materials. I find the bows to look funny, but the movie suggests there is a reason – the pronounced reverse-sheer cuts through the reeds well. Can’t fault that.

The movie shows the canoe party propelling the boats both by polling them (through shallows) and with hand paddles across open water. The hand paddles don’t seem very efficient, but I bet they do allow a quiet stroke. The lack of any true paddle and their attendant power suggest that these canoes are never used to travel long distances or pursue game and/or enemies (in fact, a theme of the movie is how this culture avoids clan wars).

I final thought is that there is no evidence in the film that the canoeists keep their canoes after a hunting season. It seems like they are disposable (It’s a canoe! It’s a campfire!) and that at the outset of a new season, the party finds new trees with clear bark, and builds again. I hate to think of a nice boat discarded, but then again, having to build a new boat every year is a nice item on the job description.

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Location: Ramingining, Australia

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