To Iraq – traditional canoes of the Ma’dan

So I am going to wade into Iraq. Oh if you want to hear about the war, you’re at the wrong blog; I think there are about 3 million others who can oblige you on that one. No, we are staying true to topic here at Chine bLog. As I often say, cool boats show up in all kinds of places. I opened the recent issue of Zoogoer, the magazine of the National Zoo here in DC, and I came upon an article on restoring ruined wetlands. In it was a shot of a nice looking wooden canoe which is the traditional craft of the Ma’dan (also called the Marsh Arabs). Welcome to Iraq coverage, Chine bLog style.

Ma'dan canoe
US Army Corps photo

You may recall hearing of the Ma’dan in the more prominent Iraq talk – they have lived in the wetlands at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers for millennia. Saddam Hussein drained these marshes in the 1990’s as retribution for an uprising and basically put a huge crimp on the life style of the Ma’dan. The marshes are now coming back, and that means a return of Ma’dan traditions. Well, if you live in a marsh, you need boats. And in narrow, shallow channels, you want a canoe. These are some nice ones.

Ma'dan canoe
Photo courtesy of Land and Water Magazine

Actually, the image above is taken from a bad angle and doesn’t show the spectacular sheer line evidenced in the picture in the magazine. The picture here gives a bit better sense – the up-swept ends are stunning. The builders – who I am sure do this by eye and feel – definitely nail these. They are clearly well-suited to their task but also, like so many traditional craft, show that artistry is always in the mix. That warms my heart.

Ma'dan canoe

It wasn’t clear to me how these boats were constructed. I was initially guessing dugouts, but was having trouble picturing sufficient trees in that area. I was able to find one picture though, courtesy of our good friends at NPR, that shows a little of the construction. Basically the boats are flat-bottomed with planked sides. It looks like there might be a large number of ribs / frames with exterior and interior planking. They have some athwartships members for support, but they are mostly open – these are work boats, after all. There is also some kind of substance – not sure what it is – used for sealing and structural support. Some kind of clay – anyone know? Always some new twists. Needless to say, I dig these boats.

Location: Al Chabaish, Iraq

2 Comments for “To Iraq – traditional canoes of the Ma’dan”


Congratulations for finding the mashhoof, traditional canoe of the Marsh Dwellers of Iraq. I’ve just returned from there, it’s one of the most miraculous recoveries of nature ever documented. The substance that is being used to mend the boats is bitumen, I have some photographs of a mashhoof being repaired just last month, if you send me an email I can send you more images. The boats are constructed of imported mulberry wood, but the repairs are being done using wooden fruit crates. In addition to mashhoofs, there are several other types of traditional watercraft, including the huge tarada or warship. Great blog!

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