The beautiful rowed fishing canoes of Orchid Island

Others have picked up on the post by Caro’s Choice about the launch of a new canoe on Lanyu, or Orchid Island, off Taiwan. I had to pile on because these are some amazing-looking boats.

Orchid Island canoe launch

They are 10-seat rowing canoes with flared sides and elaborate carving / painting. Oh, and the ends are upturned… kinda like a J-boat is deep draft! Geez – they are like 6-8 feet above the waterline! They are beautiful, but wow, you’d hate to have to go anywhere but downwind in any breeze. They will, of course help take an oncoming wave, but I suspect their real value is as a canvas for that amazing artwork. And, to be clear, we very much back this, windage and all. What bold, spectacular lines.

The launch is pretty interesting in it’s own right. Read the Caro’s Choice post for the whole story. There is wonderful detail and background information on the island.

Orchid Island canoe launch

Suffice it to say that it is a community affair with much food and ceremony, exactly how a launching should be. Some excerpts:

The Tao believe boats possess a soul. That’s why before it can be launched, spirits need to be pacified; and evil spirits scared away, or exorcised…

…After two days of ceremonial ritual, there’s applause and loud cheers as the boat is put out to sea. It will sail and return to the shore several times….

…The boat launch is a powerful reminder that despite worries about the island’s future, traditional ceremonies can still powerfully unite islanders and make them feel proud about their rich culture…

Thanks, Caro’s Choice, for introducing us to these lovely boats and great culture.

3 Comments for “The beautiful rowed fishing canoes of Orchid Island”


I’ve admired Orchid Island’s boats for some time. Thank you for the positive article on this rich traditions survival.
I can’t help being struck by how similar the icons protecting the hull of the canoe are to the images on the canoes of the inland water ways of Fiji.
The Kite or storm bird motif seems to be a traditional symbol for swift travel in sea going canoe cultures.

Jim Felton
Pacific Ancient Voyagers

By the Way: I’m trying to trace the early history of original use of the dragon boat as warrior transport and riverine landing craft along the Indian Ocean coast and into South East Asia. Wrtiers in Thailand have said that marine attacks had very little impact in military conquest as most fighting was land base. The fact remains there is a consistant presence of the dragon boat with its flags umbrellas and row of armed warriors in many of the temple carvings from Mesopotamia to through India, the Khmer ruins and into Java and Sumatra. If canoe warfare didn’t have a numeric impact on the shifting dynasties of SouthEast Asia it certainly had a symbolic clout for kings extolling their strength to rule.
Can any one direct me to resources for the early history of the single hulled dragon barge as an attack craft?
And Thanks again for reporting on these beautiful souls of the sea.


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