Boats – Kabang

The Moken traditionally spends their whole life on board a Kabang boat with their family. It is their home, workplace and refuge. The Kabang is categorised as a log-boat, meaning that the hull consists of just one meticulously dug-out tree trunk, a technique used world wide since the stone age. The most remarkable aspect of the Moken Kabang, is that they have developed a construction technique and design making the boats into ocean-crossing sailing boats. More and more people are getting the feeling that we need to re-think a lot of our theories concerning early man and woman’s capabilities in terms of migration, due to the discoveries in connection with the Kabang.

In earlier days, the Moken traveled to coastal and island areas in the Mergui Archipelago by their “kabang”. This boat serves as a home and a means of transportation. Most of the kabangs nowadays are dug-outs with plank gunwales. Zalacca kabangs are rarely seen because zalacca woods have to be replaced every 3-6 months. The roofs are made with pandanus leaves sewn together. The bifurcation at the bow and stern of kabang serves as a ladder to climb in and out of the water.

The French anthropologist, Jacques Ivanoff, stated that kabang is a symbolic embodiment of a human being, with mouth and anus, and with different organs. That is why parts of the boat are named after organic parts of the human body, for example, la-kae (stomach), ta-bin (cheek), tu-koh (neck), ba-hoy (shoulder), and ta-bing (ribs).

In the summer of 2010 the Moken-Projects with The Kon-Tiki Museum and Ten Thousand Images cooperated with the Moken people of Surin on a a naval expedition along the Norwegian coast from Stavanger to Oslo. One of The Kabang 2010´ Expedition´s main goals is to test the sailing characteristics of a traditional watercraft, the Kabang, from Thailand. Kabang (-boat) is a boat built by a log capable of sailing the open seas. The Kabang was originally built with an advanced maritime Stone Age technology, and thus is a type of boat could have been used in the North European neolithic and early Bronze Age. It resembles, indeed, Bronze Age rock carvings along the Norwegian shore, including Penne gård at Lista and at Hafrsfjord in Stavanger. The expedition was a maritime archaeological experiment with goals to test whether the boat is seaworthy in Norwegian waters, and collect data about its performance.

The expedition also engaged in cultural exchanges between the Norwegian maritime history and the Moken people, sea nomds who live on Mu Kho Surin Islands in northern Thailand and Burma. Both cultures have lived with and of the sea for thousands of years. The Mokens have traditionally been living on their boats (kabang) 9 months of the year, and lived by fishing. They are excellent divers who often are under water for 6-8 minutes at a time. Sea is described as their mother. Nguk and Ngui, brothers of the Gatale family came to Norway to sail the Kabangen and share experiences about living on and off the sea with the traditional Norwegian maritime culture.

The expedition started 23 July with a press conference in the harbor in Stavanger. After the press conference we sailed over to Åmøy, to see the similarity between the rock carvings from the Bronze Age and The Kabang. This was done in collaboration with the Archaeological Museum in Stavanger and Stavanger Museum.

The tour went on to Lista 25 July where the expedition visited the largest field in Norway of rock carvings from the Bronze Age on Penne farm. Here we carried/dragged the boat over land at Listaeid, a distance of 900 meters. This is a route that was used at least in the Viking Age and perhaps earyer. This was done in cooperation with the Norwegian Maritime Museum and researcher Frode Kvalø and Vest-Agder County archaeologist Franz Arne Styelgard.

Kabang 2010 was an attraction at the Tall Ships Races in Kristiansand between 29 July and 1 August. The boat was be on land so visitors could study the boat and speak with the Moken brothers Nguk and Ngui.

Kabang 2010 also visited the Wooden Boat Festival in Risør 5-8. August.

End of the expedition was the 12th of  August at Bygdøynes, Oslo, with a press conference organized by the Kon-Tiki Museum / Norwegian Maritime Museum, with special invited guests. After the press conference, the boat docked at Bygdøynes until “Early Man and the Ocean” Conference, 23.-26. September. There was also be an exhibition at the NMM.

For more information on this expedition go to www.moken-kabang.com or at Facebook.