After waiting for quite some time in front of his house, our friend Damiao finally comes back with a group of other men carrying two huge pieces of tree bark on their heads. They have been out in the wilderness from early in the morning until now to get this bark.
It is rainy season at the moment and the riverbeds, that in the dry season are totally dried out, so that you can actually walk over them, are now flooded with water. And as the people here in Bilibiza are depending on Agriculture, they now have to cross a river to get to their fields. Damiao explains to me that the rivers are nor really deep, and that it might be possible to cross by swimming as well, but there is also the possibility of crocodiles losing their way into this region. Usually they stay in the big river called Montepuez, but sometimes some end up here as well. Because of this you can see some people who lost one of their extremities due to a crocodile attack here in the village.
For this reason the people here have to build boats, that last at least as long as the rainy season goes on.
First they ram little holes in the sides of the bark which serve to maintain wooden sticks, about one meter fifty long in them. This will be the width of the boat as well. Next they scratch of the surface at both ends of the bark to make them thinner and by that easier to form. Once this is done they put the ends over fire to make the bark more elastic, so they can fold them up and close the ends. They sew the ends with bamboo nails and palm leave strings. In the end they give the whole construction some more stability by tightening bamboo sticks over it.
It is a quite simple construction, but it serves its purpose and helps the entire village to cross the river safely. Some body always stays at the river side to drive the boat for the people. He does not take money, as Damiao tells us. He will get some of the harvest of the people at the end of the season.
Whose are these boats?
At least the boats they build here can be used by the whole community. All helped to build them, and all can use them. They might say that these are their boats, but no one in the group would claim the boat for themselves. It surely does not count as anything special, because everybody of them knows how to build a boat, just as they know how to build a house, grow their food, build their bed…
What can we teach them? What do they actually need to learn from us? What can they teach us? What can we actually learn from them?