Thailand: Artist Fears Kolek Boat Tradition Could Disappear in a Decade

Mariyam Ahmad and Matahari Ismail
Narathiwat, Thailand

This Kolek boat in the Bang Nara district of Narathiwat features scroll patterns commonly found on fishing boats in Pattani, Narathiwat and Songkhla provinces, July 26, 2018. (Matahari Ismail/BenarNews)


Abdullah Mading, 30, paints a seat component in his dock yard in Bang Nara district, July 26, 2018. (Mariyam Ahmad/BenarNews)


The pattern is based on Thai and Javanese art, July 26, 2018. (Mariyam Ahmad/BenarNews)


Fishermen cruise in the Bang Nara canal network before mooring at a dock yard, July 26, 2018. (Matahari Ismail/BenarNews)


A man cleans his boat while returning from a fishing trip, July 26, 2018. (Matahari Ismail/BenarNews)


Ahmad Ali can build two tailless Kolek boats each year in Pattani province relying on skills learned from his father, July 25, 2018. (Mariyam Ahmad/BenarNews)


The fishing community in Bang Nara district features houses along a canal network and Koleks, the traditional boats used for centuries in the region, July 26, 2018. (Mariyam Ahmad/BenarNews)

The brightly painted, traditional fishing boats of southern Thailand may soon be seen only in museums, as small-scale fishing declines and interest in the art wanes, one boat builder says.

Designs painted on Kolek fishing boats combine Malay, Javanese and Thai influences in stunning patterns, but younger Thais are not interested in learning the techniques, according to Abdullah Mading, a boat artist in Bang Nara district of Narathiwat province.

“Youngsters are not interested because people change jobs and there are not many fishermen. The Kolek boat may start to decline in number in the next decade because no members of the younger generation want to learn to build and paint. You may have to go to the museum to see them in the future,” Abdullah told BenarNews.

He painted his first boat at the age of 9, and received 1,500 baht ($45) that he used to buy snacks.  He is now 30 and loves the job. Abdullah said it takes him one month to paint a boat.

About 1,000 Koleks can be found in Narathiwat and Pattani provinces in Thailand’s Deep South, but only about 40 percent go out to sea.

A fully painted kolek boat is constructed of hopea wood and can cost as much as 1 million baht (U.S. $30,180) while the region’s fishermen earn about 400 to 500 baht ($12 to $15) a day.


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