An Ark for Iraq 

Shasha reed bundle boat on the Euphrates

Launched in September 2018, the Ark for Iraq project works to revitalise and document the endangered watercraft heritage of traditional boats in central and southern Iraq. Its programme of fieldwork, research and public engagement is delivered by Safina Projects in partnership with Iraqi ministries, museums and universities.

 

An Ark for Iraq was established with grant funding from the British Council’s Cultural Protection Fund, set up in partnership with the DCMS with the aim of protecting cultural heritage at risk due to conflict in the Middle East and North Africa.

Boats of the Tigris and Euphrates

Iraq's traditional boats represent a craft heritage sustained since earliest recorded history in the Tigris-Euphrates river system. Constructed largely from locally harvested materials, they are shaped by the ecology of their place of origin. Examples include the Guffa, a coil-basket coracle made from grasses and palm braced with pomegranate stems, and the Tarada, war canoe of the Marsh Arab sheikhs, designed to cut through the reeds with its tall curved prow.

Decades of conflict and trauma, including the displacement of communities and the degradation of the Marshes and other ecosystems, has brought these distinctive and ancient crafts to the brink of extinction. Rediscovering the endangered art of making traditional boats will preserve Iraqi cultural heritage and foster opportunities for sustainable tourism, leisure and sporting uses of boats.

Documenting and revitalising endangered watercraft

Some of the last remaining boat builders of the region will share their skills with the younger generation and reconstruct four types of traditional boat. The project also draws on archival and archaeological sources and oral history interviews to fill gaps in knowledge of lost boat types, and to explore the role of boats in the region's cultural and social life in recent and ancient history.

Travelling down the Euphrates River, from Hilla to Basra, Safina Projects will bring a flotilla of boats to communities throughout the river delta, re-connecting local people with their heritage and creating a unique fieldwork opportunity for a crew including academic specialists. The boat reconstructions, river expedition and oral histories will be documented through video, audio, photographic and written records. Through the creation of a virtual museum and a digital archive, these records will be shared locally and internationally.

Project partners

  • Ministry of Water Resources - Centre for Restoration of Iraq’s Marshes and Wetlands (CRIMW)

  • Ministry of Culture - Basra Museum

  • Natural History Museum of Basra

  • Humat Dijlah / Tigris River Protectors Association

  • Basra University

  • Additional partners to be announced

British Council.jpeg
DCMS17_black.png
MoWR with Arabic.jpg
State Board for Antiquities and Heritage
Basrah Museum.jpg
Base of Cargo Guffa - work in progress i
Rashad Salim with Guffa coracles before
Pitch being applied to Guffa coracles in
3 gathering.jpg
Profile-person.JPG

*