People at lakeside with small boats
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Cultural Protection Fund project 

‘This is a pioneering and invaluable project. It will be of value to academic research, tourism and the heritage sector.’

Abdulameer Al-Hamdani, Minister of Culture, 16 February 2019

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Life cycle

2018-20

Country/Region

Iraq

Client/Partner

Safina Projects CIC, Ministry of Water Resources, Centre for Restoration of Iraq's Marshes and Wetlands (CRIMW), Ministry of Culture (Basra Museum), Natural History Museum of Basra, Dhi Qar University, Basrah University and Humat Dijlah

Vision

To revitalise and document the endangered watercraft heritage of traditional boats in central and southern Iraq and provide capacity-building and development opportunities for local communities.

Situation

The boats represent a craft tradition sustained since earliest recorded history in the Tigris Euphrates river system. Constructed largely from locally harvested materials, the boats are shaped by the ecology of their place of origin. Decades of conflict and trauma, including the displacement of communities and the degradation of the marshes and other ecosystems, have brought these distinctive and ancient crafts to the brink of extinction. 

The project has documented the construction of different boat types, including the Guffa coracle; Meshouf canoe types: Tarada, Matour, and Houri; the Isbiya barge; and three basketry boat types. 

Implementation

The project facilitated boatbuilding workshops from the areas of Hilla, Huwair and Hit, as well as engaging diverse communities in different locations. Boat reconstructions were documented through oral history interviews with experienced boat builders. Digital photography and video capture were also used to record each stage of the construction process as well as details and an overview of each completed boat. The boat reconstruction process also incorporated training opportunities for groups from each of the communities involved, whilst knowledge harvested from the project has been compiled into a website designed as an online museum. A full digital archive will be accessible at partner museums and universities, and the boats built during the project will become part of local museum collections, visitor attractions and boat clubs. 

Impact 

Throughout the project, some of the last remaining boat-builders of the region shared their skills with the younger generation, reconstructing four main categories of traditional boats and a total of nine distinct boat types. The project has also drawn on archival and archaeological sources, whilst oral history interviews were used 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. 

The Ministry of Water Resources restored the traditional "Naour" (plural: "Noaeer") water wheels, a landmark of the city of Hit, as a result of local community discussions initiated by the British Council during the project. The Ministry of Culture also commissioned Safina Projects (with Edge of Arabia) to curate the first-ever Iraqi National Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2021.

Mutual benefit

The Cultural Protection Fund (CPF) promotes a people-centred approach to Cultural Protection. It encourages partnerships at an institutional level by using our global network and cultural relations approach. Half of CPF projects are led by UK organisations, encouraging international knowledge exchange on common issues, best-practice sharing and influence on heritage protection processes and policies worldwide. The CPF is connected to a wider network of heritage protection funders and agencies, feeding into and benefitting from a wide range of research and intelligence on heritage protection. Heritage protection is a global, shared challenge and the learning and evaluation from CPF projects is fed back into a network to create better conditions for heritage protection and increased understanding of its positive impact on individuals and societies.