The shasha reed bundle boat is a fishing boat made from reeds. In this picture two people sit and talk in a slim tailed boat in the middle of a green water.
Shasha reed bundle boat on the Euphrates ©

Rashad Salim

We are pleased to award the Ark for Iraq project £99,246

This year-long project will work to revitalise and document the endangered watercraft heritage of traditional boats in central and southern Iraq.

Boats of the Tigris and Euphrates

The boats represent a craft tradition 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.

About Safina Projects

Safina means Ship or Ark in Arabic. As a river-based society, Iraq’s watercraft and maritime heritage is central to its culture. Known as the location of the ancient Flood, Iraq now faces a different crisis, through conflict, climate change and water resource shortages. Safina Projects sets out to address this situation through an Ark based on gathering: bringing together the Iraqi diaspora community, re-connecting with communities in Iraq, and gathering what remains of our cultural heritage to make it available for future generations.

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