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Jukung Traditional Balinese Fishing Boats  

by on Thursday, 13 July 20063 Comments | 6,051 views

The colourful traditional fishing boats that line the coastal shores of Jimbaran and Sanur are known as jukung. These graceful vessels use only one main cloth sail and in favourable winds can skim them ocean’s surface at a fairly rapid pace.

The Balinese generally use jukung for fishing. These boats will venture out into the coastal waters in the evening and return with their catch before sunrise to sell at local seafood markets. However, the impact of tourism has meant that many of the island’s traditional fishermen can now supplement their limited incomes by taking paying passengers to surf and snorkel at offshore reefs and neighbouring islands.

Most jukung are fairly small and this enables them to be hauled out of the water and parked on the sandy beachfront with relative ease. With an average length of approximately 5-metres and width of just 1½ -metres, a jukung can safely carry only two or three passengers. Larger models built using the same traditional design methods, utilize outboard motors and can carry divers and heavy scuba equipment to coral reef dive sites. Some entrepreneurial owners have even modified their jukung into glass bottom boats for visitors to view Bali’s amazing underwater marine life.

Although jukung may appear simple enough to the international travellers’ eye, like most things in Bali there is an underlying symbolism associated with these craft and they are constructed following a strict set of religious guidelines. When a fisherman decides to build a new boat he must first carefully choose the tree that will be used for its timber. The Balinese prefer to use the wood from the indigenous Belalu or Camplung tree, which is light, strong and ideal for boat building. Such a tree can only be cut down on an auspicious date in accordance to the ancient Balinese calendar and a special day is also sought for construction to commence. All members of the local fishing community offer their carpentry skills to construct a new jukung and this social interaction is a vital element of the Balinese Hindu culture.

The majority of jukung are built using a set of dimensions that are closely related to the owner’s personal body measurements. The Balinese strongly believe in harmonizing with the physical environment and spiritual world, thus human measurements are used in an effort to balance these invisible forces. Just like a human body, a jukung is not symmetrical. In fact, the bamboo floats that are attached to both sides and run from the bow to the stern are not even parallel. Yet this basic, but ingenious design gives the jukung a heightened degree of stability when out on the open seas.

Once the jukung has been fully constructed and brightened up with a bold coat of paint, it then undergoes a complex blessing ceremony. Offerings of rice, flowers and fruit are presented to appease the Gods and the jukung is sprinkled with holy water by a priest before it is considered seaworthy. The jutting bow is decorated with an image of the mythical Gajah Mina (elephant fish) with its fierce bulging eyes to ward off evil. The spirit of Gajah Mina is also though to bear the power of night vision and guide the jukung through all sorts of weather conditions.

The price of a trip in a traditional Balinese jukung is negotiable and some of the older fishermen have some fascinating tales about the superstitions and the spirit of the sea.

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