KETTUVALLAM OR TRADITIONAL RICE BOATS
Kettuvallam or the traditional rice boats are a part of the rich heritage of Kerala. In the early days, water was the only means of transportation. Small boats or canoes were used for passenger transport and Rice boats were used for cargo transportation. In the beginning, as the name suggests, the traditional rice boats were used to transport rice only. Later on they were used to transport other cargos also.
The traditional Rice boats are known as ‘Kettuvallams’, and the name is derived from two words, KETTU means tie and VALLAM means boat.
The Rice boats were constructed by traditional carpenters of Kerala, who were masters in boat building. No scale models or drawing were there in the construction of rice boats, but are based on the knowledge derived from their ancestors and the accuracy in arithmetic calculations.
Wild Jack tree (Anjili) is used in the construction of Rice boats. The wood is sliced into planks of desired size. Each wood plank is tied to the next with a coarse type of coir, filled in between with coconut fibre. A coating with a viscous black resin made from boiled cashew nut shell mixed with fish oil makes the boat water proof. In the early stages not even a single nail was used in the construction of these boats. Later on metal nuts and bolts were used. These rice boats have a capacity to carry 30 tons of weight. Rowing these boats needs high physical efficiency and skill.
As the mode of transportation developed, the rice boats or kettuvallams became insignificant and slowly began to disappear from the rivers and lakes of Kerala.
Again, a rise in the tourism sector of Kerala gave a life to Kettuvallams. The traditional Kettuvallams were modified to house boats. Such an experiment began in the year 1991. House boats equipped with A/c and Non A/c bed rooms, dining room, conference hall, kitchen, bathroom etc are now available for tourists in Kerala.
Presently the back waters are dotted with a large number of house boats, and they became a stamp of Kerala’s backwater tourism.