Monday, March 31, 2014

Just One Kelek Away

Image (c) ​Gertrude Bell Archive, Newcastle University.
​Diyala ferry, blowing up skins Near Kala Sherwan - Iraq. Gertrude Bell, March 1911.
 "We crossed in a craft called a kelek, 19 inflated skins tied together and floored over with reeds. It looked very frail in those swift waters but it served our purpose and in 4 journeys took us and our loads over." We are just one kelek away from loading up for Basra. #cmarsh

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Day's Profits

From mashuf to river dining ship on the Shatt Al-Arab, this Kurdish fisherman sells his meager fresh catch to eager Basrawi passengers. The impacts of marsh collapse are heartfelt in Basra, where riverside fish grilling is a multi-generational family affair. #cmarsh

Netting Two Grand is Grand!

MI'DAN FISHING FROM A TARADA (c) Edward Ochsenschlager. Expedition, 1998, Vol. 40 Issue 2, p29.
We now have less than $500 to go to meet our minimum for a 100% match from UofSC. We're an airline ticket away from working to re-establish fisheries for a generation teetering on the brink of occupational extinction. #cmarsh

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Cargoes Aweigh!

"A MAHAILA OF THE INLAND WATER TRANSPORT." c. 1920. From A Dweller in Mesopotamia, by Donald Maxwell.
The backbone of river transport, mahailas carried cargoes between river ports along the entire navigable extent of the Mesopotamian river (and canal) system. Sailing craft like these have underpinned Mesopotamian commerce for millennia. #cmarsh

Holding Fast

Image © Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford
"Suaid boy with a tarada." Eastern marshes, 1956, by WIlfred Thesiger. The seasonal Eastern Marshes - that is, those east of the Shatt Al-Arab within Basra Governorate - no longer exist. They were among the first drained by a kilometer-wide canal dug to divert Tigris overflows directly to the Shatt Al-Arab. Return water from the southern Majnoon oil fields located in that former marsh zone is one candidate for salt marsh construction. #cmarsh

Heading to Basra

Image © Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford
"Balam on the River Euphrates," near Chubayish, Iraq, Wilfred Thesiger, 1954. Carrying a load of reed mats downriver to Basra, this sailing bellam runs ahead of the prevailing northwesterly shamal wind. Mature reed was cut when dry in winter, split, woven into mats, then sailed downriver to market in time for the late summer date harvest. #cmarsh

Monday, March 24, 2014

En Route to the Finish

Image © Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford
"Madan Men Poling a Tarada," Saigal, Central Marshes. Wilfred Thesiger, 1951. The tarada was the primary mode of transport for sheikhs en route to negotiation, war, inspection, and trade.  #cmarsh

Punting Home

Not every mashuf is yet motorized. This one, in the West Hammar marshes, still relies on two strong backs and two long poles. #cmarsh

Reed-Powered Globalization?

The satellite dish is from Turkey, the generator from China, the fuel to run it from Iraq, and all were purchased with money earned by selling reeds from the West Hammar marsh, near Souk Al-Shouyoukh.  #cmarsh

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Working Fleet

This fleet of mashufs brings cut reed to shore, where it will be sold to a consolidator. The chief purchases with the proceeds will be drinking water, stored in the bright red container in the forecourt, and boat fuel.  #cmarsh

Some Heavy Lifting

The Bull Colossus floating down the Tigris on a Kelek (by F. C. Cooper). In: Ausin Henry Layard and the Rediscovery of Assyria
Keleks-wooden rafts held afloat by inflated goat skins - have not been much seen since the 1930s. In 1847, Layard used keleks to float 30-ton Lamassu (human-headed winged bulls) downriver from Nineva to the port at Basra. They now grace the British Museum. #cmarsh

Heading Upstream

These Evinrude-powered bellams at the Marine Science Centre's East Hammar Field Station - Hareer carried us up the Garmat Ali Canal in October 2012 to view East Hammar marsh recovery. The verdict? No so much ... #cmarsh

Taradas at Qabab

The sleek tarada provided Wilfred Thesiger the fastest-available transport between villages of the Awhar. He photographed these in Qabab, east of Kut and west of Ali-Al-Garbi. Those lands are now long-dried. We hope to create new salt marshes, far to the south, where one day the graceful tarada may dock. #cmarsh

The Tarada Returns to Mesopotamian Marshlands

Image © Nature Iraq.
The tarada has been little-seen for half a century. This is in part because more-settled conditions in the 1950s reduced the demand for raiding canoes, but even more because of the introduction of outboard motors, which are more easily mounted on mashufs and bellams. However, it was marsh drainage that sounded their death knell. The high prow is specifically adapted to slicing through cane breaks. Once these were drained, and/or cross-cut with canals, there was no need for the added weight. this "drydocked" tarada was located for restoration by the Tigris River Flotilla#cmarsh

To the Land of Sinbad

"THE HOUSE OF SINBAD THE SAILOR, BASRA," c. 1920. From A Dweller in Mesopotamia, by Donald Maxwell
Artistic licence has foreshortened the view, but the bellam prow in the foreground rests in almost the same spot as my previous post "Almost Halfway There." #cmarsh

Monday, March 17, 2014

Over the Top!

 Bellam Prow
Image © Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford
This bellam stern was photographed in 1956 by WIlfred Thesiger, whose widely-read book The Marsh Arabs, still in print, first captured European imagination in that decade, Click the image to see more of his wonderful photographs, curated by the Pitt-Rivers Museum. #cmarsh

A Fleet of Bellams

This "fleet" of brightly-painted bellams is anchored on the shore of the Shatt Al Arab, across from Sinbad Island, north of Basra. Once used to ferry honeymooners a la Venician gondolas, they now sit mostly idle. #cmarsh

All the Way from Erbil!

In this turn-of-the-20th-century postcard, bellams jostle with mahailas for quay space outside the old Basra Customs House, looking toward the Ashar district. Some of them no doubt came down the Tigris with trade from the north. #cmarsh

All Aboard!

Water taxis along the Ashar Creek corniche in the 1950s. Some of these, lovingly restored, are still in service today, powered by nearly indestructible diesel engines. #cmarsh

Speeding Up!

For this tour of the West Hammar marshes in 2010, we got the mashuf, and the rest of the bus piled into two motorized bellams. #cmarsh

Off to a Great Start!

We used this Ashar boat to run sidescan sonar survey along the Shatt Al-Arab in May 2013. #cmarsh.

First Fish

We met this father and son in their mashuf last year, north of the Euphrates River, in former marshes drained for 20 years, then re-flooded with polluted, brackish irrigation return water. Needless to say,their nets were empty. #cmarsh.

Water From Oil: Can We Help Restore Iraq's Marshes?

Collapse of the marsh ecosystems of southern Iraq after 1991 forced hundreds of thousands of people into urban slums, and led to contamination of the remaining water supply. We will establish three test beds to see whether brackish water returned from oil drilling and refining can be used to construct new salt marshes. These will filter water, provide forage for livestock, create habitat for fish nurseries, and give new economic opportunities.To learn more, or to support this effort, click here.