Building & Sailing Iranian Lenj Boats, a Traditional Skill in the Persian Gulf

Iranian Lenj Boats
Iranian Lenj Boats in the Persian Gulf

One of the intangible cultural heritage examples in Iran, which is traditionally carried out in the shorelines of the Persian Gulf, is the Iranian skills of “building and sailing Iranian Lenj boats”. UNESCO has inscribed it in its list in 2011. What you will take away with you by making a trip to the Southern coastlines of the Persian Gulf is the awareness of these hard-working Iranians and their unique skills.

In Lenj sailors’ lexicon, each wind has got its own name. Together with the color of the water and wave height, such wind names are used for weather forecast. The vast sky shows the way to the sailors either by the Sun location in daylight or the Moon and star positions at nights.

Iranian Lenj Boats, from Word to Structure

Etymologically, Lenj is derived from the English word of “Launch”. Apparently,  Iranian Lenj boats have been a type of large boat or small ship used for transporting passengers or cargo for years. Such boats, known as local handicraft items, have been usually noticed in the coastlines of the Persian Gulf, Oman Sea and Indian Ocean for hundreds of years.

From structural point of view, Iranian Lenj boats are sail boats equipped by engine instead of sail to move on. Usually, Lenj builders make an open or semi-open deck to be used for fishing, pearl fishing, diving, trading and transporting goods.

Each hand-built Lenj has got its own name. Although the builders often repair these vessels instead of building them, some names are still there like Samach, Sam’ah, Hoory, Beteel, Gatar, Sho’ee, Tashaleh, Ba’aleh, Mashooh, Kochy, Manji, Bagareh, Jalbot, Sambook and Boom.

Lenj Building Industry in the Hands of Galafan

This industry is a very old one in the Persian Gulf region and dates back to Afsharid Era, the first half of 18th century. The builders of Iranian Lenj boats were known as “Galaf”. Galafs made use of primitive and simple tools. Today, they still use the same tools and methods. As they utilize old methods and tools, the construction process of building Lenjes take a lot of time.

Lenj Building Materials and Centers

Iranian Lenj Boats under Construction
Construction of Iranian Lenj Boats in Persian Gulf Coastlines

It takes limited number of materials to build Iranian Lenj boats. At first step, they build the framework out of solid wood resistible against moisture. This is one of the main materials used. The next step is to build the boat body out of some Indian wood panels called “Sai”. To fix bits and pieces to each other, some accessories (such as nails, bolts and nuts) are used, which they supply from the same region or buy from Esfahan.

Finally, they apply cotton impregnated with coconut and sesame oil for decorating and strengthening boat’s body. In local language, they call this technique “Kalfat Kooby”. Lenjes’ rifts are filled with such impregnated cotton pieces and sealed by pitch to make sure water cannot penetrate inside.

The home of this ancient craft is “Kang Port” in Iran. The tradition of Lenj building in this port dates back to the time when it started to be inhabited as a settlement. There were several Lenjes and vessels from Africa to China and even the Mediterranean crossing by this region. Bushehr port, Ganaveh port, Reeg port, Sheef port and some other ports on the Iranian south coastlines were and are involved in building Lenjes.

Lenj Building Embellishment

Iranians have created literary embellishment and performing arts to make the traditional skills of Lenj building more attractive. Such intangible cultural heritage is somewhat related to the methods of boat building, boat sailing, navigating and weather forecasting handed over from father to son in a traditional way.

Music in Iranian Lenj Boats

Since very old times, music and rhythm were inseparable parts of Lenj sailing culture. The word Lenj has always been associated with the sailors’ group whisper while traveling across the sea. This mysterious image has depicted Lenj sailing in everyone’s memory. Sailors press ahead as they’re singing certain songs in a soft way.

Travel with Us

A journey to the Persian Gulf’s coastlines and a visit to its ports to see the singing sailors is a unique experience that will remain in your memories for the years to come. A trip to this area will create a sweet exploration experience in Iranian history and culture. The traditional skill of Lenj building and Lenj sailing is a must-see intangible cultural heritage of Iranians inscribed in UNESCO.

About The Author

Rahman Mehraby is the Tour Consultant who has traveled across Iran and guided tours for more than 15 years. He’s an author and the owner of Destination Iran.

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