Ugandan visual Artist, Sheila Nakitende of @rtpunch studio contacted me after reading this Humblyband blog. Inspired by the simplicity, environmental and economical advantages of my project and motivated by the poor state of the maritime culture in her own country, we began discussions surrounding a possible exchange of ideas and practice with regard to boat building. We quickly recognised that the potential legacy of such a project in Uganda was enormous.

Despite being the second largest fresh water lake in the world, Lake Victoria does not present the economic strength that it should for the Ugandan people who live on its shores.  Nakitende explained to me that few possess the funds to build or purchase a boat and cannot afford to attend the boat building course offered by Uganda’s  Fisheries Institute. The institute is the only one of its kind in East Africa but despite this, they face significant economic and environmental obstacles in delivering their programme,

We failed to complete our swimming pool and we lack training boats. Swimming is a must for all students, but the lake shores are contaminated with bilharzia,”

Gertrude Abalo – Fisheries Institute Principal

I first met Sheila Nakitende whilst on a Triangle International Artists Residency in Zambia. She currently works as manager in one of Kampala’s best known art gallerys, Tulefanya, and continues to develop her practice in the @rtpunch studio space founded by Donald Waswaa in 2007. Sheila perceives this boat building exchange not only as an art project but also as an opportunity for creative enterprise that will benefit the entire community,

‘’ It is big!. There is the potential to start a small boat making industry on the Islands. We would not be shy about it like the nation is. We are sure that we could not only make an income but also employ local people and improve their livelihoods. The demand is there.’’

Sheila Nakitende

Sheila and I very much see this first exchange as a period of research and development, as such we kept our goals for my first visit to Uganda, modest and achievable with a focus on developing a network, however small, of firm relationships with material suppliers boat builders and the fisheries institute.

As time was short, we did not necessarily set out with the goal of building a boat but as we came to recognise, it was necessary to have a solid reference point to gain the full commitment of those showing tentative interest.

I began by writing a narrative account of what passed in Uganda, but it is all still swirling in my mind, Instead it is perhaps better to leave you with these slideshows and accompanying notes. In April 2011, I will be delivering a full paper on Humblyband at the University of East Anglia’s Basketry and Beyond, Constructing Cultures conference, in which I will discuss this exchange and the wider project. The conference runs from 14th-16th April and will be followed later in the year by a publication, which will include extended papers by all speakers. UEA intends the published volume of papers to constitute an obvious starting point for anyone interested in understanding the place of basketry in human culture from a broadly academic perspective.

Lake Victoria Boat Building Exchange 2010

Dhows are a developed form of sewn planked canoes. They are carvel built with planks edge to edge. Long used on the coast, they first appear on Lake Victoria around 1880, used by Arab traders plying between Nwanza and Buganda.

Pictured in Uganda's national museum.

Nsambya cane furniture workshop.

Pictured: Idi. Uganda is rich in fibre. Green Cane provided the perfect alternative to willow and Hazel. The cane is cut from the marshes at Hoima, not far from Kampala.

The Ugandan Coracle's Oak seat.

Many hands make light work.

Weaving with green cane is easy due to its immense flexibility. When dried out, this tough fibre will be equally strong.

Cane laths have a mind of their own, so they were tied at the top to ease the weaving process.

Pictured in the grounds of @rtstamp studio.

At the time of my departure, Sheila was trying to track down the final materials needed to complete the Coracle: Calico, bitumen and tarred string. I left Uganda with a huge bundle of Bark Cloth, yes, cloth made entirely from bark! incredible stuff, which I hope to cover my next Coracle with. Waterproofing the material without losing its chracter, texture and colour will be a challenge! To learn more about bark cloth, visit The Ugandan Bark Cloth Project blog:


Ggaba Fishing Port and Boat Yard

Ggaba market.


The boats from Ggaba carry passengers to many of the islands in the Lake Victoria archipelago aswell as Tanzania.

The boat yard sits alongside the smoking station. The whole area has a rich aroma of wood shavings and smoke.

The boats built in Ggaba are considered 'artisanal' because the builders are using skills passed down through generations. The ministry of Culture did make an attempt at working with the artisanal boat builders to improve the quality of their boats, but the builders were unable to read and could not understand the drawings.

Joseph is our most favorite boat builder in Ggaba, he has been building boats all his life. It takes him and two other men on average 1 week to complete a boat. All their boats are built in the carvel style and using only hand tools.

Upon the hillside overlooking the yard and port are some larger projects!

One day I'll have my own!!!!

Smoked fish heads.



Entebbe Fisheries Training Institute

Entebbe Fisheries Training Institute is the only institute of its kind in East Africa. This is the main boat building shed.

In order to graduate, each student must create a perfect scale model of a boat. Pictured - Eyodu Martin, head of department.

The institute has produced 2 female boat builders so far, with another only 6 months away from graduation.

Students are given the opportunity to work on real boat commissions through the institutes comercial projects, which help fund the operations. These boats are all built in the carvel style and take 2-3 weeks to build.

Entebbe Maribu Stork.


Notes from Entebbe Fisheries Training Institute

We were kindly escorted to the Fisheries Training Institute by Welusimbi Dirise, former chairman of Ggaba fishing committee whom we met at Ggaba on Saturday, and who is currently running as a candidate for Councillor of the Ggaba parish.

We were directed to Martin Eyodu and Peter Odiria with whom we began discussions on the state of boat building in Uganda.

Main points:

There are few regulations in place with regard to the standards of boat building, which has led to the poor quality of artisanal building that we saw in Ggaba, being preferred to high quality boats such as those sold commercially by the Institute.

Fishermen instead buy cheap, flimsy boats with illegal gear. The fishermen often capsize and are killed in these boats but the deaths are never registered, so no notice is taken.

Lake Victoria Act. 2007

Amongst other things, the act states that all fishing vessels should have a license, all boat builders should be licensed after being assessed by a competent body but these regulations have proved hard to implement and despite pressure from the Institute, the government is slow to proceed with any action.

A fundamental problem facing the act is lack of cohesion in the governing of the waterways: The ministry of Agriculture is responsible for fishing vessels but the Ministry of Works is responsible for water transport and it is they who are in charge of implementing the Act..but won’t.

The ministry of Culture did make an attempt at working with the artisanal boat builders to improve the quality of their boats, but the builders were unable to read and could not understand the drawings.

Once the students leave the institute, there is little/no incentive to remain in the industry, they find themselves with not even the most basic equipment and unless they can be employed by another builder or the government, it is almost impossible for them to go into business for themselves.

The course is 3 years and the students are expected to have a high standard of carpentry, often working on wooden furniture as well as boats. The cost of buying in the wood for boats is very high and as the institute receives very little support, the students are often engaged in completing commercial commissions and repairs. The students do not build their own boats but are expected to finish an accurate scale model in order to graduate.

The boats take 2-3 weeks to build using the carvel technique with a v shaped hull. The planks are usually sealed with cotton, putty or bitumen and are made from mahogany. The boats are finished in light blue marine paint and are sold for between 1.5-2 million USH. Sometimes, the boats are built to a lower standard whilst not compromising integrity, in order to make them more financially accessible to fishermen.

The institute staff were extremely interested in the project, recognising the potential for the both Coracle and Curach style vessels in the pleasure and recreation sector, one which they have thus far failed to meet.

This was a very positive beginning for the collaboration. We aim to build upon this first meeting and build a meaningful relationship with the institute that will hopefully lead to an exciting exchange of knowledge and techniques.

Lots to consider….