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Greece to Found New School for Construction of Iconic Kaiki Boats

The tradition of building Greece’s iconic kaiki wooden fixing boats will survive, thanks to a new program sponsored by the Ministry of Culture. Credit: Greek Reporter

After Greece placed strict prohibitions on fishing in an effort to reduce overfishing in the Aegean, the Ministry of Culture and Sports is implementing a comprehensive and sustainable plan for the preservation of carpentry and traditional boats, or Kaiki.

As part of a teleconference with the Minister of Culture and Sports, Lina Mendoni, announced the creation of a Vocational Training and Apprenticeship Program in Carpentry.

The project will also enjoy the participation of Prof. Andreas Papasalouros, the President of the Department of Mathematics of the University of the Aegean; Dr. Costas Damianidis, a researcher of the History of Carpentry; and Willy Fotopoulou, the head of the Directorate of Modern Cultural Heritage of Greece.

Fisherman Dimitris Livanos. Credit: Greek Reporter

One of the factors that has seriously threatened the ancient art of boatbuilding in Greece is the reactivation of vessel destruction measures as part of European Union policies to reduce the number of professional fishermen, part of what it believed is the prudent management of fish stocks.

In the last 25 years alone, about 11,000 of these iconic Greek kaiki vessels have been lost, many of which were monuments of the country’s ancient tradition of shipbuilding. The Ministry of Culture — to the extent that it can — constantly attempts to rescue some of the most traditional vessels, in particular those that are living evidence of this great shipbuilding tradition.

As Mendoni stated on Monday, “The preservation of the valuable knowledge of carpentry imposes its protection but also its promotion in the modern educational, economic and social environment.

Fishing boat in Patitiri, Alonissos. Credit: Patricia Claus/Greek Reporter

“The new apprenticeship structure will contribute to the preservation and promotion of the art of carpentry, to the creation of new jobs, specialized staff, to the social and economic development of local communities,” she added. In some areas, it will also be possible to create thematic Cultural Routes including Greek boatyards, she noted.

“The rescue of the art and tradition of carpentry and its rebirth in a modernizing context is directly intertwined with the cultural identity of a naval nation, such as the Greek. For millennia, wooden boats have been associated with all the great moments of a seafaring people with a unique tradition in the seafaring, shipbuilding and nautical arts,” Mendoni stated.

Kaiki boatbuilding is a “living traditional art”

Boatbuilding is one of Greece’s oldest traditions. Guided by a drive to preserve it for posterity, the Ministry of Culture and Sports included boat carpentry in the National Index of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2013.

The submission of an application for the registration of Boatbuilding in the International Catalogs of the Convention for the Preservation of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2022 is already being prepared by the Ministry of Culture.

The new Apprenticeship and Vocational Training program will operate based on the framework recently established by the Ministry of Education, alongside the post-secondary educational model, in collaboration with the University of the Aegean’s School of Sciences, based on the island of Samos.

The Department of Mathematics, headed by its President Prof. Andreas Papasalouros, will undertake the design and editing of the necessary educational manuals, as well as the preparation of the new study program.

The Faculty of Sciences of the University of the Aegean is already a participant in the creation and development of the Museum of Shipbuilding and Maritime Arts of the Aegean, in Ireo, Samos.

The first application of the study program will be accomplished in the boat maintenance laboratory of the Museum, as part of the museological study approved by the Museum Council of the Ministry of Culture.

There are several such boatbuilding schools that have produced excellent results in several European countries and the US, as well as in Turkey and Qatar.

EU offers compensation to fishermen to destroy traditional Greek kaiki boats

Fisherman Petros Tzevelekos’ beloved boat was one of about 13,000 kaikia which have been deliberately destroyed since 1994, after a European Union directive called for the demolition of the small wooden fishing boats which Greek fishermen have used for untold centuries.

The directive, which aims at putting a stop to overfishing in the Mediterranean, applies to other Mediterranean countries as well.

The European Commission law calls for Greek fishermen to give up their fishing boats and licenses in exchange of a few thousand euros as compensation.

However, the papers allowing the compensation must be signed at the very moment the boat is destroyed, which means that the owner must be present during the “cutting.” This anthropomorphic term is the word the fishermen use when their beloved kaiki is broken to pieces by a bulldozer.

“I had my kaiki for forty tears,” Tzevelekos told Greek Reporter in a recent interview before Monday’s announcement. “The money we got was very little, since its was a small boat. I felt very bad when they cut it… I feel sad for losing it.”

“I didn’t do it because I was forced, though. I’m 75 now, I can’t work. But I will continue to fish. I’ll find a small boat to fish for myself,” he stresses.

Α cruel law threatening a centuries-old tradition

“Every crack was a stab in my heart,” said Dimitris Livanos of Agiopyrgos — also from North Evia — describing the boat demolition that he was forced to witness.

The EU law asks fishermen to surrender their boat and license in order to be compensated.

Every time the owner of a kaiki fishing boat gives up his license for subsidy, the boat must be broken to pieces, making sure that it can never be used again for fishing.

The “cutting” procedure takes place during specific time periods, approximately every two years.

The directive may be aimed at stopping overfishing in the Mediterranean, but without a doubt it shows a complete disregard for the strong sentimental value the traditional kaikia hold for their owners.

As an age-old maritime country, a large proportion of Greece’s population depends on fishing for their livelihood. Countless generations of Greek islanders and coastal inhabitants on the mainland have made their living from the sea, and the the main tool for their trade was their kaiki.

“I spent sixty years at sea,” Livanos relates. “I had an eight-meter (26-foot) boat. But the years passed and I had to cut it. It was very sad. Now I can’t work to live, since the money I got was little.”

The fisherman also touched on the emotional subject of the destruction of the traditional kaikia, which also signifies the death of an ancient Greek tradition.

“These boats are traditional. They shouldn’t cut them. They should keep them and display them. There are no new craftsmen now to build such boats. They should conserve them. There are no craftsmen now to either restore them or build new ones,” Livanos says.

Incalculable damage to fishing tradition

In addition to the incalculable damage to the many Greeks who make a living by fishing, the EU directive also threatens the centuries-long traditional craft of boatbuilding. Building a wooden fishing boat requires exceptional craftmanship and knowledge of the qualities of various wood types as well.

Greece has a long and proud heritage in kaiki building. The construction of such a vessel requires natural timber, special design and construction techniques and equipment, and then decorating according to specific cultural practices.

The technique of kaiki building and maintenance has naturally passed down from generation to generation since ancient times. But as the years go by, the tradition fades. The destroyed kaikia will not be replaced.

The descendants of traditional fishermen have turned their sights to tourism, for the most part, or even other professions entirely which may have nothing to do with the wine-dark sea.

Another tradition which seems to be dying out, along with kaiki, is the karnagio, the small shipyard where fishing boats have always been maintained or repaired. Always seaside and sometimes within harbors, the karnagia have always been an indelible part of Greece’s fishing tradition.

Efforts to salvage the kaiki now justified in new program

The Traditional Boat Association of Greece is a private organization which is making concerted efforts to save traditional boats from extinction.

Established in 1999, the Association attempted to introduce a program which, instead of destroying them, will allow the salvage and restoration of traditional boats through private ownership.

“There are about 15,000 fishing boats left, based on the number of current licenses. We don’t know how many of these are traditional,” says Nikos Kavallieros, president of the Association.

“This doesn’t mean they are all active. Some of the fishermen have retired, some boats are damaged and cannot be repaired, or the owners can’t afford to repair them. Others keep them on shore,” he states.

“So far, 13,000 traditional fishing boats have been destroyed. About 10,000 were destroyed according to the EU directive and 3,000 have been abandoned or damaged and they are no longer active,” he adds.

But a new day is thankfully dawning now in Greece, as the government takes this enormous step in the preservation of the iconic Greek craft, the building of the kaiki, so that the skills needed to create these graceful wooden boats will never be forgotten and lost to history.

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