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Seattle Central College students visit and study the Burke’s Jukung

March 30, 2018

At the end of winter quarter, students from the Marine Technology program at Seattle Central College and their instructor, Sam Laher, toured the offsite location housing the Burke Museum’s collection of traditional, wooden boats from Southeast Asia, the Pacific Northwest, and other points around the globe.  They were met by Peter Lape, UW professor of Anthropology and the Burke’s Curator of Archaeology, who showed off what he described as an unusual collection, noting that no one set out to acquire this particular set of vessels.  Instead the boats found their way to the Burke, some in the unlikeliest ways.  One of the best examples may be the Balinese jukung which was found in disrepair and abandoned on a Seattle sidewalk.

Lape hasn’t been able to uncover the full story of its journey here but, after years of trying, he was able to trace its point of origin to a fishing village on Bali’s northeast coast.  A distinguishing feature on the jukung turned out to be  like a fingerprint: each village had its own unique design for the earring routinely painted on the bow and this one was recognized as originating from Kusamba.

The jukung is designed for tuna fishing and is built for speed; Lape described it as a sportscar with a little too much engine.  They need to be fast not only for trolling but to get the day’s catch back to market as quickly as possible in the equatorial heat.  The boat is exceptionally narrow with outriggers that just skim the water’s surface and a sail that can catch too much of a breeze at times.  Villagers tell stories of boats capsizing from flying too fast back to port or after hooking a particularly powerful shark.

Another vessel the students paid particular attention to was a canoe unearthed along the Green River over 50 years ago.  Radiocarbon testing and methods of construction date the canoe’s construction between 1820 and 1870.  The students weren’t there just to observe, however.  They’ll be building cradles for both the Green River canoe and the jukung to support the boats and make them easier to display.  Torsten Regets, who will complete the five-quarter program this spring, noted the design team’s main challenge is to provide an appropriate support structure considering the fragility of the canoe.  Regets will use computer aided drafting and design (CADD) technology to meet that challenge.  He explained, “CADD gives us the ability to design and fit the parts together in a virtual environment, allowing us to conceptually build without actually touching the artifact.” Students learn CADD technology as part of their curriculum, along with the fabrication techniques and spatial planning skills necessary to use it successfully.

The students will start designs for the canoe and then turn to the jukung.  The project is part of a joint collaboration between Seattle Central College’s Wood Technology Center, the Burke Museum, and the Southeast Asia Center.