The Balinese Jukung (or outrigger canoe) has a rich and colorful history. They are so prevalent in Bali and so vibrant that they are arguably one of the most photographed icons of this beautiful Indonesian Island.
But who uses these hand-crafted little vessels and what are they used for in today’s modern era of fiberglass speedboats?
Jukung, or sometimes ‘cadik’ are originally hand-crafted wooden canoes with outriggers (or supports) on one or both sides of the vessel. This is primarily for support and this design, while the Jukung is Balinese, has been designed and used throughout South-East Asia and the South Pacific since around 200 Anno Domini (so, 200 years after Christ).
There are some varying theories on how an almost identical design managed to penetrate so many vast islands in the region, but it would seem clear that some intrepid travelers (or lost fishermen) ended up on different islands and the design spread throughout the area.
One thing they all have in common is that they are typically bright in color, colored and designed to symbolise the boat-builder or area of the craftsmen. They were all built for local transportation and primarily fishing. They are known to be sturdy, robust and able to withstand precarious conditions. Fast and nimble, the Jukung were known for their capacity to skim over shallow reefs and also withstand ocean conditions.
They are typically carved from the Camplung tree and bamboo and once fully constructed they undergo a traditional blessing ceremony. In true Bali tradition, the Jukung will then undergo a blessing ceremony with offerings of rice, flowers, and fruits. A very beautiful ceremony that is wonderful to view.
Now, in modern days the wind-powered wood-crafted Jukung is almost gone on the beautiful island of Bali. While they are still used for novel adventures (tourists) or for those that may not be able to afford an outboard engine, the Jukung are now often utilised for an unlikely use – Scuba Diving, Snorkeling, and Surfing. At Bali Scuba, we use Jukung when we go diving in some dives like Padang Bai or Tepekong.
Since the 1970s, there has been an increasing awareness in Bali to protect the environment. So access to wood to make the traditional Jukung became increasingly challenging. The Jukung are still sturdy and inexpensive – so you will now find many fiberglass Jukung that are used and equipped to take divers and surfers to their desired location.
The Jukung design is still the same, it has not really deviated much from the original designs from hundreds of years ago. The boat owners and captains are still typically from fishing and building heritage and they custom design their boats to fit surfboards and Scuba equipment.
You will still find they are colorful and their designs will still often reflect who made them and where they were made (so, which part of Bali). They are ornate and you will find them beached after a day’s activity all around the island of Bali. They make for beautiful foregrounds for photographers of all skill levels and they seem to be synonymous with island life.
So, when you are here in Bali and your dive centre uses a ‘Jukung’ then please remember a brief history of this amazing vessel, its heritage, and history. You are now on board enjoying a relatively new sport on-board a boat steeped in wonderful tradition.
A final point to mention is that if you ever happen to dream of a Jukung (or a similar style craft), then experts say that this represents your capacity to withstand and navigate your way through difficult times and circumstances. Another fun fact on a boat that truly represents the eclectic history of Bali.
Adam Lacey, Bali Scuba