The Sakalava pirogue belongs to the “outrigger pirogues” great family that can be found mainly in Asia, Polynesia and East Africa.
Madagascar outrigger pirogues have their origin in two main regions of the globe: the Indonesian’s Arc – Borneo- (two floats canoes) and Sri Lanka (single float canoes).
It was probably erring sailor rather than great migrations who brought the first pirogue on Madagascar west shorelines.
Cultural intermingling, environmental constraints, and good seamanship, gradually evolve from these two influences the typical Sakalava pirogue we know today. She is composed of a narrow center hull (usually between 4 and 9 meters) made with a hollowed trunk topped by several pieces of timber and assembled planks. The hydrodynamic shape of the whole, reminds of Venetian gondolas and … modern racing multihulls.
The float is built in a very light wood. It is linked to the hull by two highly flexible and solid wooden poles cleverly fixed with ropes, ensuring to the whole a high resistance combined to flexibility.
The tiny one
Easy to handle, even by a child or an elderly, she measures between three and five meters and has no sail. Her central hull is only composed of a hollowed trunk. . One person can easily pull her off tide. Light and just above the waves, she can move through mangroves and estuaries sandbanks. She does not go off coast, but ensure autonomy around a village, like a moped or a motorcycle … but on water.
The middle size one
She is the most common. she measures between four and seven meters and has a very elaborate form. Above the core trunk is an assemblage of timbers and planks fastened by locally made square galvanized nails. Two men are sufficient to handle her. The sail is square or triangular. She is not only used to go fishing (up to 20 km offshore), but also to undertake genuine trips along the coast. However, her low load capacity (100-200 kg) does not allow her to be used for business. In the bush, it is much like ‘’the everyman car “.
The large one
Measuring from eight to thirteen meters she sometimes weighs several tons. In the past, she was used by Sakalava kings and queens to go on war expeditions, sometimes up to Comoros Islands (800 km away). During these expeditions, up to forty men could be carried. Today, these large travel pirogues still exist. Sometimes used for net fishing, they mostly transport local products (planks, coal, mangrove trunks, coconuts, oranges, rice, raffia and ravinala leaves). Their sail is often triangular, almost like the” Nile felucca’s” sails. It happens sometimes that such pirogue is provided with gaff sails, jib and mainsail. In the bush, they are a symbol of wealth, a kind of sea truck, a real development tool for one who lives in the bush and tries to earn money