5 Things You Didn’t Know About the Ancient Art of Boatbuilding

Hip hip hooray, travel season is back at last! And June-ver believe where we ended up this month 👀
For our latest special, Loka and gang ventured up to the Northeastern parts of Peninsular Malaysia. It’s the home of picturesque beaches, quaint and quiet small town living, and most importantly, the traditional art of boatbuilding.

Did you know? 🧐

The Malay community is known to be among the best sailors in history! With a track record of travelling far and wide along the Malay Archipelago. Their ancestors were said to have travelled as far as the Polynesian Islands and then to Madagascar and later on, the West Coast of Africa. In fact, it is said that their descendents still inhabit these places to this day. 

Back in those days, sailors and fishermen used boats made out of wood. They were meticulously handcrafted and then adorned with beautiful, hand painted visuals for protection at sea. Unfortunately, after the second World War, many sailors swapped their wooden boats for more modern, mechanical boats as they were cheaper and more convenient to use. 

Today, the number of wooden boats out at sea have gone down significantly, as there aren’t as many boatbuilders left. This has also caused its prices to skyrocket, leading to the lack of orders or the need for it as there are cheaper alternatives available.

So, what’s so special about these boats? 

Aside from its beautifully handcrafted finishes, the traditional Perahu (boat) was designed based on beliefs from the community in the past! Here are 5 things we learned about the Perahu that we think you love to know too 😉


Each vessel has a Bangau and Okok 

These are wooden pieces at the front of the boat that function to support the sail, balance the boat, and help draw fishing nets in. The Bangau is placed on the left side of the boat and the Okok, on the right. While they may have practical functions, this didn’t stop the craftsmen from flexing their artistic skills when it came to designing and carving ornate motifs on them!

Wait, Bangau as in ‘Bangau’?

It’s a bird, it’s a plane - no, it’s really a bird! That’s right, the Bangau was shaped after the bangau (English Translation: Egret or Crane). And the Okok is actually designed to be the tail of the crane. ‘Why bangau tho’ you ask? Well, the Malay community believe that they give sailors good luck at sea! This is because of the bird’s love for fishies. It was also believed that a motif of the bangau had a spirit and that it would keep them safe on their voyages. 

The heart of the perahu 

While the Bangau and Okok’s ornate beauty caught viewers' eyes, there’s another part of the boat that’s even more important to the sailors and the fishermen. It’s called the Caping. The Caping is shaped as a betel leaf and has plant motifs carved into it. It’s also permanently attached to the keel of the ship and was often described to be like a Banyan Tree, which was sacred to the community. Back then, it was believed that the Banyan Tree was home to guardian spirits, and having it in the form of the Caping served as protection and the safety guardian for the whole crew on board!

Blessings at sea 

In the past, people believed that every object (animate or inanimate) possessed a spirit. The fishing community believed that the friendly spirits of the sea and sky hovered above the Bangau. So, most boat owners would hold blessing ceremonies at least three times a year for the safety and protection of their crew. The ceremony would be conducted by a bomoh and the ritual would involve both the Bangau and Okok. They would be anointed with oil, covered with face powder and had a garland with fragrant flowers placed upon them. 

Of colours and culture 

Out of all the wooden Perahus, the kolae boat remains the most unique with vibrant colours and intricate designs all over. The lower part of this boat is usually painted in red and it boasts beautiful paintings of flowers and the traditional Thai Kanok (flame-like) patterns that are usually painted by hand by the boatbuilder themselves. The only exception to how they could decorate their boats was that they weren’t allowed to paint visuals of humans or animals, as it was against their Islamic beliefs to do so. 

Our nation has never been short of talented craftsmen, from past to present. And to celebrate the wonderful heritage of boat-making, we’re releasing our latest Perahu Payang postcard special. Inspired by the treasure trove of knowledge from encyclopedias and a boat craftsmen’s careful attention to detail, our latest design takes you on a voyage behind the scenes of traditional boatbuilding. Collect them all today!

*Only available with #PostcardSwapWithLoka 💌

Wait a minute! What’s #PostcardSwapWithLoka? 😮

Been out of the loop? That’s okay! #PostcardSwapWithLoka is our latest initiative with the world! All you have to do is write us a postcard and we’ll reply to you with an exclusively designed postcard from our studios. 

Psst, they aren’t available for sale anywhere! You can get them virtually free from us (well, you just have to swap a postcard with us!) 😄

Want to see your postcard in our studios? Here’s how you can get started!

1️⃣ Fill in your details in this Google Form: https://forms.gle/9GvskBJdpT7CMx137 
2️⃣ Send a postcard to Loka at No.35-2, USJ9/5s, Subang Business Centre, 47620, Subang Jaya
3️⃣ Keep a lookout for Loka’s reply with the exclusive Perahu Payang design 😉

We’ve been blessed with replies from new friends in Malaysia and abroad! And we can’t wait to hear from you too. ‘Til then, stay safe and keep exploring!


  • Hello, I like to swap traditional boat card
    My address
    B-5-12 USJ One Avenue Condo,
    Persiaran Subang Mewah,
    47500 Subang Jaya, Selangor.

    Kerry Swan
  • Hello, I like to swap traditional boat card.
    My address
    B-5-12 USJ One Avenue Condo,
    Persiaran Subang Mewah,
    47500 Subang Jaya, Selangor.

    Kerry Swan

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