Never thought a gift by a relative would gain such significance at short notice. As I am a full-time online student of Post Graduate Diploma in Information and Library Studies at Curtin University, Conservation and Preservation is one of the enrolled courses in which I must perform to the best of my ability. As a requirement for an assessment, I searched the entire house for a physical object that I could digitise for future preservation. During my frantic search, my eyes fell on a miniature model of traditional Kerala houseboat made of wood which my relative would have purchased from a Kerala handicrafts or culture shops or art centres as a gift. Eureka! I thought to myself. I had to choose an object that one would find in a cultural institution which I translated into an object with cultural significance.
Kerala houseboat also known as Kettu-vallam was used to transport rice, spices and other goods and hence was classified as a cargo boat. A sleek model of craftmanship with bare hands, Kettu-vallam was made of huge planks of jack wood, coir ropes, without a single nail, and was coated with a caustic black resin made from boiled cashew kernels. This symbol of culture and heritage of Kera (coconut) alam (land), the land of coconuts, besides being renowned for carrying heavy cargo, due to the interest of an entrepreneur six years ago, blossomed into one of the revenue generating businesses for Kerala tourism industry. Known to hold thirty tonnes of goods, it also housed the crew in a bamboo roofed structure where they caught fish from the river and made delicious curries to satisfy their appetites. As it took three days for the crew to sail the cargo from Kuttanadu to Cochin port, the houseboat had arrangements for the crew to sleep and rest.
It is very rare to sight a tradition houseboat nowadays as it was in 3000 B.C.E when the first house boat was built in Kerala, however sighting modernised and fully furnished house boats carrying tourists on the back waters of Alleppey is not uncommon. One would not be surprised to find the comforts of a five-star hotel in a modern houseboat. As a tourist if you have travelled to Kerala and not risked a ride on a modern houseboat then you have missed an experience of a lifetime. By modernising the traditional houseboat or kettu-vellam, the culture and heritage of Kerala continues to be preserved for posterity.