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6. Folk Boats of Eastern French Louisiana William B. Knipmeyer Introduced and edited by Henry Glassie Introduction Work boats are ideal artifacts for folkloristic study. They exist within complicated traditional systems devised for dealing with the resources —fish, shellfish, and waterfowl—and hardships—sudden seas and swampy land—presented by the thousands of miles of coastal and inland water in the United States. The systems involving small craft include not only fishing gear and boat-building tools, but also elaborate means of trade (the retention, for example, of unnecessary middlemen), matters of status (the difference between a waterman with a farm and a farmer with a boat, between captain and crew on even a two-man clamdigging boat), and the cultural wisdom essential to success in an occupation where man interacts directly with nature (turn the hatch cover on a skipjack upside down and you might become tangled in the oyster dredge and drown; fail to note the pattern of wind on the water and you might find yourself too far from shore when a storm comes up). The boat, like the rest of the waterman's culture, is at once conservatively retained and readily changed; the situation is precarious, at least economically; what has worked before will work again, perhaps. Though American folklorists have not as yet rendered attention to boats as folk things, boats, unlike most other material manifestations of American folk culture, have received good historical taxonomic scrutiny of the kind that folklorists normally accord their interests. Studies by scholars like Howard I. Chapelle1 —and the consciousness of type, terminology, and change on the part of the watermen themselves, a kind of awareness that will be both surprising and refreshing to the fieldworker used to interviewing carriers of the culture of agriculture— will save the folklorist much time in research and classification and allow him to get on, if he will, to more dynamic considerations. Still, in the study of boats as objects in the grand schemes of space and time, there are things that need doing. The boat scholars have limited their studies largely to the era of sail in a way reminiscent of the ballad scholar's rejection of instrumental accompaniment: of the rigged canoe on the Chesapeake, M. V. Brewington writes nostalgically, "Where once the waters of the Bay were alive with hundreds of trim canoes, all busy sailing to and from their work, one now finds only oily, grimy motorboats on the oyster beds."2 Oily and grimy, but practical and traditional, boats that can be classed as folk outlasted the days of sail and are still being built regularly in many parts of America. William B. Knipmeyer, a cultural geographer rather than a sailboat enthusiast, told the full story of the folk boats of a single area in the dissertation he submitted for his Ph.D. degree from the Department of Geography and Anthropology at Louisiana State 105 William Β. Knipmeyer University in 1956. Like many of the dissertations prepared under the direction of Professor Fred Kniffen, it is an original work of prime importance for students of American folk culture. The dissertation, entitled "Settlement Succession in Eastern French Louisiana," begins with the physical and historical settings for settlement and then examines in detail aspects of the cultural landscape: the form of settlement, the morphology of economic landscapes, and house, outbuilding, fence, and enclosure types. The last chapter before the conclusions is on folk boats. It is in this chapter that his work is most pioneering. Dr. Knipmeyer , now professor of geography at Northwestern State College of Louisiana in Natchitoches, was approached by Professor Kniffen about publishing his chapter on boats. He had no interest in reworking it for publication but gladly gave permission for me to do so. The text of Chapter 7 from Professor Knipmeyer's dissertation, unchanged except for minor matters of style, follows without abridgement. Folk Boats One of the most outstanding characteristics of the settlements in eastern French Louisiana is their location near some body of water; most settlements are on or near bayous, rivers, lakes, swamps, or marshes. Water bodies are important in the daily living of the people, serving as both resources and communications—without them many settlements would never have come into existence. Each body of water has its own particular use and resources; each is the center of different kinds of activity and has different requirements of trafficability. The marsh, for example, is essential to the trapper, who must use special boats and methods...


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