After a five-month pause due to the nationwide quarantine and other preventive measures in place to stop the spread of Covid-19, the Humat Dijla Association resumed its activities by organizing a river event where boats greeted the medical workers who were active throughout the quarantine period, putting their lives on the line to combat the epidemic. The event, which had support from the Iraqi Ministry of Youth and Sports, kicked off on Tuesday morning, 18 August, on the Tigris River in Baghdad: traditional boats floated in the river, manned by participants from different governorates as well as rowers from the Paddlers Union in Baghdad.
During the past few years, the visual artist Rashad Salim has worked with local craftsmen to reproduce the traditional boats that characterize the maritime heritage of the Mesopotamian Valley. For centuries these boats made their way down the Tigris, yet over time many have disappeared. Selim has carefully collected manuscripts and documents for the design and construction of the traditional boats and worked with craftsmen to recreate them. The knowledge of boat-building was often passed down from father to son, but since 2016 Selim himself has supervised the building of a number of traditional boats through workshops, most notably: Guffa, Kelek, Tarada, Meshouf, Kaiya, and Zaima. The construction workshops were offered in different governorates, most notably the Al-Huwair workshop in Basra, the Hilla workshop in Babylon, and the Het workshop in Anbar. The Humat Dijla Association helped complete the construction of these boats.
The riverboat celebration of medical personnel started from under the Sarafiya Bridge on the Tigris River in Baghdad. The participants stopped their boats in front of the Medical City to present messages of support and solidarity to workers there, as well as support and encouragement of those infected with the virus. They hoped to raise spirits, as this has an impact on helping to heal the sick. The ‘river cruise’ settled at its last stop in the marina at the end of Al-Mutanabi Street.
A group of specialists in the heritage boat industry from Basra came in their folk costumes to participate in the event, in addition to environmental activists from Kurdistan, and a group of young paddlers from Hilla — all joined together with a large group rom Baghdad to decorate the Tigris River with a wonderful scene of cultural diversity, enhanced by the fact that everyone was carried by traditional boats. The Iraqi Ministry of Youth and Sports provided necessary facilities and support to make this event a success with the help of the Paddlers Union in Baghdad, which hosted the boats at its headquarters overlooking the Tigris River.
Visual artist Rashad Salim plans to organize more river events, collaborating with Hamat Dijlah and in cooperation with the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Ministry of Water Resources. He hopes to revive Iraq’s endangered nautical heritage. Selim plans for his program to include a river cruise down the Tigris extending from northern Iraq to its southernmost point, with participation from all Iraqi provinces, spreading the message of preserving cultural heritage and protecting the environment.
This river event was done by the Al-Safina projects and the Humat Dijlah Association, with the support of the Ministry of Youth and Sports and in cooperation with the Paddlers Union in Baghdad, with help and support of ALIPH Foundation, the international alliance for the protection of heritage.