Toy boats

Text: Maro Voulgari

An old seaside toy turns into a custom and back into a toy!

During the interbellum, when the first tinplate containers became available in the market, the first handmade karava (toy boat) made its first appearance on the island. Some grandfather or parent must have crafted a small tin boat for his child out of the olive oil or feta tin container that was lying about in the house. And thus emerged a lovely springtime custom, though it was not documented as such, but simply practised as a children’s game.

Little by little, the tin karava boats were embellished with a variety of colours, rigged with masts made out of sticks and reeds, and furnished with colourful sails made of rags that were easy to come by in every household. Then they were set afloat, tied with twine, to sail along the coast: the captain out of the water, on the waterfront, the boat in the water, from Ai Dimitris all the way round the port of Naoussa.

Later, children’s toys evolved and the karava boats were forgotten. Some old-timers would only construct them and pass them down to their godchildren or their newborn grandchildren as heirlooms, until the Nautical Club of Naoussa reintroduced them to the life of the island treating them once more as a toy to play with.

“When the Othon Kaparis Museum was established around 1997-98,” Tasos Kassapidis relates, “among a number of traditional items, we discovered a rare photograph where four children are playing with a karava boat. On the occasion of that photograph, and in collaboration with Naoussa Dance Club, we set up the first karava handcrafting workshop”.

Thanasis Tantanis, Vassilis Aliprantis and Dimitris Sifnaios were the first instructors who taught the new generation how to build karava boats that could “sail” in the waters of the port. So, the first event celebrating the karava boats was held whereby the small-scale sea vessels made a comeback into our lives. Five years later, the workshop was repeated and, at some point, Antonis Barbarigos, Manolis Somaripas and Stelios Malamatenios, set up an open workshop at Kostas Gouzelis’s art gallery. That winter was the most productive in karava boat output in terms of both looks and numbers as there were plenty of materials and tools available and, most certainly, love and lots of passion. Each one would get things done independently, and each one would help the other, and so the boats made their way into practically every house on the island…

Later in 2017, Naias was established, and that same winter we held a workshop called “Small Karava Boats”. Every weekend, hordes of people, school pupils and teachers, and so forth, would swarm to the marina, resulting in the crafting of over 150 boats, and the event getting a lot of publicity.

The karava boats are no longer a memory or an heirloom, but a toy for both the young and the young at heart that is being reintroduced into the local culture, this time as a handicraft taught in schools; a toy that showcases the islanders’ poverty, ingenuity, playfulness and connection to the sea.