The kayak and the canoe are two of the world’s oldest forms of transportation. These forms of transport have obviously been around since people have been living in areas with large bodies of water. The oldest known canoe is a dugout canoe we know about today, discovered in the Netherlands, where it is currently housed in the Drents Museum. At more than 9000 years old this astonishingly impressive Pesse canoe, as it is known, is one of the oldest extant boat in the world. First discovered in 1987 in Nigeria, the dufuna canoe is a boat from the Stone Age and is the oldest boat in Africa. At some 8000 – 8500 years old the Dufuna Canoe rivals the Pesse canoe in its antiquity. As such an ancient part of human history, it’s fun to think that despite the various technological advances over the intervening millennia, the canoe still remains a part of humans lives.
We will probably never know how early human felt about their canoes, how they used them simply as tools for crossing lakes, seas, and rivers, or if they were used for pleasure and escape and racing, as we today with cars and internet use our beloved watercraft. We do know that today there is a massive canoe industry worldwide and a great number of associated industries such as camping, trade fairs, and boating tourism.
How our ancient ancestors used canoes—as sources of pleasure as we use them—may remain a mystery for us modern human, but it is undeniable that we use them as such. In recent years, in Europe, it has become more and more common for people to do river trips, paddling up—and more often—down the great rivers in a manner not necessarily unlike how the Pesse canoe might have been used.
In modern day US and Canada, the canoe is closely associated withNative American peoples and their contribution to the world of watercraft has is palpable even today. Unlike in highly urbanised Europe many of the canoe trips throughout North America involve paddling through areas of wilderness, yet to be populated (perhaps never to be populated) by humans. For anyone with a taste for that sort of adventure and with something of a competitive spirit, a trip to Canada might be just the prescription for fighting cabin fever.
In places like the Philippines and Indonesia, a very different tradition of canoeing was developed. In archipelagos cultures the focus of water travel was on ocean transport. There the outrigger canoe was developed, with one or two floats that run parallel to the main body of the boat and provide added stability in choppy ocean waters.
Regardless of if you like American wilderness, the blue waters of the South Pacific or the streams, lakes and rivers of Europe, next time you hop in a canoe and paddle out on the water, you’re continuing a human tradition thousands of years in the making