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19th century Makassan prahu padawakang

Date: 1987
Overall: 590 x 760 x 170 mm
Medium: Balsa, hibiscus wood, paper, raw silk, pandanus leaves
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Ship model
Object No: 00000463
Related Place:Indonesia,

User Terms

    At a scale of 1:25 this ship model represents a prahu (perahu) padawakang, a type of vessel typically used by the Macassan traders during the 19th century. For centuries Macassans were active sailing on the Timor and Arafura seas to northern Australia conducting trade with the Indigenous population. They collected trepang, turtle shells and other marine products for sale. This trade disappeared at the end of the 19th century after the Australian government introduced customs taxes and license fees for Macassan traders.

    SignificanceThis model represents vessels used by Macassans in the 19th century and was made using the techniques and materials of traditional boat builders. The Macassans were involved in the first export industry in Australia.
    HistorySince at least the 17th century Macassan traders from Indonesia were coming to the shores of northern Australia on an annual basis to harvest trepang (sea cucumbers, beche de mer) - a delicacy favoured throughout Asia, particularly in China. Macassan prahus could hold up to 30 people and carry rice as a staple food source, canoes for close-in work, clay pots for cooking and bamboo for constructing makeshift shelters.At the time, Macassan traders were travelling in the most technologically advanced vessels seen in Australian waters.

    In their prahus (also spelled perahu) they sailed down during the monsoonal wet season and returned at the start of the dry season to trade with Dutch and Chinese merchants. They also collected and traded other marine products such as pearls, pearl shell, trochus shell, fish, turtle shells and meat. This trade started to decline at the turn of the 20th century when the Australian government introduced customs taxes and license fees as a deterrent.

    The contact between the local Indigenous people, the Yolngu and the Macassans had an impact on both cultures in aspects of art, trade, technology, language, economy and even marriage. The Macassan visitors are remembered in Indigenous oral history, ceremonies and paintings depicting Macassan prahus.

    Related People
    Model Maker: Nick Burningham

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