Sunday, 10 August 2014


Jukung in 1977 (NAA)

Jukung are small yachts. They used to have significant practical function. Now, their importance is mostly symbolic.

Jukung in 1977 (NAA)

Jukung in the old copra processing shed.

Cocos Jukung are whaleboats, not outriggers

Jukung 1977 (NAA)

Cocos Malays have their own kind of yacht called jukung (also rendered "jukong"). Although its practical uses are limited, it still possesses, I think, an important symbolic role. 

On the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, the jukung used to be the preferred mode of transport across the atoll. Unlike in Indonesia, where the term "jukung" usually refers to a sailing boat with outrigger/s, on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, the "jukung" has no outrigger. Indeed, its design could be equated with what, in the European tradition, is called a "whaleboat".

Viewed from the outside, the jukung has a white bottom (hull), over that are blue and yellow stripes, and then the top of the side (gunwale) has a varnished wood finish. It has a single and a detachable steering plank (rudder) at the back.  It also possesses only one upright pole  (mast) to hold up the sails. Jukung are of varying lengths.

Sizes of jukung

Preparing for race 2014
Jukung come in different sizes. Smaller ones, especially those designed for a single sailor, are called jukung kolek. The jukung club lists the following numbers of  jukung: 16 jukung in the 19'2"-19'8";  7 in the 19'7" - 19'20" [sic.] range; 14 in the 20'1"-20'3"; 12 in the 20'4"-20'6" range; and 2 in the 20'7"-open range. Thus, a total of 51 racing jukung were listed; all around the 19-20 foot range. The picture on the left shows a racing jukung about to head off in a race after Hari Raya

Deteriorating jukung and the shed to house them.
Additionally, many jukung are lying around Home Island, gradually disintegrating. I think this a matter of consternation for many, so the safe storage of jukung has become an important issue for locals. Indeed, when I write this in August 2014, a large shed was being constructed to house them, as depicted on the right.
 Like boats in other traditions, each jukung has its own name.

3 uses for jukung

Jukung 1982 (NAA) . 

Jukung have had three main uses. 
First, the jukung used to be used for transport (people, coconuts, etc.) around the atoll. The image on the right, for example appears to depict a coconut collector ("nutter") taking a sack of nuts from his jukung to be processed on Home Island.

Second, the jukung was used for hunting (spearing fish; sailing to Keeling Island to catch booby birds, catching turtles) and fishing (both line and net fishing).  It was not uncommon, for example, for men to sail a jukung, alone, to Keeling Island and sail back navigating by the stars. Haji Wahiib, for example, remembers waiting at night for his dad to return from Keeling Island.  The photo below seems to depict fishermen returning with a haul.
Plenty of fish in a jukung. Photo courtesy of John Clunies Ross

For various reasons, its first two uses have become obsolete. The coconut industry collapsed in the 1980s; Booby Bird has been banned by Parks Australia; turtles are now considered unfit for eating (i.e. they are thought to be haram). More importantly, for practical sailing, the jukung has been replaced by the internationally favorite small boat, the metal dinghy, otherwise known as "tinny" in Australian English. As a result, many jukung lay rotting around Home Island when I visited in 2014. 

Jukung racing
Spectators watch the 1st day of racing

The third use of jukung continues to the present; namely racing after Hari Raya. In 2014 There were five days of racing using progressively larger sails and boats. The races lasted from about 9am-10am. I have written about the races in my blog on Hari Raya .

A small amount of prize money was available for each race. Some of this had been donated by the shire. Some had been raised by the jukung club. The races were competitive, keenly fought affairs. I've put up my shonky recording of a tight finish on YouTube.

These races hold a special place for the community on Home Island. They could be compared to the The Boat Race for Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Nevertheless, according to local residents, the number of competing boats declines as the years go by. 

Fundraising for the jukung club

Market under cyclone shelter

As stated, some of the prize money for the racing had been raised through the jukung club.  They put on a market on Saturday, June 7, under the cyclone shelter. 

The till, manned by Nek Fifi and Nek Sofia
Wives prepared food for sale in plastic containers. Aside from this, Nek Su made some spears. In total, several thousand dollars were raised.
Fish'n'chips tastes better when fried on a wood fire

Symbolism of jukung

Yellow and blue stripes

I'm not sure if this is something that Cocos Malays explicitly dwell upon, but it seems that the jukung symbolism encapsulates much of what is important.

Yellow and blue strips are painted below the gunwale on every jukung I have seen, exactly as in the photo on the right.

Circumcised boy in yellow and blue

Cocos Malays identify yellow and blue as the colors worn by the bride and groom at marriage.  

School colors
The boy who is circumcised wears these clothes too. As I described in a blog on circumcision ceremonies, the ritual 'officially' states that the boy is ready to marry (although in practice this is delayed for several years at least).

Yellow and are also the colors of the school and its students' uniforms. 

Aside from the yellow and blue, it's possible, as my blog on symbolism speculates, that the jukung symbolizes the phalus or fertility. The back part (stern) of the boat, where the steering plank (rudder) connects, is called the konek (foreskin).

The boat is thus connected with with getting married and producing offspring. I think these two goals remain central to Cocos Malay culture, even as the place of the jukung changes.

Returning to shore after the jukung race, part of 2014  Hari Raya celebrations


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