According to the archeological excavations in the ruins of the ancient Siraf port on the north shore of the Persian Gulf in Bushehr Province, marine trade and the related businesses were popular in Iran since the Sassanid Empire (224-651 C.E). Today also in this region, the life, identity, and culture of the inhabitants are interwoven directly with the sea. For example, one of the local authentic arts indicating this relationship is Lenj making. Lenj, a traditional wooden hand-made type of boat, is the main tool for local villagers for various purposes such as fishing and transportation depending on its size. Lenj is not a mere vehicle of transportation for the local inhabitants; rather it is a handicraft indicating the culture and the way of life.
The methods and skills of Lenj making are usually taught by the son from father in a traditional way. They are built mentally without a predetermined written design and map, each takes around two years to be built. Furthermore, what makes it more interesting is that sailors and workers sing special local sons collectively at work during the construction of Lenjes. There are more than 10 types of Lenj, of which the most common ones include Baghaleh, Boom, Sambook, Jalboot, Tashaleh, Boozi, Tartary, and Sammach.
Lenj is not a mere vehicle of transportation for inhabitants; rather it is a handicraft indicating the culture and the way of life in the region.
The main material used in Lenj making is solid teak wood that is resistant against water. When the main structure and framework of a Lenj is built, the rifts and spaces between the wood planks are filled with cotton wicks (known as Kalfat Kooby in the local language) that are soaked before in sesame oil. Finally, the whole outside hull of Lenj will be covered with sesame oil in order to increase its resistance to salt and moisture.
Releasing a Lenj to the sea has its special ceremony. Inhabitants of the village where the Lenj is built gather and the clergy reads the holy Quran and blesses the Lenj with the name of God. Then, the owner of the Lenj, who usually is its captain as well, sacrifices an animal (camel, cow, or sheep depending on the financial affordability), in order to prepare a meal with its meat for the villagers. After the sacrifice, the community starts moving the Lenj to the sea using a tool named Dowvar. It is a wheel with long sticks attached to it with two pulleys.
A thick and rigid rope is fastened around the Lenj, passed from the pulleys, and tightened around the cylinder of the Dowvar. Depending on the size of the Lenj, a certain number of men take the sticks of the Dowvar and begin turning them while singing rhythmic songs. To ease the movement, clogs of wood covered in animal fat are placed in front of the Lenj and the back part of the Lenj is covered with palm leaves. The arrival of Lenj at the sea is accompanied by cheers and feasts.
Today, Lenj making is rare in Iran mostly in use still by a few numbers of old generations as cheaper fiberglass boats have taken the role of this handicraft. This art under the title of “traditional skills of building and sailing Iranian Lenj boats in the Persian Gulf” was registered by UNESCO as an Intangible World Heritage in 2011.