Inle Lake which is surrounded by towering mountains and lush hills has the unique method of one-legged rowing that is the most iconic representatives of the fascinating local culture. It is not an ordinary lake though; Inle is a magical world of floating gardens and villages built on stilts.
The villages embraced their creativity over the years in order to make this lake their home. People living on the lake call themself Intha. And their life is closely connected with the water. These days they generally have noisy diesel motors, but the traditional fisherman still use the leg rowing technique. They stand at the stern and wrap one leg round an oar whilst gripping the hull of the boat with the other foot. The whole process is really impressive to watch. They balance themselves on one end of the boat, manipulate the net with their hands while rowing the boat. They have an amazing sense of balance while performing their snake-like motions.
Basically, leg-rowing is a traditional fishing technique of Intha. This practice is believed to date back to the 12th century and has been passed down from generation to generation. The lake is covered by reeds and floating plants making it difficult to see above them while sitting. Rowing this way also frees their hands and allows them to handle the fishing nets, which can be quite bulky and heavy when catching large fish. Swiftly, with one well-balanced and precise motion, net and fish are brought back on boat. However, the leg rowing style is only practiced by the men. Women still row in the customary style, holding the oars whilst sitting in the boat.
Inle Lake is a poetic place for those who are looking for a “land of art” to take mesmerizing photos in life. And, one-leg rowing in Inle Lake is definitely an art! No doubt, the leg-rowing tradition remains an important part of the Intha heritage. Hopefully it will retain its unique character and friendliness as Burma reopens to the rest of the world.
Why row a boat by using one leg
The local fishermen why they propel their boats through this technique of leg-rowing. “Reeds thrive in the Inle Lake, and only standing can you see if there are any fish under the reeds. Legs are more powerful than hands, helping speed up the boat and free hands for fishing”.
However, according to a legend, the ancestors of Intha were the Tavoy people before the 12th century. Defeated by enemies, they were exiled to the Inle Lake region surrounded by mountains. They with indomitable perseverance survived and built their characteristic floating wooden houses. To make a living, they cultivated the strip fields built on stilts, planted fruits and vegetables above the fields where a group of fish gathered, abundant in aquatic products. Gradually, fishing became one of the major means of life. In order to fish, meanwhile, keep the boats going, these smart ancestors thought of a good idea that made a balance of them. That was propelling the boats via one of their legs, and handling the fish nets by hands. As time goes by, this original fishing method was passed down as tradition from generation to generation for thousands of years. It’s said that Intha learned fishing from the age of 13 and generally to 75 years old.