The Journal of African History

Research Article

The Canoe in West African History1

Robert Smith

The canoe, carved and usually also burnt-out from a single tree trunk, played a part in the history of the coastal, lagoon and river-side peoples of West Africa similar in importance to that of the horse in the savannah states. It ranged in size from the small fishing canoe to craft over 80 ft. in length and capable of carrying, in calm waters, 100 men or more. Sails were often used, in addition to paddles and punt poles. The builders were specialists, usually living in the forests, where the most suitable trees were found.


1 An earlier version of this paper was presented to the Fifteenth Annual Congress of the Historical Society of Nigeria at Lagos in December 1969. The writer expresses his thanks to friends and colleagues there and elsewhere for numerous suggestions, most of which have been incorporated into the present paper; he is especially indebted to Mr K. C. Murray and to Mr R. C. C. Law.