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File:Madagascar - Traditional fishing pirogue.jpg
Traditional fishing pirogue with sail from Madagascar

A pirogue is a small, flat-bottomed boat of a design associated particularly with the Cajuns of the Louisiana marsh and West African fishermen[1]. These boats are not usually intended for overnight travel but are light and small enough to be easily taken onto land. The design also allows the pirogue to move through the very shallow water of marshes and be easily turned over to drain any water that may get into the boat. The pirogue is usually propelled by paddles that have one blade (as opposed to a kayak paddle, which has two). It can also be punted with a push pole in shallow water. Small sails can also be employed. Outboard motors are increasingly being used in many regions.


The word comes from the Spanish word piragua [piˈɾaɣwa]. Traditionally, it was just another name for dugout canoes, but it came to refer to a specific type of canoe. Traditionally in Louisiana the boats were constructed of cypress, but due to unsustainable logging practices a hundred years ago suitable old growth timber is hard to come by. Plywood is a common option for modern pirogues. Many modern duck hunters and fisherman in the swamps of south Louisiana use pirogues made of fiberglass, some of which are outfitted with small outboard motors or even "Go-Devils", a type of motor with a pivoting drive shaft for use in very shallow waters.

In Indonesia and the islands around, and on rivers in Madagascar, they also use pirogues, often with an outrigger and a sail. Most of the Polynesian islands were colonized by means of pirogues.

Johhny Horton famously mentions pirogues in his song "I Got a Hole in My Pirogue." Horton was an avid Louisiana fisherman who celebrated Cajun customs and culture.

Military uses

In 626, when the Avars were besieging Constantinople, the Slavonians crossed the Golden Horn in their pirogues and landed on the shore of the Lower Blachernae, and in spite of all defensive measures that were taken, looted churches.[2]

Pirogues were used by Lewis and Clark on the Missouri River and westward from 1804-1806, in addition to bateaux, larger flat-bottomed boats that could only be used in large rivers.[3]

Pirogue designs

There is not one pirogue design, but several. Besides small pirogues as seen above, there are also pirogues that can hold up to ten men with paddles and also feature a main sail. These too, however, are not designed (and should not be used) for open waters. They are best used near shore.


  1. Setting sail Retrieved 9 June 2008
  2. Dirimtekin, Feridun (1956) Fetihden Once Halic Surlari. Istanbul, Istanbul Enstitusu.
  3. Ambrose, Stephen. 1997. Undaunted Courage - ISBN 0-684-82697-6

External links

gn:Yga ca:Piragua cs:Piroga de:Piroge es:Piragua eo:Pirogo fr:Pirogue it:Piroga he:פירוג lt:Piroga pl:Piroga pt:Piroga ro:Pirogă ru:Пирога sk:Piroga sv:Pirog (farkost) uk:Пірога