2007 -to the present day
traditional bangladeshi boat racing in the uk
Nowka Bais in Oxford - How it began in
In 2007 the county of Oxfordshire celebrated its 1,000th birthday. As part of the festivities, I was asked to organise Go with the Flow, a festival of the waterways which bring life, beauty, and reminders of a slower pace of life to this busy part of England. With the help of fishermen, sea scouts, navy cadets, the Glasgow lifeboat, the actor David Suchet and Oxford’s community and university boat clubs, we had a memorable day on the river. One of its highlights – and for many the most thrilling event of all – was a race between two Bangladeshi canoes, or Nowka Bais, along the Thames in Oxford. Each canoe was forty feet long, painted bright red, white, yellow and green, with an eight-man crew in dazzling colours, paddling furiously to the beat of a drummer in the prow. Spectators shouted and cheered, the paddles threw up arcs of spray, the pointed beaks of the boats surged through the water, jostling for the lead. The riverside was on fire with excitement. The event was a great success. Everyone wanted to know where the boats had come from, who were the crews, how did we put the whole thing together?
The idea had come from Aziz ur-Rahman, a well-known Oxford figure, owner of restaurants and a keen supporter of the Cowley Road Carnival and other community events. Aziz had offered to build two traditional racing canoes in Bangladesh and ship them over to Oxford in time for the big day. He would also supply crews, prizes for the winners, and a Bangladeshi television news team. With luck, he said, the High Commissioner would come too. He was as good as his word. The canoes arrived in dramatic fashion, just 36 hours before the race, in a Thai Airways Boeing 747. Each boat was in three sections, and had to be bolted together. I remember the scene as we manhandled the sections off the lorry from Heathrow. It was a cold May evening, late and dark, and the canoes seemed loaded with lead. But we managed it somehow. The next day a team of carpenters assembled the sections and nailed metal plates over the joins to make them watertight – a much trickier business than we thought. During the races, the hulls were one-third full of water by the time they reached the finishing line, but in the jubilation of the moment it didn’t seem to matter. I was glad, though, that all the crews wore buoyancy-jackets – just in case they went overboard – and that the Glasgow Humane Society lifeboat was in attendance.
Since 2007, Nowka Bais has continued in the city with the founding in 2008 of the Oxford Bangladeshi Boat Club (OBBC) based at the Falcon Rowing and Canoeing Club, which organises training on the river, and two annual race meetings – one run by OBBC, the other by Aziz. Together these events offer a great opportunity for Bangladeshis from all over Britain to practise this healthy, traditional and immensely exciting sport in a new context.
Alex Martin, Author
The timeline after 2007
2008 - 2011
After its inception in 2007 “The National Nowka Bais” not only was a National celebration, but an International one.
The news of Nowka’s being celebrated on UK waters raced across global waters as Bangladesh received news of how the sport they competed in during turbulent seasons within their village was now becoming a sport that was celebrated and competed in by various cities across the UK.
After gracing the riverbank of the famous River Thames in 2007 & 2008, the demand for the Nowka Bais was so much, that it moved to the larger location of Farmoor Resevoir in Oxfordshire where it was now hosting thousands of spectators and teams from all over the UK, including – Bradford, Birmingham, Cardiff, London, Coventry, Portsmouth, Cheltenham, Milton Keynes, Leeds, Oldham and many more.
As the Nowka Bais continued to grow in popularity and the work from the founders continued to increase the exposure of the sport here in the UK, Nowka Bais UK had now become a household annual event.
2012 was a pivotal year for the United Kingdom as we celebrated the global event “The Olympics” here in the UK and also a regal year where the UK celebrated HM The Queens Diamond Jubilee.
As such, the National Nowka Bais celebrated both events and dedicated the 2012 Nowka Bais to HM The Queens Diamond Jubilee. With supportive messages from HM The Queen herself & PM David Cameron as well as other digniataries – This year was a ground-breaking event for all.
UK Host Cities –
“The vision for Nowka Bais UK was to take it around the country and give everyone the opportunity to enjoy the cultural experience no matter where they live. This is why we decided it was the right time to look at host cities who have declared an interest for many years” – Aziz ur Rahman (Founder)
The beautiful city of Bedfordshire was our first host city in 2013. Bedfordshire riverside provided a stunning venue where our Nowkas graced the river with thousands of spectators lining on the riverbanks as our National Teams competed for the Inaugral National Nowka Bais outside of its city of birth.
After lengthy discussions Aziz ur Rahman and his sons decided to take the Nowka Bais centrally and host the event in Birmingham. This allowed Nowka Bais to to provide a centralised base for UK communities to come and enjoy the Nowka Bais event and all of its cultural celebrations. After such an overwhealming response in 2015, we decided to continue hosting the National Nowka Bais in Edgbaston Reservoir, Birmingham for 4 more years, where it grew year on year and brought immense joy to thousands and thousands of spectators.