The Ships from Mulatos

Culimochos: the ships from Mulatos, Colombia

Elizabeth Parra and Rene Estupiñan


Universidad Nacional de Colombia (Medellin): Facultad de Minas: Elizabeth Parra, estudiante Doctorado and Jaime I. Vélez, Docente; and Facultad de Arquitectura: Rene Estupiñan, estudiante Pre-grado, Fabián Zuleta, Docente.


Mulatos is a small town, part of a network of habitats in the Pacific coast of Colombia. Its inhabitants are known for their skills as navigators and naval carpenters. There are few studies about the origins, the history of the town, or that of its inhabitants, and even fewer is known about their ships. The Mungeños are a minority in the region, which is mostly inhabited by Afro-descendants, themselves also an ethnic minority in Colombia.

The presence of this group in Mulatos dates to 1789, the date of the public deed that determines the collective ownership over their territories (Arocha and Rodríguez, 2003). They probably arrived at the Mulatos beach from Iscuandé, a region in the southwestern coast of Colombia. Their migration probably started during the decline of the gold exploration period, which occurred in the Pacific of present-day Colombia during the 17th and 18th centuries (Rodríguez, 2002, Almario and Castillo, 1996).

The ships are known through iconographic data from travelers, at least since the mid-19th century, although oral tradition places the Mungeños on the Mulatos beach before, already building small ships for transport of goods and persons.

A handful of shipwrights still build and repair wooden boats in the region, practicing two types of construction: one with frames and ribbands (varetas), and one with half models and drawings. The typical ships from Mulatos have up to 30 meters in overall length, are powered with diesel engines, and have a range of approximately 30 hours. They sail in the region carrying cargo and passengers between the ports of Tumaco and Buenaventura. The Mulatos’ shipyards, probably established in the early 19th century, are disappearing fast, victims of the social unrest caused by the war on drugs.

This project aims at reconstructing the history of the Mulatos shipbuilders, and recording, studying, preserving, and sharing their culture and their shipbuilding skills, and understanding their traditions and tracking the evolution of their techniques, tools, and design and construction solutions.

The Shipwrights from Mulatos


The Shipyards


The Tools

There is only one generator in Mulatos and the electricity is expensive and only available a few hour per day.

se ships are built with modern tools.  Typically the timber comes from …

The Ships

The culimochos are vessels with capacities between …  and  … built with wood and powered by diesel engines.

The owners are typically local residents…

The earliest references to this type of vessel appear in…

The vessels are built on permanent shipyards mounted..

The construction materials come from:

These ships are designed to carry cargo and passengers. They are presently built from lines drawings and construction drawings, which are approved by the competent authorities.



Almario, O. y Castillo R. 1996. “Territorio, poblamiento y sociedades negras en el Pacífico sur colombiano” En: Renacientes del Guandal: grupos negros de los ríos Satinga y Sanquianga. Editores: Del Valle, J. y Restrepo, E. Universidad Nacional de Colombia. Medellín.

Arocha, J. y Rodríguez, S. 2003. “Los Culimochos: Africanías de un pueblo eurodescendiente en el pacífico nariñense”. En Revista Historia Crítica. PP. 79-94. Facultad de Ciencias Sociales, Departamento de Historia, Universidad de los Andes. Bogotá.

Rodríguez, S. 2002. “Poblaciones blancas en el pacífico: historia y vigencia” En: Revista Maguaré 15-16: pp.114-135. Publicación seriada Universidad Nacional de Colombia. Bogotá.