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Dhow Building in Zanzibar

Dhow Building in Nungwi
A dhow is a traditional Arab sailing vessel with one or more lateen sails. It was primarily used to carry heavy items, like fruit, along the coasts of the Arabian Peninsula, Pakistan, India and East Africa. The term "dhow“ does not stand for just one type of ship but for a whole family of different vessels ranging from small boats with just one mast to cargo ships that can carry over 200 tons. Larger dhows have crews of approximately thirty people, while smaller dhows typically have crews of around twelve.
In Zanzibar, dhow building takes place at two particular beaches: At Nungwi in the North of the island, and at Mtoni, which is north of Zanzibar Town. The Zanzibari dhow building masters are well-known around the whole Indian Ocean for their amazing work: They build the traditional dhows upon order and they need between 2 weeks and 4 months time for the construction, depending on the ship's size.

In Nungwi, you have the unique opportunity to take part in the construction of a dhow and to learn everything about traditional dhow-building. An experienced dhow building master, Mr. Mponda, who has learned his skills from his father (the family has been building dhows for generations) will give you 2 hours of dhow building lessons per day. The other hours of the day you can observe the craftsmen and assist them.

Dhow Building

The origin of the dhows is not clear, but it is assumed that similar wooden ships have sailed the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, as well as the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and the Bay of Bengal already 2000 years ago. Using the monsoon winds they made the trade relations between the coasts of neighbouring countries possible. The blend of culture of the east African Swahili coast is a result of these trade relationships, revealing influences from Arabia, Persia, India and sub-Saharan Africa.
Even today, Dhows can be seen at seaports around the whole Indian Ocean. At the Dubai Creek, for instance, one can observe the beautiful old-fashioned wooden ships contrasting to the shiny hyper-modern skyscrapers. They are still popular as cargo, fishing and tourist excursion ships in Goa, Zanzibar, Dubai, Oman, Kerala, Mozambique and other coastal regions of the Arabian Sea.
Besides their traditional design it is very characteristic that Dhows are even today built entirely by hand. No construction plans or modern tools are being used, instead it is done like centuries ago. For smaller dhows, still today not even nails are being used: the planks and boards are held together with tendons or flexible wood, such as roots and willow branches. Such a construction method used to be globally common until the 15th century; this ship-building technique is called "sewn boats“. The outer skin is shaped very carefully; afterwards the different sections are stitched together. Only then, an inner frame is being added for stability.
Not only Marco Polo used to be astonished of the stability of these sewn boats, according to his travel reports; even travellers of the early 20th century admired the reliable dhows which transport tons of loads to their destinations. However, the construction of large dhows also makes use of European shipbuilding techniques, for instance square sterns, a characteristic of Portuguese ships from the time of Vasco da Gama.
It is assumed that masts of earlier times had been made of coconut wood and other available woods; sails have been made of palm leaves, later most likely of cotton cloth, which originated from India. For longer journeys two mainsails were carried; one for the night and bad weather, one for the day and good weather.
Dhow Building in Zanzibar

It is possible with dhow builder Mr. Mponda:

To take private lessons (also for small groups) in this art of Mr. Mponda for at least 2 hours daily, Monday to Friday. During the other hours of the day, you can watch and assist the craftsmen.
Minimum Duration: 1 week
Maximum Duration: 3 months
Language Requirements: English
Location: Nungwi, Zanzibar
Accommodation: In Nungwi (Bungalow at the Marine Turtle Conservation Station)

Price: In Tab "Rate"

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