05 December 2014
The Last Dhow to Zanzibar
Harry Hall, MA, FRPS
As the wind filled the great triangular sail, the bow lifted and the sea began to gurgle along the planks of the great dhow as it began its voyage. Dhows have set sail from ports along the coasts of the Persian Gulf, East Africa and India for over 3,000 years. Their trade route begins in the Persian Gulf when the dhows catch the southerly trade wind to carry them along the East African coast. Along the way, they visit the Sahel Ports trading spices for mangrove poles and cloves. By March the southward wind has blown out and is replaced by the rainy season, by now the dhows will have reached Zanzibar or even Madagascar.
In May a new trade wind blows the vessels to the west coast of India where they pick up timber and spices before returning to the Persian Gulf in November. The advent of steam and later motor vessels has brought about the demise of the trading dhow by the turn of the millennium only around 20 dhows still plied the route, in 2008 this number had dropped to only 7.
Having already photographed stories about the demise of tradition- al ways of life, this was a project I had to pursue. I chose to start at Lamu Island which is the most northerly port in Kenya. My plan was to talk my way onto a dhow from the Persian Gulf sailing down the African coast to Zanzibar in Tanzania. Days went by but no dhows arrived. A port official confirmed a rumour, that the Kenyan Navy had closed the sea boarder with Somalia in response to the problems of pirates operating from its coast. Any dhows sailing southward were now being turned back. I reflected that as only 7 large Arabian Dhows had entered Kenyan waters last year, the blockade would probably be the death nail of the ocean going dhows in Africa.
This article is an extract from Harry Hall's article first
published on Page 11 in Travel Log Issue 57.